For the city of Sandusky, opportunity knocks

Anonymous
Feb 10, 2013

 

Excerpt from editorial Viewpoint in today's Sunday Register:  A suggestion by Erie County commissioners on Thursday that the city of Sandusky consider moving its City Hall operations to the County Administration Building at Columbus Avenue and Washington Row includes an offer to donate county-owned property near the sheriff's office that potentially can be designated as an enterprise zone where the Sandusky Municipal Court and the city police department can build.

An enterprise zone in the area where the sheriff's office and jail, and the new Perkins Police Department are located would allow for the current structure of our law enforcement agencies to remain as they are, while at the same time enhancing cooperation among those agencies and the court. It could become a sort of justice center isolated from tourists and residents visiting downtown and the waterfront pathway.

An enterprise zone also preserves the tax base for each community.

At first blush, it appears there are many advantages in the proposal to move City Hall operations to the former LaSalle store with the parking garage:

**   Eliminates the potential multi-million dollar construction or renovation costs associated with relocating, a huge plus for taxpayers.

**   Moving City Hall operations could be accomplished relatively quickly with limited expense.

**   Criminal proceedings and the activity of a busy court get removed from a slice of waterfront property, enhancing the recreational or commercial value of that property and the adjacent Battery Park and former Surf's Up properties along the waterfront.

**   Connecting the current City Hall property with Battery Park and the Surf's Up properties creates an opportunity for world-class waterfront acreage with a world-class view that will enhance the value of Sandusky and it's downtown business district as a premiere tourism destination place.

The initial reaction from city, county officials and members of the public has been positive and we hope city commissioners move quickly to vet the details. Municipal Court Judge Erich O'Brien has set a June deadline for a decision on his plan to use court funds for the construction of a new municipal court building.

We urge city commissioners to have a public discussion at tomorrow's city commission meeting and a vote to ask city manager Nicole Ard to review the details with county officials and come back with preliminary recommendations within 30 days.  

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Comments

Train

Do they really think they're going to fit Admin., SPD, and Courts in the Lasalle building? Where's the sally port and holding cells for SPD? Washington Park?

Matt Westerhold

Thanks for the comment train. The suggestion from the county would be to move the police department and the Municipal Court to an enterprise zone near the area where the Erie County Sheriff's Office and Jail and the new Perkins police building are located, creating a sort of justice center and centralizing those operations while maintaining the individual identities of each law enforcement agency and retaining the tax base for each community derived from those operations. The county owns land near there that could be donated for the city's use.

I adjusted the excerpt from today's Viewpoint to include some of that information.

pavedparadise

Has the Register contacted John Eyemann from the failed Marina District?

Swamp Fox

When you look at this building the old LaSalle building the only non used area is the commissioners chambers on the third floor, which by state law they must maintain in the county seat. The remainder of the building is already being used by other county offices. The auditor, treasurer, title office, veterans affairs, recorder, law library, and prosecutor are all housed in this building and busting at the seams, the majority of these offices need to be in close proximity to the court house. Where is their room to house the large city staff? Were the elected county officials whose offices are located in this building consulted? The county taxpayers deserve answers to these questions.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks for the comment Swamp Fox. Judge Lux is vacating his space at the Erie County Administration Building and county commissioners are estimating there will be 14,000 square feet of space available for City Hall operations. In addition, the city has space at the Service Center off Cement Street on the west side that is already operational that can accommodate other non-administrative city services. 

Phil Packer

What about when the folks at JC Penny come to their senses and want to move back downtown?

Matt Westerhold

You never know, Phil Packer, you just never know. After the Richfield Coliseum was built did anyone expect the Cleveland Cavaliers organization would move its operations back to downtown Cleveland? I loved that old, green Penney's store. Thanks for the comment. 

Phil Packer

But, we DO know...

Swamp Fox

Matt numerous questions the taxpayers of both the city and county needs answers for. How many people does the city plan on moving into this building? What is the occupancy limit for fire code on this building? The numbers and space just doesn't match, in this case size does matter. Were the other elected county officials that are effected consulted? In this plan instead of all city employees and officials being housed under one roof that would be convenient to conduct business both for the city and taxpayers they would be scattered in at least three locations. If the police department is housed in a "justice center" near the sheriffs office that is in Perkins Township, would the city police even have jurisdiction in their own building or are they planning on annexing that area, I sure Perkins would have questions? What tax base doe the city or county derive from criminal justice services?

Matt Westerhold

Some good questions, Swamp Fox. It's a proposal that's been made for consideration and all of your questions should be considered. You seem to already be against this suggestion, however, before there's been a chance to ask or answer any of those concerns. 

