Athens is seeking $9 million in funding for a new fire station

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The city of Athens is looking to move quickly to secure funding for a new fire station now that voters have approved an income tax increase to pay for it.

The city plans to issue $9 million in bonds to fund construction of the station, which will be built on a parcel along the Hocking River just past the Stimson Avenue roundabout.

With interest rates rising, the city is hoping to lock in a rate as soon as possible.

“In my opinion it’s almost like a race against time,” Mike Burns told City Council members at Monday night’s meeting. Burns is with Baird, a financial services company that is helping the city line up the financing.

The steps involved in getting to the point of issuing the bonds will take until at least mid-June. This includes three readings of the ordinance proposing the bond issue, starting with the first reading at next Monday’s council meeting.

The city is building a new main fire station because the existing one on Columbus Road is no longer structurally sound and presents other safety concerns for firefighters.

In last week’s primary election, Athens voters approved a 0.1 percent increase in the local income tax to pay for the new station. Building it grows more costly as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to tamp down the inflation that is driving up the cost of construction materials.

The Stimson parcel was identified as an ideal location for the new station because it’s just a few hundred feet from the interchange for highways 50, 33 and 32. This will provide easy access to all parts of the city and increase response times, Athens Fire Chief Robert Rymer told council members in November.

The city has posted on YouTube an animated walkthrough of the proposed design of the new fire station.

Council members on Monday also took up a proposal to give renters in Athens some additional protection if they fall behind on their rent.

Ohio is one of only five states in which landlords can begin eviction proceedings if a tenant is one day late with the rent, said Council Member Ben Ziff.

Under the pay-to-stay proposal, renters who are facing eviction could not be evicted if they paid the past-due rent and any late fees owed by the date of the eviction hearing.

Several other Ohio municipalities have adopted a similar ordinance, including Cincinnati and Toledo, Ziff said.

Council Member Solveig Spjeldnes noted that it takes landlords about 20 days to get an eviction hearing before a judge, so the pay-to-stay proposal would buy tenants a few extra weeks to come up with the rent.

Spjeldnes said she talked to a major local landlord about the proposal, who said he didn’t have a problem with it.

Spjelnes did suggest that perhaps the pay-to-stay proposal should require tenants to notify landlords if they are going to be late on the rent so landlords can plan for it.

Council members also discussed including a cap in the proposal on the amount of late fees landlords can charge, which other cities have done in their ordinances.

The proposal must now be drafted into a proposed ordinance, which would then require three readings and a vote by the council before it could take effect.