September 22, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria has $3.4 million to spend, about that many ideas how to do it

ELYRIA — Using more than half of the city’s windfall money on one project — the local share on the reconfiguration of the 49th Street Bridge near Midway Mall — is still not resonating with City Council members, but in regards to the project the city only has three options, said Mayor Holly Brinda.

Monday night as city officials continued to discuss on how to spend the $3.4 million in funds from a long forgotten insurance policy. Brinda said using the windfall money is the best option as it comes without adverse consequences.

“We can use this money, making a $2 million investment to get a $20 million project done,” she said. “We can borrow the money knowing it will likely result in a $300,000 reduction in the general fund or we can default on the project entirely and run the risk of being disqualified from future (Ohio Department of Transportation) projects.”

Brinda said the city is at least another six to eight weeks away from knowing if the project will receive the final piece of funding from the sale of bonds by the Ohio Turnpike Commission. But since the project was first brought up several years ago, Council has passed numerous pieces of legislations committing Elyria to the project financially. Backing out now would send the wrong message, she said.

In addition, borrowing is not a good option.

Finance Director Ted Pileski said he is trying to be aggressive and pay off debt, but Council needs to keep that in mind when it comes to borrowing more money.

“If we have to borrow for anymore major projects — not counting water and sewer project because they have their own funds — then we are going to have to move some of the inside millage from the general fund to the bond retirement fund to make sure there is enough money in the fund,” he said. “That is going to affect the general fund and that fund is already down.”

Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large, said there is a real possibility the city could hurt its credibility if it does not move forward with the 49th Street Bridge project.

“How the state is going to view us on future projects is worth discussing,” he said. “When you look at the 49th Street Bridge project, it is not the cure all. It could be a shot in the arm for some of the businesses out there. But the main reason why we are doing this is safety and that has been the driving force for years.”

An hour of discussion did not completely sway many members of Council. From street resurfacing to saving for a rainy day, more ideas about how to use the money were thrown out as the meeting went on.

Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large and head of the Finance Committee, said he would like to see at least 20 to 25 percent of the money set aside for future expenses.

“There is nothing that says we have to spend all of this money right now,” Stewart said. “Just like the demolition of old City Hall came at a time when we were least expecting it, we have to have some money set aside for unexpected expenses.”

Councilwoman Brenda Davis, D-2nd Ward, said she would like to see at least $500,000 go into the street resurfacing fund.

“Let’s give it back to the residents and really make some headway in an area the residents have said they want to see more work,” she said.

Councilman Marcus Madison, D-5th Ward, said he wants to see the city revive discussion about the four main parks and recreation centers in the city.

“For the residents I serve, we are still having a conversation about what we should be doing with our parks,” he said. “This moves beyond just saying ‘let’s open a pool.’ I think the residents want to know what the long range vision is for our parks and what we do plan to do if we are not going to open the pools.”

At least one Council member was ready to vote in favor of Brinda’s full recommendation on how to spend the windfall — including funding the 49th Street bridge project, Middle Street improvement project, security upgrades to City Hall and technology and software upgrades.

“I believe we have to make an investment in our infrastructure, an investment in safety and also invest in our economy and efficiency,” said Councilman Tom Callahan, D-at large.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.