Groups line up on both sides of Upper Arlington Community Center Number 2
Early voting for the May 4 election began on April 6, and as residents vote on the fate of an Upper Arlington community center, groups are lining up on both sides.
The “advisory question” in number 2 simply asks, “Should the city build a new community center?”
Number 2 is not asking for approval of a tax hike or funding to build the center, but a ‘yes’ vote would give city officials the green light to issue $ 55 million in bonds to pay off over 30 years to build a 95300-square- as part of the planned redevelopment of the Macy’s building at Kingsdale Mall.
A “no” vote, according to City Manager Steve Schoeny and Upper Arlington City Council, would end the city’s pursuit of a community center as currently being proposed in Kingsdale.
A group of local residents who formed the Yes Political Action Committee for UA Community Center launched a website on January 21 at yescommunitycenter.com and campaigned to support Number 2 by distributing garden signs throughout the community. .
“We have the opportunity to build a beautiful intergenerational community center in Kingsdale without any increase in property taxes or income,” said campaign co-chair Catherine Strauss.
Yes for UA Community Center refers to an online survey commissioned by the city in November 2020 in which 74.55% (1,195 respondents) said they would support the issuance of up to $ 55 million in bonds payable through to existing revenues, without increasing new taxes, in order to build the facility.
According to the survey, 15.03% (241 respondents) said they would oppose the move.
“Our volunteers / team believe the community center is the multigenerational gathering space our city needs after a year of deprivation of social interaction,” said Natalie Boe, Yes for UA Community Center Campaign Coordinator. “Even before COVID, it was clear that we needed an indoor recreation space and an improved seniors’ center, and we couldn’t ask for a more perfect location and opportunity than what lies ahead now.
On the other side of the issue is a political action committee called Arlington Citizens for Truth in Taxation, which opposes the community center project on the grounds that it will ultimately cost residents additional taxes. The group has a website at notoissue2.com.
One of ACTT’s arguments centers on the city’s plan to provide a $ 17.5 million tax increase funding deal to Continental Real Estate Cos., Which would include the community center in the development of the Macy’s site. This project also includes the construction of two 7-storey buildings that would house 142 assisted living units, 6,000 square feet of food court, 325 apartments, eight townhouses and a 2-storey garage along Northwest Boulevard.
The Upper Arlington School Board voted unanimously on Dec. 8 in favor of the TIF arrangement which, if the community center project goes ahead, would see the developer contribute up to $ 17.5 million. dollars into a TIF fund, rather than paying those property taxes to the school. district.
If question 2 is rejected, the FIT amount would be $ 16.5 million.
According to city officials, around $ 1.6 million would be taken from the fund each year to pay off construction debt, and additional funds from this fund would be used to build the parking lot for development and others. improvements to the site’s public infrastructure.
If Issue 2 passes, the deal means the city will transfer ownership of the land at 1945 Ridgeview Road – where the Upper Arlington Senior Center is located – to the district after demolishing the current buildings and reshaping the parking lot.
While the district still receives the $ 124,000 in annual property taxes it currently receives from the Macy’s site, as well as $ 50,000 in annual payments from the city, it would not receive the additional $ 17.5 million in property taxes from the Macy’s site. Continental project at Macy’s for 30 years.
In the meantime, Upper Arlington schools administrators and school board members said on March 9 that the district will have to pass a new operating levy in 2022.
The ACTT said the Continental Project, particularly if the community center is included, will cause the district to seek more tax money from Upper Arlington landowners.
“Since the school district is the primary source of funding for this project, AU landowners can expect multiple periodic increases in school property tax to make up for lost revenue,” said ACTT in a four-page document posted on its website. .
The ACTT also maintains that the city’s estimated $ 54 million cost to build the community center does not include interest on the bond.
“At the city’s estimated interest rate of 3.15%, which is lower than current bond rates, this will cost an additional $ 21 million in interest payments,” the ACTT statement said. “So the real cost of this community center will be around $ 75 million when interest on the bonds is included.”
Upper Arlington officials say this is incorrect. A “fact sheet” on the city’s website, upperarlingtonoh.gov, states that ACTT’s statements are misleading because they imply that “the city has not been clear on construction costs.”
“The city’s financial plan for the community center covers all associated debt service, even if the number of interest payments of $ 21 million was correct,” the city’s website says. “In keeping with the city’s prudent fiscal practices, the projected interest payments are based on a rate of 3.15%.
“For comparison, in September 2020, the City of Upper Arlington issued debt at an interest rate of 2.23%, and several other bond issues in recent years have guaranteed interest rates. just as low. ”
Omar Ganoon, Treasurer of ACTT, is Managing Director of Boenning & Scattergood, an independent investment banking, asset management and securities firm. He said the 3.15% interest rate was provided by the city, but said he thought it was a low estimate because interest rates had climbed.
“(The city) is wrong,” Ganoom said. “There has been a movement in the market and that (3.15%) will not happen. But even with that, we used their number.
While ACTT says the community center will create more financial pressure on the school district, which will lead to higher taxes and cites concerns about interest costs on the obligation to build the facility, Yes on UA Community Center argues that the project will improve recreation and gatherings. Approvals.
“Community center plans on offer include indoor pool, running track, multi-purpose gymnasiums, weight room and exercise facilities, upgraded senior center, fitness classes, meeting space and community event, as well as child supervision facilities, a teen space, and programs for all ages. , ”Yes on the UA Community Center website states.
Other sticking points for both groups and the city include running costs.
The city, supported by a CCFTF study, argued that it would cost $ 3 million per year to operate the facility and that these costs can be covered by membership fees.
The ACTT said the city’s projections were “optimistic” and noted, according to public information and news reports, that several communities in central Ohio are supplementing the operating costs of their community centers.
The Westerville Recreation Center, for example, had a 2021 operating budget of around $ 4.15 million, according to Randy Auler, director of parks and recreation for Westerville.
Auler said the membership fee funds about $ 3.59 million of total operating costs. The balance is funded by a portion of income taxes spent on capital improvement projects and parks and $ 557,500 from the City’s general fund.
According to the city’s website, 16% of the total population of Upper Arlington will become members of the community. In comparison, he reported that 12% of the total population of Dublin are members of the community of that city, while 13% of the total population of Westerville belongs to its community center and that 29% of the total population of Worthington are members of the Worthington Center.
For city residents, the Upper Arlington website says planned memberships for the Upper Arlington Community Center would be $ 27 for an individual, $ 46 for a couple, $ 70 for a family, and $ 20 for a family. an old person.
By comparison, the city listed charges for Westerville ($ 26, $ 52, $ 70, $ 24), Worthington ($ 22, $ 35, $ 48, $ 15) and Dublin ($ 21, $ 36, $ 53 , $ 11).
Upper Arlington also intends to lease office space on the sixth and seventh floors of the community center, estimating that $ 264,512 can be raised annually to help pay off the facility’s construction debt.
The ACTT called this a “risky bet” and said “taxpayers will have to make up the difference” if the projections do not materialize.
When asked if Yes on UA Community Center had any concerns about renting space in the wake of the pandemic, Boe said it was a question best addressed to the city.
She added, however, “As supporters, we have looked at the plans and are confident that the city and the city council have done their due diligence and that the task force, made up of volunteer residents, has gone far beyond. of the industry standard for stress testing for one year by making a five-year “slowdown” projection. ”