Lightner debate returns to city council

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The debate over the proposed 17-story public safety center came back to city council with a vengeance Tuesday. And the fate of the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center seems to hinge on one vote – the lone Republican John Odom.

The price tag has dropped from $205 million to $189 million, but the lines drawn in the sand over the project remain more or less unchanged.

Councilors have been debating the plans since January. The council voted 4-4 on the proposal in March and decided to set up a task force to work with the architects and consultants to develop alternatives that the council could agree on. Read the new report here.

Council heard a number of alternative proposals and a risk assessment of the original plan and the alternatives this week, such as moving emergency communications underground or into a separate building.

The risk assessment for all the proposals, according to Jim Brokaw who did the risk analysis, was the same no matter what option council decided: low to medium.

Councilors Bonner Gaylord, Russ Stephenson and Thomas Crowder have criticized the project for being too big and leaving the police, fire and emergency communications departments vulnerable by putting them all together in one high-rise building. They also had problems with the tax increase called for in the original proposal.

Both Stephenson and Gaylord said they still weren’t happy with the project. Crowder stayed quiet through the entire debate.

Mayor Charles Meeker, along with councilors Mary Ann Baldwin, James West and Nancy McFarlane are all in favor of the original (now slightly modified) design.

The one vote in the air is John Odom, who said he planned to make up his mind by the end of the month.

Council will take up the debate again during its budget workshop Monday afternoon.

Gambling machines

A new tax on electronic gambling machines could become a reality. After a short discussion Tuesday, council sent the tax proposal to the budget and economic development committee.

“This is about to become a big problem in our city,” Councilor Thomas Crowder said, adding that the tax could be “a little low.”

The tax would charge businesses $2,500 for each electronic gambling machine, plus $1,000 for machines not in use, with a max of $20,000 per year. The tax could raise $500,000 for the next fiscal year, according to city staff estimates.

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