In a rare split vote Monday night, Hilliard City Council members approved spending $300,633 to renovate council chambers by the narrowest of margins, 4-3.

In a rare split vote Monday night, Hilliard City Council members approved spending $300,633 to renovate council chambers by the narrowest of margins, 4-3.

Council members Brett Sciotto, William Uttley, Dan Nichter and Kelly McGivern voted in favor of the project, while Kim Allison, Al Iosue and Tim Roberts said they couldn't support the expenditure.

Sciotto first introduced the project in 2007 but withdrew it after initial cost estimates were higher than anticipated. During council's Finance and Administration Committee meeting prior to Monday night's regular council meeting, he said the expenditure was justified on the high volume of meetings held there.

"I believe, as the story was written in the press, there was some misunderstanding about perhaps just how valuable this council chamber is in terms of the number of public meetings that are held there on an annual basis," he said.

Sciotto said that while approximately 20 city council meetings are held in council chambers each year, other groups, including the Planning & Zoning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Charter Review Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and a number of outside groups, also use the facility.

"In 2007 alone, there were 160 public meetings held in chambers," Sciotto said. "This really is the public's chamber. It really is the centerpiece of our public meeting apparatus here in the city of Hilliard. In 2008, we are on pace to have over 200 meetings there."

Uttley said he supported the project for a number of reasons, including substandard lighting in the chambers, energy efficiency issues, the lack of handicap access to the council dias and limited audio-visual capabilities.

Uttley said he also thought the price was right, pointing out that estimates for the improvements came in lower than in 2007 and that first-quarter income tax revenues, 25 percent of which are dedicated to capital improvement projects, were stronger than anticipated.

"I think it's a reasonable and responsible use of our capital funds, which are intended to be used for this purpose" Uttley said.

McGivern said she had concerns about safety issues and the fact that council chambers are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. She urged her fellow council members to be "forward thinkers" and support the project.

Nichter said he agreed with Uttley's assessment of the project cost, noting that the 2008 cost estimates for the project represented a 20 percent savings over the original 2007 estimates.

Roberts disagreed with Sciotto's position that the council chambers are frequently used, saying 200 meetings at 2 to 3 hours per meeting meant the room would only be used for approximately 600 hours per year.

"Let's put it in perspective," Roberts said. "A normal work year for an individual is 2,080 hours. That's less than a third of the normal work year for an individual. I would not have any problem putting that kind of money into an area that is used on a full-time basis."

Roberts also said the city should investigate the possibility of utilizing shared meeting space in the new joint safety facility building that will be shared the the Hilliard Police Department and Norwich Township.

"At this time, in this economic downturn, I don't think it's responsible for us to do this," he said.

Allison also cited the uncertain economy as a basis for her opposition to the project and said she thought the $300,633 could be better used by the city's Safe Routes to Schools program..

Iosue said he thought council should take the economy into consideration.

"Just because we have the money doesn't mean we have to spend it," Iosue said. "There's nothing wrong with saving the money."

Legislation approved by the 4-3 vote covers $45,000 for audio-visual improvements, $15,817 for furniture and $239,816 for construction costs for a total of $300,633.

Council also heard the second reading of an ordinance Monday night to spend $150,000 for improvements to the finance and human resources departments. That measure is up for a third reading and final approval at council's May 12 meeting.