Sandusky city commissioners have a big month ahead stuffed with challenges. The decisions made tomorrow and again in two weeks when commissioners meet could have far-reaching impact on the city and its short- and long-term future.
First up: Paper District
City manager Matt Kline will tell commissioners on Monday that it will cost $1.8 million to complete the breakwall and pathway around the Chesapeake. He also will tell them developer Bob Davis is out, and the seawall/walkway should be financed with low-interest bonds the city can obtain. The loans will be repaid with earmarked tax incremental financing funds generated through future property tax revenues from the Chesapeake property owners.
Phase 2, the Paper District acreage to the west will be opened and readied for new development opportunities.
Still in his rookie year as city manager, Kline has handled the Paper District details with a deft hand. He's taken a difficult and potentially bad situation and positioned the project for continued success. He should get support from commissioners on this recommendation, and it would not surprise me if that support is in the form of a unanimous vote.
Marina District: No guts, no glory
If it were easy it wouldn't be worth doing. And the Marina District has been anything but easy.
The Erie County elections board should soon verify whether a referendum petition circulated by waterfront watchdogs has enough valid signatures. If it does that could force a vote on city commission's decision to go forward with the Marina District project, the city's biggest and most important development.
The elections board could approve a citywide vote to go on the ballot -- in November 2009 -- and that delay could kill the project.
But city commissioners have options, and option No. 1 would be to vacate their earlier vote and re-vote the Marina District as emergency legislation. An emergency vote cannot be petitioned for a referendum, and commissioners could easily justify the emergency nature of the moment.
Here's my suggestion for commissioners: Opt for option 1. It will take guts to stare down the waterfront watchdogs, but there is no glory in being gutless.
The opposition from the watchdogs has improved the project details and residents already spoke when they approved the project in a citywide vote in November 2007. State law and city charter both support the legality of option 1. Tradition supports option 1.
The city has given the waterfront watchdogs all the due deference it should. Kline has responded to their inquiries and was able to improve the project details based on some of the concerns they raised.
The Marina District project is the only living, breathing economic development in the city of Sandusky. Construction costs alone would bring $50 million in taxable investment into the city. The people already have voted.
Commissioners will be given a path to follow and I hope they tackle this before the end of the year. It's a very important no-brainer vote: Vacate the original commissioner vote and re-vote it as emergency legislation.
The domino effect from inaction would put the brakes on four other important projects: city hall, municipal court, police headquarters and emergency dispatch services. Commission, in general, has developed these plans based on true need. It has been an open and well-thought out process with a clear and sober eye on efficient and responsible stewardship over public money.
We often criticize the inefficiencies of government on these pages, and commission has earned a fair share of harsh harping from me. But the efforts the city has made to accommodate the opposition to the city's King Kong project has been open and straightforward. It's been a responsive government process, and that's a good thing.
Bye-bye Mr. Murray
Dennis Murray Jr.'s election to the state Legislature created the final two December challenges for city commission: Choose a replacement; choose a commission president/ex officio mayor.
Craig Stahl and Dave Waddington both appear to have three votes for the top spot. The fourth vote, Mr. Murray's or his replacement, will be key to the contest.
I hope commission tackles these two challenges openly; a voice vote would be cool.
There, you have it.