WARREN - City Council on Wednesday passed three bond issues totaling $9.5 million to fund street improvements, upgrade city-owned buildings and purchase a downtown office building to replace a crumbling one, but the passage didn't come without controversy.
After unanimous passage of a $2.5 million bond to reconstruct neighborhood and secondary streets and a $4 million bond issue to renovate and upgrade city-owned buildings and improve city parking lots, funds for the purchase of a $3 million downtown office building brought deep discussion.
Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, cast the lone dissenting vote. That issue passed 9-1.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
The Gibson building, seen here, has been widely speculated to be the target of a purchase by Warren.
Saffold said she supports moving city employees out of existing offices at 418 S. Main Avenue because of the building's poor condition including mold, roof leaks and various other problems. The existing structure houses the city's Health Department, Community Development and Income Tax.
Rather, she worries about the condition of a building being proposed for purchase, after recently touring the Gibson Building at 258 East Market St. It has been widely speculated that the Gibson Building is the primary target for purchase.
Saffold said her tour indicated roof leaks and damaged carpeting there. She said she also was advised of electrical problems that cause parts of the building to lose power in heavy storms.
"I believe the price of the building is inflated for this market place," Saffold said.
During council's caucus meeting, Saffold questioned whether there had been information presented to council members that included cost estimates for repairs of the building.
Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, reminded the councilwoman that more than one building was being considered for purchase. City Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said city inspectors have toured the buildings being considered for purchase.
Cantalamessa said the up-to-$3 million in bonds would fund the purchase, not renovations.
Also upon questioning, Cantalamessa said the city intends to move all usable furniture from the existing offices at 418 S. Main Avenue to the new location.
Still, questions remain about the length of the bond for the building. Several council members argued the bond should be sold for no more than 15 years to reduce interest. Supporters of the 15-year bond said the city would pay $375,000 less in interest by shortening the length of the bond from 20 to 15 years.
However, those that support the administration's effort to sell a 20-year bond, suggested the longer payback will allow the city to maintain an amount in its repayment account to comfortably sell new bonds if it becomes necessary in the future.
"(Auditor) Dave (Griffing) already has come done from his original advice of 27 years for the bond," Brown said.
Mayor Doug Franklin said he never before has experienced so much serious discussion on any city issue, including previous talks on controversial issues like creation of a One-Stop building and about water and police and fire pensions that passed last year.
"This is how the process is supposed to work," he said. "The passage of the bond ordinances tonight speak loudly that Warren is a city of vision, and is committed to re-emphasize its image as a model city.
"But make no mistake, the really hard work is just beginning," he said. "We now, thank God, have the resources by which to do this work, and we relish the opportunity to get started."
Franklin says the administration hopes to finalize the contract of the new building sometime later this week.