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Akron Mayor Shammas Malik has unveiled his first capital budget. What's in it?

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik delivers remarks during a ceremonial swearing-in event at the University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Akron Mayor Shammas Malik delivers remarks during a ceremonial swearing-in event at the University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024.

Akron Mayor Shammas Malik has introduced his capital spending priorities for his first year in office.

Malik’s proposed $360.8 million capital budget consists of proposed projects and investments his administration intends to work on in the new year, including expenditures for the police department and changes to the city’s street resurfacing program.

The budget is funded by numerous public, private, state and federal sources, including income taxes, property taxes and joint economic development agreements.

Led primarily by officials in the city’s planning and public service departments, Malik’s team put together the proposal over the past few months and will introduce it to Akron City Council on Monday.

Council members will then deliberate on any proposed changes. They are required by the city’s charter to approve the budget by Feb. 15, 2024.

One of Malik’s biggest priorities in the plan is to invest in city employees, such as the police and fire departments, he said.

“That’s something I think you'll see again and again throughout this, is making sure that.. people have the work environment, and they have the tools and equipment needed to be able to do their work,” Malik told reporters in a media briefing Friday. “That may mean that we narrow our focus on certain things... I would rather do, you know, eight things very well than try to do 15 things.”

Investments in police, fire

The police department is headquartered in the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center in Downtown Akron. The building is aging and in desperate need of improvements, according to city officials.

It’s in such disrepair that the Akron Municipal Court moved into a new building, the recently renovated Oliver Ocasek building, last year.

But the police department is still working in the Stubbs building.

Malik has given a deadline — June 2024 — to decide whether to renovate the Stubbs building entirely or to move the department to a new headquarters.

Malik wants to spend $220,000 to improve the building in the meantime.

“Let’s make sure that in this in-between space that we're doing our due diligence, and we're doing right by the people who are in that building because they deserve a functional workspace too,” Malik said.

The proposed renovations include moving the police department’s gymnasium to a larger space and utilizing office spaces left vacant by the court’s move.

The mayor has also proposed increasing the department’s body-worn camera budget from $130,500 to a total of $375,000 in order to equip the SWAT team with 37 bodycams.

Also included in the budget is $1 million to replace 25 Akron police cruisers and $950,000 for a new fire truck.

Rethinking the resurfacing program

When it comes to paving streets, Malik thinks catching up on the city’s backlog of projects is the best path forward.

City officials had to postpone repaving some streets last year for various reasons, including that some of the streets also needed water main repairs or lead remediation, said public service director Chris Ludle.

“It would have been ridiculous last year to pave the street and then come back this year and tear it up to do a water main or lead services,” Ludle said. “Now, we’re going to pave those streets this year. So, that’s why we had that large carryover.”

Officials plan to resurface 70 miles of pavement in 2024 — 50 of which are carryover miles — in order to start with a clean slate in 2025 and save money, Malik added.

“I think we've done some things in this budget to kind of begin to operate in a little bit of a more strategic and proactive way,” Malik said.

City also prioritizing speeding and sewers

Malik is proposing increasing the city’s traffic calming budget from $50,000 to $200,000 in 2024.

The money would be used to extend the city’s current program, which includes speed tables, and introduce pilot traffic calming measures as well. Malik plans to implement permanent speed tables on some streets.

Malik has also proposed $300,000 for the Akron Parks Challenge, as well as $300,000 for emergency improvements to the city’s community centers on an as-needed basis.

“Last summer, the Northwest Family Recreation Center, where I used to do my ward meetings, didn't have AC for... about two months,” Malik added. “We wanted to have a designated line item so we don't have to be looking for where we get that money somewhere else when the HVAC isn't working or there's a roof leaking or something like that.”

The city will be completing several water and sewer projects this year, Malik added, including the Northside Interceptor Tunnel project.

A massive tunnel boring machine is expected to arrive in the fall and will begin digging the underground sewer tunnel next year, Ludle said.

This year, city officials plan to complete excavations for that construction, he said.

Additionally, Akron officials will begin installing ‘smart’ water meters. The meters digitally and automatically read the water meters in homes, making for more accurate measurements, Ludle said.

The city has been trying to implement the meters for years, he added.
Malik and administration officials will formally present the budget to city council during a hearing at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 22.

In March, the city will consider its 2024 operating budget, which includes expenditures such as payroll and other day-to-day expenses. The operating budget includes expenditures on city services whereas the capital budget outlines the city's spending on physical infrastructure, according to city officials.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.