It took a while, but Cincinnati City Council finally settled on a way to pay for $17 million in repairs starting in June that will shore up the hills above Columbia Parkway.
Council argued for hours over whether to take some money for landslide mitigation from a fund to build a new police headquarters or whether to leave the fund alone. They settled the argument by spending all the money for the police facility on Columbia Parkway instead.
The major artery from the city's East Side into downtown has been closed at least seven times in the past year due to landslides, and council, Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Patrick Duhaney have all deemed fixes an emergency. But the price tag for the retaining walls and "soil nailing" needed to provide a 30- to 50-year solution to that problem is prohibitive as the city stares down a budget deficit as high as $19 million.
Two competing plans were on the table going into the meeting — one put forward by city administration that borrowed $6.2 million of the total price from money set aside for a new Cincinnati Police District 5 headquarters in an as-yet undetermined location, and another, suggested by council member David Mann, that instead borrowed against the city's capital budget, meaning roughly $1.2 million a year less would be available in that $80 million pot of money.
Mayor Cranley backed the administration's plan.
"Columbia Parkway has to start now," he said, urging council members to pull money from the police station. "District 5 isn't even in the drawing phase."
Both of those options left $3.2 million for needed updates to the temporary police headquarters, which is in a shopping plaza off Hamilton Avenue in College Hill. The upgrades are needed so that the facility meets standards for a police station, CPD officials say.
But council members like Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld said they worried that making that investment would cement the police station in College Hill despite a lengthy public engagement process that also left a location at the city's permitting center in Clifton in the running.
After wrangling in the council meeting, gridlocking 4-4 on both plans, moving on to other items and a two-hour recess, council chose... neither.
Instead, the city will pull $9.4 million from the fund for District 5. The city will also issue bonds to be paid off by a 2018 property tax increase to raise another $7.6 million.That's less borrowed money than under the previous two plans, but also no money for a new police station.
“I don’t love that this will drain a previously allocated budget for District 5," Sittenfeld noted, but said he was happy that Columbia Parkway will be addressed.
The plan council settled on keeps the city's options open in a way, but only by spending all the money available for a new headquarters at any location. It means that the city would likely borrow all funds needed to build a new District 5 headquarters or retrofit the permit building in Clifton. It also takes the $3.2 million in upgrades to the current temporary facility off the table.
City Manager Duhaney said the city will tackle the police station over the next couple years. He also brought up a third possibility mentioned by council members David Mann and Amy Murray, as well as FOP President Dan Hils earlier this week — selling District 1 headquarters, which is currently next to FC Cincinnati's stadium site, and building a joint District 1 and District 5 headquarters between the two districts.
That, however, will be a discussion for another day.