Darkhorse

And the Chinese are in waiting to grab the whole corner at 222 Meigs Street. Perkins and the County over built and now we need to bail them out so they can keep paying the mortgage. None of this has even been discussed out in the open at any meeting until all plans are set and the vote is ready to go.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks for the comment Darkhorse. I'm not aware of any proposal to sell 222 Meigs Street to a Chinese businessman, although there's been that speculation. I believe issues regarding real estate transactions are one of the exceptions in the Ohio Revised Code that allow governments to meet in closed-door sessions that bar the public from participation. But if city commissioners have had those discussions, tomorrow's meeting might be a good time to put that on the table.

Personally, it's my opinion the city should take this one step at a time. The first step, it seems to me, is to determine whether City Hall should be re-located; the second step would be to determine what to do with the 222 Meigs St. property if it's determined a re-location is in the best interest of taxpayers.

Reaching a deal to sell the property to anyone before all the various questions are asked and answered and without any public discussion of the options would be a mistake, in my opinion. It seems also that the waterfront should be viewed as a whole and not piecemeal. The value of all three parts — 222 Meigs St., Battery Park and the former Surf's Up property — as a recreational and/or commercial property is much greater as a whole than separately, it would seem.

I don't think a "low-cost, long-term lease" is designed to "bail the county out." I'm also confident the county's offer, which seems to have the potential to eliminate much of the enormous cost associated with re-locating City Hall, has nothing to do with any private discussions any city commissioner might have had with anyone about selling 222 Meigs St. If that has been discussed privately, previously, it would be good to make that part of the open discussion at tomorrow's Sandusky city commission meeting. 

It might be better if our local governments worked together rather than operate as if they are in the Middle East. The Perkins Township and the city governments are not Iran and Israel, and what benefits the parts in our region benefits the whole. 

Centauri

"I believe issues regarding real estate transactions are one of the exceptions in the Ohio Revised Code that allow governments to meet in closed-door sessions that bar the public from participation." "Reaching a deal to sell the property to anyone before all the various questions are asked and answered and without any public discussion of the options would be a mistake, in my opinion."

Ohio law states that selling property would be illegal without the input of the public. Local governments can discuss the purchase or selling of real estate behind closed doors but the proposal to buy or sell any real estate much be presented to the public for approval before any agreement is signed by seller and purchaser.

http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/121.22
(G)(2) To consider the purchase of property for public purposes, or for the sale of property at competitive bidding, if premature disclosure of information would give an unfair competitive or bargaining advantage to a person whose personal, private interest is adverse to the general public interest. No member of a public body shall use division (G)(2) of this section as a subterfuge for providing covert information to prospective buyers or sellers. A purchase or sale of public property is void if the seller or buyer of the public property has received covert information from a member of a public body that has not been disclosed to the general public in sufficient time for other prospective buyers and sellers to prepare and submit offers.

Please note from the above law: "A purchase or sale of public property is void if the seller or buyer of the public property has received covert information from a member of a public body that has not been disclosed to the general public in sufficient time for other prospective buyers and sellers to prepare and submit offers."

There have been a lot of illegal real estate purchases and selling by various governments in Ohio. Many private real estate sellers and buyers have benefited by illegal selling and buying behind closed doors and away from public scrutiny. The law states that one can discuss real estate transactions behind closed doors but the purchase or selling must be presented to the public for approval. Any illegal real estate transactions behind closed doors can be set aside and voided.

Centauri

"A purchase or sale of public property is void if the seller or buyer of the public property has received covert information from a member of a public body that has not been disclosed to the general public IN SUFFICIENT TIME for other prospective buyers and sellers to prepare and submit offers."

In other words, other buyers and sellers must be allowed to prepare and submit offers in sufficient time which could take days or weeks.

Swamp Fox

Matt all of my question are fair and need to be answered by all officials involved. I am open to to this proposal if these questions can be answered. One additional question. If city police and court employees are moved into Perkins without annexation, would they be legally obligated to pay city income tax, wouldn't that be a decrease in city tax revenue from these services? When is the last time the county gave away land to any other city or township, why not sell it to the city, it does belong to the taxpayers of the entire county.

Matt Westerhold

I believe the purpose of an enterprise zone is to avoid any change in the income tax revenue status for any of the employees involved as well as any other tax ramifications that might be involved in a move. I didn't mean to suggest your "good" questions were not fair. I'm simply suggesting that the city and Perkins Township be given the opportunity to review the proposal, which was made in an open county commissioner meeting just this past Thursday.

