A public hearing scheduled for the Nov. 27 village council meeting on a proposed parking lot expansion has been postponed. According to village officials, the hearing and subsequent vote will be delayed due to the anticipated absence of a village commissioner at the Nov. 27 meeting.

If village officials have an estimate on what it will cost to expand two downtown parking lots as proposed to the council on Nov. 13, they aren’t saying what it is.

Village Administrator Mike Sturino declined to comment on any estimates that may have been provided by the engineering firm hired to study the village’s downtown parking shortage. Further, Sturino declined to state whether the village commission ever received a copy of that study, or whether members have received an estimate on the project.

According to Sturino, revealing any cost projections would put taxpayers at risk of having to pay more than fair market value for several privately owned parcels identified by the village as necessary for the expansion. At the Nov. 27 council meeting, members are expected to vote on whether to begin negotiations for those properties and if necessary, invoke eminent domain.

“I will maintain the most fiscally responsible position on behalf of the village and the taxpayers,” Sturino said.

At least three members of the village council said they’ve not been presented with any bottom-line estimates. Soft figures on construction costs alone were discussed, several commissioners said, but none readily recalled those estimates.

“I don’t know exactly that we’ve gotten into some of the hard numbers,” Commissioner Tim Gillian said. “That said, we have some estimates.”

Gillian along with commissioners Patrick Doolin and Terry Steinbach said the council never received a copy of the parking study.

A copy of the $19,000 publicly funded study was requested by the Review under the Freedom of Information Act. That request was denied by the village.

Calls to Jo Ellen Charlton, the engineering consultant in charge of study, were not returned.

Sturino spoke hypothetically based on information allegedly contained in the study that to expand an existing surface lot onto new land it could cost $25,000 for every new parking space. That figure includes costs associated with buying additional land, demolition and other related expenses, Sturino said.

“Unless of course we have to pay twice the fair market value because a resident is upset about it,” Sturino said.

The hypothetical scenario assumed 17 new spaces would be added to an existing 43-space lot. Sturino declined to say which lot the engineers based their hypothetical on.

Village Lot #4 on Hannah Avenue just south of Madison Street has 44 spaces. One of those spaces is restricted during the winter months.

Using the same hypothetical 43-space lot but without purchasing any new land, Sturino said a two-story parking garage with a total of 17 new spaces would cost $89,412 per new space to construct. A three-story structure with 90 total parking spaces (47 new) would cost $50,000 per new space.

Sturino’s proposal to the council was to add roughly 20 spaces to the existing 41 spaces at Constitution Court and another 30 to 35 spaces to Village Lot #6 at the corner of Madison and Circle streets. That lot contains 28 parking spaces.

Sturino is not recommending that a parking garage be constructed.

Since a vote on the project was tabled at the Nov. 13 council meeting, Doolin said he has questions about several “gray areas.” Of the eight properties proposed for acquisition, six deal specifically with downtown parking. According to Doolin, several of the parcels were never discussed in the months leading up to last week’s presentation as being necessary for the project.

“My question is, What is the long term plan?” Doolin said. “Are there other properties that are under consideration?”

As for funding the initiative, Doolin said he would support financing the costs of improving an acquired property, but money for the acquisition itself must be found within the budget.

The village’s parking fund, used to operate and maintain municipal lots, was discussed by commissioners as a likely source of funding for the project. According to records turned over under the Freedom of Information Act, the village is projecting a net fund balance of $2.5 million at the end of the fiscal year on April 30, 2007.

Steinbach said simply that she’s not ready to support the project on Nov. 27.

“I can’t make an informed decision without all of the facts and I don’t believe in this case that we have all the facts.”

Though Gillian spoke in favor of the project at the Nov. 13 meeting, he questioned the council’s resolve in condemning six residential properties.

“I don’t know if this council has the stomach for it,” Gillian said. “I don’t know.”