is moving forward with plans to place a citywide income tax increase for a new police facility on the Nov. 6 ballot, but at a reduced rate of 0.25 percent .
Councilman Wayne Wilson said Wednesday the percentage reduction is the lowest the city can possibly go and still achieve its goal of constructing a “long-overdue building” for the Kent Police Department.
The proposed hike would permanently raise the city income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.25 percent.
Council also modified its ordinance verbiage to indicate that funds generated by the measure – about $1.3 million annually – would be used for property acquisition, design, construction, maintenance and repairs, future expansion or replacement of a new police facility.
The wording change was suggested by council member Tracy Wallach, who believes city voters would be more inclined to approve the issue if funds were earmarked for a specific purpose.
The ballot issue also will include provisions stating police salary expenses would not be paid from the fund and that any excess money, after paying debts, would be placed into a contingency or reserve fund for future police facility expenses. That fund would be capped at $1 million and anything over that would be transferred to the streets and sidewalks fund.
The ordinance had its first reading Wednesday, but needs to be fast-tracked from this point on. Clerk of Council Linda Jordan pointed out the measure would need final approval during a special Aug. 1 council session to meet the Porage County Board of Elections' Aug. 8 filing deadline for November ballot issues.
Councilman Garret Ferrara – who said he recognizes the need for and supports a new police facility – voted against placing the ordinance on first reading because he thinks the city should be better prepared to present the issue "in a cohesive manner" to the voting public.
Ferrara said the ballot issue is “doomed to fail at the polls” if city officials don’t have details to share with voters regarding the police department’s specific needs, land and building costs and long-term operating expenses.
Councilman John Kuhar voted against the ordinance because it does not include a sunset provision.
The total estimate for replacing the aging police station is $18.36 million. That includes the cost of debt issuance, razing the existing police station, site preparation, furniture, fixtures and equipment, Budget and Finance Director Dave Coffee .
The city would use $1.2 million to pay the annual debt service on the new station, leaving only $100,000 in reserve each year to cover potential cost overruns and operating costs.
City administrators have been making the case for a new police and safety building for several years. The existing building was constructed in the 1920s.
One of the more serious issues is the city jail. The jail has not met state standards for several years, but state inspectors have so far given it a pass.
The building doesn't meet Ohio jail standards or the Americans with Disabilities Act, Police Chief Michelle Lee told the Record-Courier. The jail barely even meets city plumbing and electric codes.
"Deplorable" is how Mayor Jerry Fiala has described the police station. Wilson said the building's interior condition is embarrassing and poses potential safety hazards.
"We’ve had discussions about the police department and the building being in the condition it’s in, which is literally embarrassing it’s in such bad shape," Wilson said. "Luckily we haven’t had the state come down on us for it."
In 2010, a portion of the ceiling collapsed in the administrative offices during off-hours. The city has repaired the building brick facade, its multiple heating and air conditioning units — due to numerous additions over the years — wiring and other problems at great cost, Wilson said.