News Column

Funding options outlined for library, emergency services center

August 31, 2014

By Tyler Ellyson, Columbus Telegram, Neb.

Aug. 31--COLUMBUS -- Columbus City Council members could begin discussing a handful of funding options to pay for a new public safety services center and downtown library/cultural arts center as early as this week.

The city's budget development team, which includes City Administrator Joe Mangiamelli, Finance Director Anne Kinnison and City Clerk Janelle Kline, outlined the proposed financing plans in a memo sent last week to the mayor and city council members.

Although specific action won't be taken Tuesday night, when the city council is expected to approve the 2014-15 budget during a meeting set for 7 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 1369 25th Ave., Mangiamelli said city officials must begin the planning process soon so private fundraising and other efforts can move forward.

In the memo, he called the proposed library/cultural arts center a "focal point and anchor to downtown revitalization."

The approximately 60,000-square-foot, two-story building would be constructed along 26th Avenue between 14th and 15th streets at a cost of about $17.5 million.

The budget team's financing plan for this project includes both private funding -- Mangiamelli has said he wants at least half the total cost to be covered by donations and grants -- as well as revenue from another local sales tax.

Columbus currently collects local sales taxes totaling 1.5 percent, in addition to the 5.5 percent state sales tax. Both the half- and 1-cent local sales taxes were reauthorized by voters in 2010.

The library financing plan would ask voters to add either an additional quarter- or half-cent local sales tax, with the latter option allowing the city to repay bonds issued to pay for the project earlier, reducing interest costs.

The additional local sales tax, which would take the city's total to either 1.75 or 2 percent, would expire when debt from the library project is repaid.

Supporters of the library/cultural arts center say it's necessary to improve library services, provide sufficient space for Columbus Art Gallery and add much-needed public meeting spaces, including a 300-seat auditorium.

Before the center can be constructed, the former Columbus Senior Center building, downtown fire station and a private business must be demolished.

The aging fire station could be replaced with a public safety services center that houses the fire and police departments and 911 dispatch center.

City officials expect to hear back soon from a local engineering firm hired to look at possible locations for the joint emergency services center, which would occupy approximately 68,000 square feet and cost about $17 million to complete.

The city originally targeted the former Walmart building at 3620 23rd St. -- where Apogee Retail LLC operates a call center in a portion of the space -- as the preferred location for the emergency services center and Columbus Municipal Airport also was included in the study.

The budget team's funding plan for this project uses revenue from the existing half-cent local sales tax and a property tax increase.

Three options outlined in the memo raise the city's property tax levy by 3, 4 or 5 cents over a 20-year period with the additional revenue used to repay bonds issued for the project.

A 3-cent increase would raise the annual taxes on a $100,000 property by $30.

Voters would need to approve an extension of the half-cent sales tax, which will expire when bonds issued for the Pawnee Plunge Water Park expansion are repaid.

"The combination of property and sales taxes minimizes the burden of this project on residents and provides for the investment in the community by visitors," Mangiamelli said in the memo.

Mangiamelli also noted that low interest rates make it an attractive time to move forward with the two centers, which he believes will compliment projects planned or started by Columbus Public Schools, Columbus Community Hospital and East Central District Health Department in an area north of 38th Street and west of 33rd Avenue.

"These entities are either nearing completion, underway or initiating significant investments in the community to meet future needs and the city must do the same," he said.

Mangiamelli said completing the library/cultural arts center and public safety services center would show residents the city is progressive and values its citizens.

"It might be said that these investments are long overdue, however, this is an opportunity that may not present itself again and moving forward can leave a lasting legacy for future generations of Columbus residents who will appreciate the hard decisions made to accommodate the community's growth," he said.


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Source: Columbus Telegram (NE)

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