Village Council

Village Council— CBE federal grants reduced

The Village of Yellow Springs learned this week that federal grant funds that have long been committed for road construction within the Village commerce park have been withdrawn. A federal earmark of $344,000 that was committed through the Ohio Department of Transportation for roads at the Village’s Center for Business and Education was redirected last month to another project. The loss of funding cuts the CBE’s infrastructure budget by over 20 percent.

Village Manager Laura Curliss for one thinks the news is a good thing for the village. Even with all the grant money, for the past year the Village has been unable to bridge a funding gap to pay for the CBE’s total road and utility installation estimate of $1.5 million. The withdrawal of such a large sum will force the Village to rethink the entire plan, Curliss said.

“This will allow us to step back and reevaluate,” she said during her manager’s report at the Village Council meeting Monday, Oct. 1. “I think scaling back $400,000 will make it a lot more doable project.”

Yellow Springs Community Resources has been the lead development partner working with the Village to open the CBE. That group is taking more of a wait-and-see approach to the project. According to board member Jerry Sutton on Tuesday, despite the partial loss of funds, CR is prepared to keep moving forward to bid the original infrastructure design. The group is hopeful that with contractors hungry for work and asphalt prices lower than anticipated, the project will still be doable. And if after the bid, the project still needs more funds, CR is ready to tap the community and other grant sources for support.

“The loss of funds was predictable — there’s something called ‘use it or lose it,’” Sutton said. “We still have about $400,000 from the Corps of Engineers and it’s essential that we figure out how to use it and move forward as soon as possible.”

The Village and CR have been working with ODOT to advance the CBE through its design and development stages for the past three and a half years. In 2006 the project benefitted from a commitment of $1 million in road and utility infrastructure grants from both ODOT and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the design approval process has been slow, and over the summer ODOT officials reviewed the project for stage 3 plan readiness and did not consider it “committed” enough to receive the last $344,000 earmark for road construction. Last month the Federal Highway Administration directed ODOT to reallocate or forfeit any earmarks that were not committed by Dec. 31, and the earmark was redirected to an I-75 highway project.

According to a memo Curliss sent to Council this week, ODOT tried to substitute other funds for the Village’s earmark, but because none of the roadways in the CBE are dedicated federal or state roads, they cannot benefit from discretionary state highway funds.

Even before ODOT withdrew its remaining funds, the Village was shy by about $700,000 the total new construction estimate of $1.5 million issued by Jacobs Engineering earlier in the year. Jacobs’ estimate covered utility and sanitary sewer installation, and the construction of three main roads, Gateway Drive, Community Drive and University Drive. ODOT’s withdrawal increased the funding deficit to about $1,118,000.

At Monday’s Council meeting, Curliss recommended that the Village reduce the number of roads in the plan to just two main roads, which if redesigned, could service all the buildable lots in the 35-acre park. Village staff estimated that just building Gateway and University Drives could reduce new construction cost to about $800,000, and thereby reduce the funding deficit to about $400,000 still needed to complete the project. Gateway Drive arcs northwest from Dayton-Yellow Springs Road to a roundabout at the west end of the park, and University Drive branches off of Gateway to the east to service the 10 acres already occupied by Antioch University Midwest.

No decisions have been made about the final design of the CBE roadways. Village staff recommended, in accord with CR’s intentions, to move ahead with a bid on the original construction design. Curliss suggested the option to phase the project by reengineering a design for just two roadways at first, and adding on as funds become available. She also suggested some fundraising possibilities, including Ohio Public Works Commission grants and selling road naming rights for $100,000.
Village Council did not discuss the issue during the meeting and will take up the issue again after reviewing the options with Community Resources.

In other Council business:

• Council voted 3–2 to approve the second reading of an ordinance prohibiting oil and gas companies from extracting gas and oil or establishing injection wells within the village limits. The ordinance establishes a community bill of rights for Yellow Springs residents, which prohibits corporations or individuals from violating their personal rights to a clean environment.

Council members Judith Hempfling, Lori Askeland and Rick Walkey voted for the legislation; Gerry Simms and Karen Wintrow voted against it. Simms said he did not want to put the Village at risk by going against its solicitor’s advice not to adopt legal codes that pit municipal authority against state authority. Wintrow preferred that instead of being renegades, the Village join an organized effort to lobby the state to change its laws to make this type of legislation effective and legal.

Dimi Reber stated during the meeting that the legislation, proposed by the local Gas and Oil Drilling Awareness and Education group, was in no way crafted in defiance of state law. Rather, it is intended to reframe an interpretation of the existing laws.

“It’s saying that corporations don’t have the right to violate citizens’ rights,” Reber said. “It’s a challenge to an interpretation…it’s not just saying we don’t care” about state law.

• Villager Carol Cobbs expressed disappointment in the fast-paced and limited scope of the search for the new Village police chief. She believed the search should have been national or even regional, but certainly beyond Yellow Springs.

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