Lightner Center rejected in 4-4 vote

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The proposed public safety center finally got to a vote Tuesday after months of debate. The Raleigh City Council voted against moving ahead with the $205-million project in a 4-4 vote.

Until council can reach a majority on the issue, spending on the project will come to a halt at a time when the council acknowledges a prime lending atmosphere.

Mayor Charles Meeker, Mary-Ann Baldwin (at-large), James West (District C) and Nancy McFarlane (District A) all voted in favor of the Lightner Center, with Russ Stephenson (at-large), Bonner Gaylord (District E), Thomas Crowder (District D) and John Odom (District B) voting against.

“It is time to move forward on this,” said Mayor Charles Meeker, who pushed for the vote.

At the last two council sessions Stephenson, Gaylord and Crowder outlined a new plan that would involve splitting up the safety center in different locations as opposed to the current, centralized location on Raleigh’s historic Nash Square. Council will have to reach a majority on either plan to move forward.

“If you had concerns, you should have brought them up years ago,” said Baldwin.

The Lightner Center as proposed would require less than a half percent tax increase in 2011, Meeker said during the debate Tuesday.

Stephenson asked city staff to determine how much could be borrowed without the increase.

Gaylord said council needs to “determine how much we can spend, and then go fund those priorities.” Earlier, he had made a point that the city was over-prioritizing the center and ignoring other projects.

During the discussion, Stephenson motioned for council to “borrow the money now, put it in the bank and accrue interest,” but was quickly withdrawn.

“If we’re not going to do this comprehensively, I think we need to take a step back,” said James West, calling the motion “reactionary.”

The safety of the center, which includes a publicly accessible area on the first floor, has been at the forefront of the debate. City Manager Russel Allen used other cities as pro-Lightner examples, noting other high-rise style safety centers, including one being constructed in New York City.

Stephenson said he had also researched other cities and specifically said that New York was “decentralizing” its emergency centers since the September 11 terrorist attack.

Currently, police and fire operations are scattered in temporary locations around the city. “Our police are in a building that was built to house city hall,” McFarlane said. James West called the center “a vote of confidence to our public safety department.”

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