Consent items draw heat

By Burk Krohe

City commissioners unanimously accepted the annual city audit Tuesday. They also debated two consent agenda items regarding proposals for a sculpture for the roundabout at 4th Street and Bluemont Avenue and the potential expansion of the city parks and recreation offices.

Commissioners were generally favorable of the annual report prepared by city staff and audited by Varney and Associates CPAs, LLC. The report is used as a gauge for internal operations. Bond rating agencies also use it to review and assign ratings to the city’s general obligation bonds and temporary notes.

Most of the difference of opinion Tuesday focused on the two consent agenda items. Commissioner Wynn Butler was uneasy with the proposed language in a document seeking proposals for a sculpture to be placed in the center of the roundabout at 4th Street and Bluemont Avenue. Butler worried that “there seems to be a vote for $20,000 that’s buried in (the motion.)”

Earlier this year, the Commission decided to move ahead with a search for art to complete the roundabout, using $20,000 of unallocated north end transportation development district (TDD) funds to leverage private funds.

Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, said the money has to be spent on some sort of project in the north end, and also noted that specifications for the project haven’t been written yet. He said that would allow commissioners a certain amount of discretion on the project.

Butler suggested a simple wording change to make it clear that $20,000 is the maximum amount of money the city will put forth. Commissioners agreed to change the wording to say “up to $20,000.” Commissioner Jim Sherow also suggested adding “TDD funds” to the wording to make it clear where the money would come from.

“It’s a good investment of that TDD money,” Sherow said.

Butler and Commissioner John Matta opposed the selection of a firm to conduct a preliminary analysis of a parks and recreation expansion and possible city auditorium renovation. The study is estimated to cost between $20,000 and $40,000. The parks and recreation offices have been in a temporary building for decades and city officials say they are becoming noticeably inadequate for the services provided.

Butler said it would be another case of setting dominoes in motion—once the city commits the funds to the analysis, it will feel obligated to follow through on the expansion.

“I’m not so sure we should proceed with this now,” he said.

Matta agreed, saying the expansion isn’t a priority at the moment. Butler did add that he supported “doing something” for the parks and recreation employees because the conditions at the offices are less than ideal.

“It’s clear to me that the city’s parks staff is working in an ill-suited building,” Sherow said. “Something needs to be done.”

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said it makes sense to start planning for an expansion now, so the city will be prepared even if the construction is several years in the future. Jankovich said conducting the expansion in the same manner as Manhattan Regional Airport, with phases, might be appropriate.

Butler and Matta could not find support from a third commissioner to hold off on the study.

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