Swamp Fox

Doesn't the enterprise zone deal and benefits the private sector with tax abatement and encouraging their relocation? Does it have any effect or allows the city to tax income outside the city? Was the open commissioner meeting that this was brought up discussed with any other city of county official prior or was this the first they heard of it? If it was discussed, when and was it in open meetings or in violation of the Sunshine law that I know Matt you are well versed. Thanks for you replies and looking forward for the answers in the coming weeks and months.

Darkhorse

Why would the county donate property to Sandusky? I think that is mighty generous of them. Maybe it is a solution rather then having to cough up 8.5 million from a lawsuit that Sandusky has on the County. Wouldn't it just be easier to just give Sandusky the 8.5 million settlement then for the county to try to make deals to get out from under the lawsuit? Matt, before you go taking sides right away, you had better get all the facts because you might want to jump back over the fence as the details of the plans start to unfold and become public.

Matt Westerhold

There is no "plan" I'm aware of; it was a suggestion by county commissioners in an open meeting. I'm not taking sides, except to say the suggestion is worthy of review. Both Sandusky and Perkins Township are in Erie County so the county has an interest in assisting both communities. The city's water lawsuit against the county, in my opinion, was ill-advised and I don't believe this offer has anything to do with that. The lawsuit appears to have been "lawyer-driven" since city commissioners did not approve filing it and likely it will be lawyers — not taxpayers or water customers — who benefit from it. It's that exact warring between local governments that impedes progress, in my opinion.   

reader

This idea certainly deserves consideration.

Darkhorse

Matt has confidence that the city is going to dicuss this in open session on Monday, right! Why does Sandusky have to hear this news through the county instead of the city telling us about all the wonderful solutions the county is coming up to move us off our little corner. One executive session coming up over personal property.

Matt Westerhold

I don't have confidence this will be discussed. I have hope it might be openly be discussed at Monday's city commission meeting.

Centauri

The city cannot sell or buy any property behind closed doors. It would be illegal and would be void as the law states.

"Your submission has triggered the spam filter and will not be accepted." Really? I consider many of Ohio laws (ORC) as being spam. Whoever wrote and voted in those Ohio laws must have been drunk.

SANDTOWNBOYZ

As a taxpayer I am again appalled over this move or intended move. There is plenty of room at this facility to operate and if needed expanded. Lets go over some interesting facts.
1, The facility was built large and strong enough to add a third floor.
2. The center of the building was built open, CLOSE IT IN AND BUILD!
3. There is 4 "SALLEY" ports for the P.D. They only use 1, CLOSE in and build in the others.
4. Install new energy efficient windows. Much cheaper than a new building.

Did anyone see that staged picture of the over stuffed records room last week? Look close, the files are meticulously in order yet 7 boxes were stacked haphazardly around giving the impression of over crowding. How about bricking in one of the Sally ports for records keeping.

Jealousy of bright and shiny amaze me. The commissioners are simply envious of surrounding communities building new. I.E. Perkins. If you want a new shiny building, build up and enclose the center, they (commissioners) could add 30,000 square feet. EASY! New DRIVE-IT board (stucko) and modern energy efficient windows would create the appearance of new, without the huge costs of building from scratch.

What message are you sending by moving to a rented facility? We have waterfront property, be proud, be strong. No one is in line to by your precious city hall, stop your sniveling crybaby views of ....... I WANT, I WANT, I WANT, ME ME ME! Do you even hear yourselves?

Clean the damn property up, add new Drive-it board / stucko add new windows, add space and be proud of what you have. New landscaping would be a huge hit, encompass a section for officer Dunn.

As for the courts, is anyone tired of hearing they have over a million dollars for a rainy day New Court?????? Stop! Fix the one you have! The heyday population of Sandusky has gone from 35,000 to just 25,000 in less than a decade. Over 60 % of the population are renters, NON HOME OWNERS!

DO SOMETHING FOR SANDUSKY AND NOT FOR YOURSELVES!

SANDTOWNBOYZ

Just one more item that needs addressed, YOU WILL NOT , I REPEAT NOT, get all of the properties under one vail.
1. Battery Park has 2 back to back 50 year leases!
2. Sandusky sailing club has 2 back to back 40 year leases
3. State money was used for Surfs up.

