Candidates for City Council Debate Biggest Local Issues
Tax abatements, income inequality, affordable housing, jobs, and education – Columbus City Council candidates hit all the hot button issues during their debate at the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Wednesday, October 23.
Incumbent councilmembers Elizabeth Brown, Rob Dorans, Shayla Favor, and Emmanuel Remy are all up for re-election this November, an opportunity for the progressive community organization Yes We Can (YWC) to once again run their candidates. Community activist Joe Motil and North Central Area Commission member Tiffany White attended the debate representing YWC; labor organizer and social justice advocate Liliana Rivera Baiman, also a YWC candidate, did not attend. The seventh candidate on-stage, running unaffiliated, was Scott Singratsomboune, a special victim paralegal with the Army Reserve.
The theme was “party dems vs. the insurgents.” YWC candidates and Singratsomboune condemned tax abatements and other corporate relief, and incumbents argued the need for private investment to keep the Columbus region growing at its breakneck pace.
The first question posed to the candidates, regarding the ballooning cost of the new Crew stadium from $50 million to $98 million, had incumbents emphasizing the potential for investment in distressed communities using the revenue gained from the sports complex.
“Other investments in that area – I don’t really care what Crew owners think of them, what Crew interests think of them,” said Brown. “We’re going to analyze those investments based on whether they will pay off in income taxes and revenue to help us develop the rest of the city and safe roads, trash pickup – things that benefit our whole city when we make money on one district.”
Singratsomboune was concerned about the optics of funding a sports complex development, complete with office buildings, restaurants, apartments and a bike path, while other Columbus neighborhoods like the South Side, West Side and Linden are struggling just to get access to living wage jobs.
“Now, perhaps we’re waiting for it to trickle down to them and it just hasn’t happened yet, but we cannot make that connection,” he said, “and I think absolutely the city of Columbus has its priorities backwards when we’re spending millions and millions of dollars on development, but people don’t see it helping their own pocket books.”
When tax abatements came up, education was naturally entwined in the discussion. Columbus community members, and candidates Motil and Singratsomboune asked why multi-million and billion dollar development firms are receiving brakes on their property taxes to develop in low-risk communities, while Columbus City Schools are suffering from a bad state report card, deteriorating buildings, and a lack of supportive staff such as counselors, nurses, and social workers.
White opposed tax abatements. She said Columbus is attractive enough without offering abatements to national and regional corporations, and that relief should instead go to small, local businesses.
Brown acknowledged the need for equitable growth and reminded debaters that council created the Tax Incentive Review Council to take away incentives if companies don’t fulfill their commitment to creating a set number of jobs. Dorans agreed, and said council would look at making it an ongoing review process, rather than one that happens every three years, as it does currently.
“It’s really important for us to hold folks accountable who are getting these incentives, and at the same time, make sure as a community that we’re focused on things that we want, things like affordable housing, things like a $15 minimum wage,” Dorans said. “We need to have that review process. Otherwise, you can just go on in perpetuity without really focusing on meeting needs at that point.”
Homelessness, unstable housing, and high eviction rates (18,000 evictions in 2018) affect Columbus neighborhoods. Simultaneously, the Columbus region is expecting to welcome one million new residents by 2050, and development of middle-income housing can’t keep pace. Candidates had to consider how they would meet housing needs for those middle- and low-income families.
Motil touched on his plan for a $250 million bond package that reallocates funding for the Columbus Convention Visitors Bureau and revenue from the Occupancy Tax to subsidize affordable housing and rental housing repair. He said people should have better opportunities to purchase their homes and that more organizations, other than Homeport, should get in on the affordable housing market.
Singratsomboune said tax relief should benefit seniors through efficiency improvement, micro-lending, and down payment assistance programs.
In line with her perspective on tax abatements, White said tax abatements should go to local, small developers, who are “interested in keeping the community cohesive and inclusive.”
Remy proposed freezing taxes for seniors that are in neighborhoods facing rising costs of living, and to work with the state legislature to provide further aid. Dorans said Columbus matches other cities in the Midwest struggling with affordable housing, and that council should work with neighborhood associations to come up with solutions.
Favor said the city must take practical measures and chip away at the housing shortage by offering assistance in eviction court and using land trust agreements to enable owners to invest in their properties.
In one week, voters will take these issues to the polls. They’ll also decide on judges and school board members as well as a tax levy renewal for Franklin County Children Services. The polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 5.
For a sample ballot, polling locations, identification requirements and other information, visit VoteOhio.gov.