Columbus, Ohio, turns to voters for a $1 billion bond request

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Top-rated Columbus, Ohio, will ask voters in May to approve a $1.03 billion bond package to finance capital improvements.

The package on the May ballot would provide $50 million for an affordable housing plan while $205 million would be designated for safety, health, and infrastructure, including a real-time crime center and about $130 million would be used to fund the construction of a new Franklin County Municipal Court complex.

The bulk of the bond package, roughly $425 million, would be spent on public projects including road resurfacing, curb and sidewalk improvements, bridge rehabilitation, and refuse collection and facility improvements. Roughly $250 million will be devoted to public utilities in the form of water and sanitary improvements.

Bonds would be issued to fund projects over the next four years.

The ballot measure marks the first time the city has asked voters to approve a dedicated affordable housing fund. Usually the allocation is determined in the annual capital budget.

“Affordable housing is one of the biggest challenges facing the city today,” Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther said. “These funds would be used over several years in partnership with other private and public entities to construct new or renovate existing properties and alleviate some of the existing gap in affordable housing.”

Voter approval would give the city the authority to raise taxes but City Auditor Megan Kilgore emphasized that a bond package won't require a tax increase.

“A voted bond package means that the city is asking voters to support the issuance of general obligation bonds to finance our traditional capital improvements,” said Kilgore. “Voter approval of the bond package provides for the lowest cost of borrowing, potentially saving the city millions of dollars over the course of the borrowing.”

In a presentation for the latest authorization the city explained that voter-approved debt offerings achieve a savings relative to non-voter approved debt because investors have more confidence they will be repaid and generally demand a lower interest rate. Based on a $1 billion bond package voted debt, the city expects to save $9 million to $14 million over the life of the bonds compared to unvoted debt, according to city.

Columbus is one of the largest cities in the nation that has triple-A bond ratings from all three major rating agencies.

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