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Akron’s capital budget heavy on CSO projects

2/14/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Stephanie Kist

Nearly half of $222 million directed for water, sewer

DOWNTOWN AKRON — For the past two years, the bulk of Akron’s capital budget focused on projects to support economic development. This year, that changes.

Akron City Council unanimously approved the $222.2 million budget (adjusted from the previously estimated $218 million after several weeks of review) Feb. 11. The Capital Improvement and Community Development Program, as it is formally known, allocates local, regional, state, federal and private funding for projects having to do with transportation, parks and recreation, water and sewer, housing and economic development.

Nearly half of 2013’s $222.2 million is going into public utilities, including projects to alleviate combined sewer overflow (CSO). The city stands under federal mandate to alleviate CSO over the next several years, an undertaking that is estimated to cost several hundred million dollars.

Planning Committee Chairman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) said it is “ridiculous and unfortunate” the city is faced with an 18-year deadline to complete the projects while other cities in the nation faced with the same CSO situation have longer time frames. The Environmental Protection Agency’s mandates that the city correct CSO have been upheld in federal court.

This year, he said, 45 percent — nearly $100 million — of the capital budget is allocated for water and sewer, an amount that has increased from 18 percent of the capital budget in 2011. In recent years, projects to support the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone-Firestone developments have comprised the largest areas of the budget, he said.

Fusco noted the budget is a plan for moving into 2013 and that every budgeted project will come before Council for its approval in the coming year.

“Every item in this capital budget we will get a second look at,” he said.

A brief verbal scuffle ensued during the Council meeting when Councilwoman Linda Omobien (D-at large) stated the jobs that presumably would be created by the projects to correct CSO should be given to Akron residents and those of minority races.

“This is huge, and there are a lot of jobs associated with this,” she said of the CSO project.

Mayor Don Plusquellic responded, taking issue with Omobien’s comments and saying the city, during the time Omobien was a member of the Akron Public Schools Board of Education, fought for years for an agreement that would direct jobs associated with the school district’s community learning center building projects to local minority residents. The school board, he said, resisted.

“I don’t know about your memory, but memory serves me well, and I was never opposed to that,” said Omobien, who is black. She added she had requested previously, and not received, information about jobs that would be available.

Plusquellic said it was inaccurate to accuse a city official of withholding information from her because no construction contracts had been established yet and only design and consultation work has gone into the CSO project.

“There is not a contract that’s been let for the things that you’re asking for,” he said.

In other business, Council, which will convene for its annual retreat this weekend to discuss city issues and pending legislation in depth, continued to take time on hot-button issues such as a proposed law against sending and reading text messages while driving and a proposed amendment to the Building Code that would require property owners to disclose notice of violations to potential buyers.

Council did act to approve, by a vote of 12-1, a conditional-use permit to allow for a $20 million development at the intersection of West Exchange and Broadway streets that will consist of housing for University of Akron students, despite the concern on the part of some Council members that the university currently has plenty of student housing.

Councilman Michael Williams (D-at large) voted against the ordinance after pushing to take time to further consider it before voting.

Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday, there will be no Akron City Council meeting Feb. 18. The next meeting will take place Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers on the third floor of the Akron Municipal Building, 166 S. High St. Committee meetings are set to begin at 2 p.m. that afternoon, also in Council Chambers.

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