Thursday, January 04, 2001

Portune says halt stadium payments

$500,000 for Olympics also in jeopardy

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hamilton County commissioners might stop payment on that $6 million check they cut last week to pay for the last of the overruns at Paul Brown Stadium.

        New Commissioner Todd Portune, presiding over his first commission meeting Wednesday, argued that the county should not pour more money into the troubled project until after a construction auditor determines who is to blame for the soaring costs.

        The overruns now stand at $50.9 million.

        “I have serious questions about whether this money should be expended at this point,” Mr. Portune said. “Why should we front money for work that should have been done right in the first place?

        “I don't think we need to be in the business of fronting the money.”

        County taxpayers already have paid $45 million of the overruns — the maximum construction managers said the stadium would run over in February. Since then, safety problems at the stadium have added another $5.9 million to the tab — most dealing with additional fire alarms, emergency lights and the like.

        That $5.9 million includes $1.3 million in additional fees for construction managers and the architect.

        Commissioner Tom Neyer thinks the bill should be paid, then the county should try to recoup the overruns through negotiations or lawsuits. He said holding up payment could cost the county in the long run.

        “If we put the brakes on now, we will create carnage in delay and expense for the very people we are trying to protect,” said Mr. Neyer, who added that not paying the bills would cause the project to drag on, costing taxpayers more.

        “If we extend the process, we will pay,” he said.

        The third commissioner, John Dowlin, is against paying the money.

        Commissioners agreed to have a full discussion on the matter Monday, along with a legal analysis from the prosecutor's office. They will likely take a vote then.

        Mr. Portune wants to put the brakes on another potential expense for county taxpayers — money for the effort to bring the Olympics to Cincinnati.

        Commissioners last week gave County Administrator Dave Krings permission to negotiate a contract with Cincinnati 2012 Inc. for a $500,000 grant over two years.

        But Mr. Portune has said he is opposed to the grant, and Commissioner John Dowlin said he will not vote in favor of the expenditure until his list of 10 questions about taxpayer return on the investment are answered.

        “Why should we direct the county administrator to spend his time negotiating a contract that will probably not be approved?” Mr. Portune said.

        Responded Mr. Krings, “I have the same questions you do.”

        Commissioners agreed to reconsider the matter in two weeks, saying that no contract will be worked out in the meantime.


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