Cuyahoga Falls -- City Council on Feb. 13 voted to delay a decision on starting a $3.75 million overhaul of the city's three downtown parking garages. The vote was 6-5 along party lines (six Republicans; five Democrats).

Councilman Jeff Iula (R-at large), chairman of the public and industrial improvements committee, made the motion, stating he wanted the ordinance to go back to committee for further discussion. Iula said more time was needed to review the cost of the project after new information was received that day.

"We got some new budget sheets and we'd like to look at that for further discussion," Iula said.

"This is catching me by surprise, totally," remarked Councilman Paul Colavecchio (D-at large). "Is the administration on board with this?"

Councilman Russ Iona (R-8), addressing Colavecchio, said Council was told the $10.75 million budget for the Front Street road opening project included the three parking decks and then members of Council subsequently learned that it does not, and the decks project is estimated to cost $3.75 million.

"When you add those numbers up, we're over $14 million," Iona said. "Originally we were told Front Street was going to be $10 million to $11 million Now we're at $14 million. I think we need some clarification before we OK the parking decks and everything else."

Finance Director Bryan Hoffman said Front Street and the parking decks are "two separate projects" and based on the city engineer's estimates, the Front Street was always in the range of $10 million to $13 million, and as the process unfolded, the planners' sights were set on "$13 million rather than $10 million."

Hoffman said the estimates for the Front Street project are on the high side. "I still anticipate the final figure to be about $13 million," he added.

"My concern is time," said Colavecchio at the Feb. 13 meeting. When asked about the impact the delay would have on the timeline, City Engineer Tony Demasi said his department was planning to start design work on the project Feb. 14.

"Any delay would certainly delay that," said Demasi. Bidding on the deck project was slated for mid-April and opening bids in May, with work beginning the first week of July, he said. The project includes overhead and vertical concrete repairs, repairing reinforcing bars, repairing the waterproofing, drainage repairs, electrical and elevator upgrades, masonry and faade repairs and, for the Blue deck, a new elevator, according to Demasi.

Council President Mary Ellen Pyke (R-2) said she was "uncomfortable" with the conversation taking place that night because she and others on Council were not prepared to discuss it.

Colavecchio said he was "uncomfortable" with delaying the project. "Even if it's a few million dollars in the scope of the project."

Pyke and Iula said the committee could discuss the issue and could bring the matter out for a vote the same night, which would be on Feb. 21.

"Not one councilmember attempted to contact me prior to this past Monday (Feb. 13)," Hoffman stated in an email to the Falls News-Press Feb. 15. "The councilmembers had the information for a full week and made no attempt to analyze nor discuss any questions prior to the public meeting."

He said the Front Street project is a year and a half in the making that has included many updates from Mayor Don Walters at City Council meetings, a bus tour and public meetings. "To act like information is not available or information is not being provided is disingenuous," Hoffman said.

In a phone conversation with the Falls News-Press on Feb. 15, Iula said Pyke told him about "five minutes before the meeting" on Feb. 13 that there were members of Council who had questions about the project.

Iula said the ordinance needed eight affirmative votes, or super majority, to immediately go into effect. Any passage with less than eight votes would mean 30 days before the legislation would take effect. Iula said he didn't want to risk delaying the project a month, and that's why he wanted to send it back to committee.


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