Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Fairfield holds off payment for new community center

By Jennifer Edwards, jedwards@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FAIRFIELD — The green light for a $9.6 million community center in Village Green turned to a caution light Monday after three City Council members objected.

        Council was to vote on an emergency ordinance to pay $910,000 for a construction design of the 45,000-square-foot center that could open as early as December 2004. But Council members Mark Scharringhausen, Steve Miller and Ron D'Epifanio said the city should first devise a plan to pay for the center or a much-needed, bigger Fairfield Justice Center in case an income tax reallocation to pay for both projects, on the ballot going to voters in November, fails.

        “What we are attempting to do tonight is throw caution to the wind,” Mr. Scharringhausen said. “I may be unduly conservative. I don't think so. I am being prudent.”

        City leaders want to build the community center but also must either expand the Fairfield Justice Center or build a new one. The current 18,000-square-foot facility off Ohio 4, which houses the city's courts and police department, is overcrowded and outdated.

        The community center can be built without the reallocation, city officials say. But to build it and either add on to the justice center or build a new one, the city must shuffle 0.1 of a percentage point, or about $1.2 million a year, of the city's 1.5 percent income tax from the street improvement fund to the general fund. Voters approved similar moves in the 1970s and 1990 for sewer and road improvements, according to the city's finance director.

        “I think it is grossly irresponsible to go on spending money until we have a vote on the reallocation,” Mr. D'Epifanio said.

        Now plans for the community center won't move forward until at least next month, when consultants studying expansion options for the justice center return to council with recommendations.

        That upset the four other council members who cautioned that delaying the community center vote could make construction costs more expensive. “I have never sat on a council and been totally blown out of the water like this,” Councilman Jeffrey Holtegel said. “Why did we even waste our time doing all the stuff we did if there wasn't support?” Plans for the community center call for a 250-seat theater, community rooms, an art gallery, senior recreational facilities, dance and fitness programs and day care.        

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