Crime lab going to Mt. Airy, with or without board of elections

Jan 29, 2014

The Hamilton County coroner will get a long-awaited and expanded crime lab after the Hamilton County commissioners today accepted a gift of the former Mercy Mt. Airy Hospital.

Whether or not the Hamilton County Board of Elections goes along to the Kipling Road building remains to be seen.

The commissioners had until the end of the month to decide whether or not to accept Catholic Health Partner’s offer of the 500,000 square foot building and the surrounding land.

All three county commissioners – Republicans Chris Monzel, Greg Hartmann, and Democrat Todd Portune voted unanimously this morning to accept the gift.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’’ said commission president Monzel. “There is no shortage of potential uses for this site.”

Commissioners had hoped that the board of elections, which is cramped in its present space at 824 Broadway downtown, would also make the move to Mt. Airy, but the board of elections members split Monday along party lines, with the two Republicans favoring the move and the two Democrats opposing it.

Democratic election board members Tim Burke and Caleb Faux argue that they could only support the move if the board could keep an office open downtown for early in-person voting. They said that many voters without cars would find it difficult to reach the Mt. Airy location by bus – particularly many African-American voters.

The board of elections’ tie vote went to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, who could break the tie, but he has advised the Republicans and the Democrats on the board to work out a compromise on their own.

But Monzel said today it is not absolutely necessary to have the board of elections offices move to Mt. Airy.

“This is a good thing for the county; and we can make it work with or without the board of elections,’’ Monzel said.

The coroner, Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, was pleased by the decision, saying it would be a vast improvement over the coroner’s current cramped space in Corryville.

“This has been a long time coming,’’ Sammarco said.

Monzel said there are many other potential uses for the hospital space, which could take up to two years to renovate with a monthly upkeep cost of $100,000.

The sheriff’s department could move some of its functions into the former hospital, as could the Cincinnati Police Department, which occupies part of the board of elections’ 824 Broadway building now.

A list of potential uses put together by county administrators suggested re-locating the county’s community development department and creating a “one-stop center” for those seeking building and other permits from the county.

The county engineer’s office could also use some of the space, along with some of the county’s public health functions.

It's not clear yet where the money will come from to renovate the former hospital. But a majority of the county commissioners have ruled out a hike in the sales tax.