A proposed contract between the city of Powell and a public-relations firm has divided the members of Powell City Council ahead of a vote on the matter.

Council on Feb. 20 conducted a first reading of legislation to appropriate $30,000 for a contract with Columbus-based communications firm MurphyEpson. A motion to suspend the rule requiring an additional reading of the legislation fell one short of the five votes needed for approval.

City Manager Steve Lutz said MurphyEpson, if hired, would help the city publicize the work of the Powell Citizen Financial Review Task Force, which was established in January to assess the city's capital-improvement needs and revenue sources. The city previously hired the firm to help with publicity on the traffic-focused Keep Powell Moving initiative.

"The city's always looking for better ways, more-efficient ways to communicate with our residents," Lutz said.

Vice Mayor Tom Counts supported the expenditure, which he said would help educate residents about "the biggest issue before the city," in reference to capital-improvement needs. He said the firm established itself as a valuable partner during the Keep Powell Moving effort.

"Residents were kept informed about what was going on," he said.

The Powell Citizen Financial Review Task Force, which is made up of residents from nine city neighborhoods, is expected to finish its work by the end of June. The panel could recommend council pursue a tax increase, among other options.

Councilwoman Melissa Riggins, who earned her first term on council in last November's election, questioned the size of the expense. She said she also worries hiring a public-relations firm could influence the task force's work.

"I'm concerned that it will affect how the citizens committee operates," she said.

Councilman Frank Bertone said he supported hiring the firm to augment city staff without hiring a new employee. Proponents of the contract noted city Communications Director Megan Canavan is on leave until mid-April.

Bertone said he also did not fear the firm would have a negative effect on the work of the task force.

"I don't think they're going to hinder (the task force)," he said. "They're going to be behind the scenes."

Councilman Dan Swartwout, who voted against suspending the rule along with Riggins and Councilman Brendan Newcomb, said he's not sure the proposed contract makes sense for the city.

"I just question the efficacy of this proposal," he said.

Council is expected to conduct another reading of the legislation and potentially vote at its meeting Tuesday, March 6.

Mayor Jon Bennehoof said the city's residents "demand ... and deserve a high level of service from the city," which extends to communications efforts. He said he worries the city is missing its chance to keep residents informed about the task force's work by putting off the vote.

"I think we risk being behind the eight ball with (the) delay," he said.