COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Voters authorized Columbus this week to spend $1.5 billion to bolster its affordable housing supply, revamp a county courthouse, and upgrade a litany of other city services.
The series of bond issues and charter amendments were designed to enhance Columbus’ ability to provide services, enhance outdated infrastructure, and tweak the municipal charter dictating city laws.
Affordable housing, public safety improvements get a funding boost
The bond issues, which come at no cost to Columbus taxpayers, took aim at enhancing various sectors: health, safety, and infrastructure; recreation and parks; neighborhood development; public service; and public utilities.
A quarter of every $1 that the city collects in earned income tax will be set aside to fund the proposed projects.
Issue 14 will set aside $300 million to revamp the Franklin County Municipal Court building and renovate the city’s police and fire facilities, a move that Police Chief Elaine Bryant said is critical to supporting first responders.
“We have to take care of our officers,” Bryant said in October. “When we invest in them and make sure that we’re putting them in that environment that’s safe and productive, they too will then increase their response and increase the way that they respond.”
With voters’ approval of Issue 15, another $200 million will be allocated to Columbus recreation and park services, including $48 million for new greenway and park development and $14 million for acquiring future park space.
Issue 16 earmarks $200 million toward a problem that some outspoken advocates say is a weak spot for the administration of Mayor Andrew Ginther: access to affordable housing in a time of rising rent and a dwindling housing supply.
Marcus Roth, a spokesperson for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, celebrated the passage of Issue 16 as an indication that “voters really care about affordable housing.”
“While a relatively small part of a total $1.5 billion bond package, Columbus’ leaders focused their campaign on the housing issue more than the other, more traditional components like public safety and infrastructure,” Roth said in an email.
Also approved by voters was Issue 17, a $250 million investment into public service enhancements like road resurfacing, pedestrian safety improvements, and bikeway development. Issue 18 will set aside $550 million for public utility upgrades, including sanitary sewer system improvements and street lighting improvements.
“The passage of all of the bond packages allows us to build neighborhood infrastructure from affordable housing to roads, sidewalks, and parks,” Ginther said.
Amending the city’s charter: Hiring, ballot initiatives, and virtual public meetings
Columbus voters approved by significant margins three amendments to its municipal charter, all of which were recommended by the Charter Review Commission.
“Changes to the charter will keep self-dealing proposals with no oversite [sic] off of the ballot, strengthens our commitment to diversity, and modernizes requirements for public meetings,” Ginther said. “The future of our city has never been brighter.”
After Columbus leaders derided a 2021 ballot measure as a scam that threatened to drain $87 million from the city’s reserves, Issue 19 was proposed by the Charter Review Commission to prevent special interest groups from lining their pockets by way of ballot initiatives.
Signed off by voters, the city’s charter will now prohibit a Columbus ballot initiative from creating a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel. It also bans the city from holding stock in a company.
As Issue 19 takes aim at corruption, it also provides Columbus residents with more time – two years as opposed to one – to collect the signatures required to place a measure on the ballot. A 10-day “curing period” is also allotted in case a group fails to get enough signatures.
“This is essentially a give-back of something the city took back from us years ago,” Columbus resident Jon Beard, who spearheaded an initiative this year to get rent control on the ballot, told NBC4 in late October.
Voters followed the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation in approving Issue 20, too, which changes the way that prospective employees are categorized, or “banded,” after applying for a city job.
The change is designed to increase diversity and give city departments more flexibility in hiring, but the impact that it will have on workforce diversity is unknown. Black applicants outperformed their white counterparts on the oral test, the only competitive part of the civil service test, according to a November 2021 consultant’s report.
Issue 21, a housekeeping effort aimed at cleaning up outdated language, also gained voter support. The amendment restores the City Council’s and other city departments’ right to meet via video conference when it’s deemed necessary and provides the auditor’s office greater access to technology.