So here is the deal, it would cost tens of millions of dollars to get battery park to roll over, the Sandusky sailing club would not relinquish its lease, you would have to steal it thru eminent domain, and as for the surfs up property you would have to repay the funds and or give waterfront property to the state in a equal trade. EQUAL $$$

That being said, if you relinquish city hall IT WILL BE A STAND ALONE PROPERTY!

pavedparadise

Sounds like a good idea having City employees scattered out across the area. Some in the County Building, some at the City Service Complex and some out in Perkins. NOT.

captain

Your talking about dismantling the once glorious City of Sandusky. I know times are very tough. But, the City is siting on a gold mine one day. The City Hall should reflect stability and fiscal responsibility, where ever within the City, it is located. Perhaps new envisioned people should be consulted. City Commissioners - do not abandon the city as many others have done. Do not waste time entertaining this idea.

Swamp Fox

Great idea citizens of Sandusky can go to Perkins Township if they need to go to the police department, why not move the fire department to Castalia on land that Castalia can give the city. Why shouldn't the city rent space from the county, isn't the goverment supposed to reflect the population they serve? Yes, this was scarasm...

Matt Westerhold

Thanks for the comments, pavedparadise, captain and Swamp Fox. It's a bit disappointing, however, to dismiss  this suggestion before it's ever discussed by city officials. Wouldn't it be better to attempt to get a better understanding of what might be possible in an agreement before making a determination on the value of it?   

Swamp Fox

Matt many concerns and questions were raised that I think has merit and should be answered by all parties before any tax funds are expended.

pavedparadise

I wonder what "Initial reaction from members of the public has been positive" Matt is referring to. Has the Register interviewed the men and women on the street to come to this conclusion?

T. A. Schwanger

@Matt

What everyone needs to remember is the City and County are not re-inventing the wheel here.

These exact discussions and plans were part of the last two attempts to vacate City Hall and major problems were evident. One plan to renovate and move into privately owned Columbus Ave. buildings downtown would have cost the City significanly more than renovating the current building.

Based on conversations at the County level, ECEDCs small office space in the County's downtown Columbus Ave. building is valued at $38,000 yearly.

Matt, do you know what the County's construction debt is on the Columbus Ave. building? And what part the courts played in paying that debt?
Also, you and I both know, again based on past experience, if this idea become a reality, commercial development will not be limited to just the footprint of City Hall.

Matt Westerhold

Thanks for the comment Tim. I don't know the county debt on the building and don't know what any possible lease agreement might cost the city. Those details have not been vetted or discussed as this was just suggested last week. They are questions that would need to be answered and I'm not assuming anything, one way or another. 

I cannot recall the County Administration Building ever coming into play previously as a potential location for City Hall. It would seem to me that any renovation costs required for a move to that building would be minimal compared to other locations that were considered.

Also, I'm not assuming anything with regard to how the 222 Meigs St. property and the other properties might be used if City Hall operations are moved. As I stated previously, I think it's important to separate and get answers to both questions, independently of each other.

Should City Hall operations be moved?

What should be done with the properties if it should?

I think to would be better to work through those questions without assumptions and without arming for the same battles that have occurred in the past. I also believe there is an opportunity here that might serve your worthy agenda to preserve the waterfront. 

T. A. Schwanger

Thanks for the response Matt.

Having this particular article on the Register web-page has started a dialog of questions and concerns prior to finalized plans that hopefully the players involved are paying attention to.

The year was early-mid 90's when the City' plan was to construct City offices where the downtown County Bldg stands today. The County ended up building instead and there was talk at that time for the City to share cost and space. Lack of City dollars ended the discussion.

Centauri

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Centauri

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http://cincinnati.com/blogs/poli...
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Darkhorse

Why don't we just annex and get it over with? What is the county's motive anyway for being so hospitable? That alone will make you suspicious of this whole thing. You can bet they have something up their sleeves. As for the group that is positive about all this, let us start with the downtown business people such as the Downtown Association who stand to gain on all this. Motives are always slanted towards them profiting off of moving Ctiy Hall.

pavedparadise

What Is an Enterprise Zone?

According to the Internal Revenue Service, a business qualifies as an enterprise zone business if it satisfies the following conditions: every trade or business of the corporation or partnership actively conducts business within an "empowerment zone," at least 50 percent of gross income is from actively pursuing business within a zone, a substantial portion of the total usage of all tangible property occurs within a zone, a substantial part of intangible property is used in the conduct of the business, a substantial portion of workers work within a zone, at least 35 percent of employees are zone residents (not including Washington, D.C.), and less than 5 percent of the average total unadjusted basis of property is from certain financial property or collectibles not for sale to the public.

Not sure government offices or services qualify or meet the spirit of the Enterprise Zone purpose.

Centauri

"What Is an Enterprise Zone?"

http://www.development.ohio.gov/...
Ohio Enterprise Zone Program