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Pickerington examines need for income tax increase
As Pickerington City Council continues to examine whether or not it will ask voters to consider an income tax increase, it is simultaneously preparing its 2011 budget.
For some, the outlook is grim.
On Oct. 6, Police Chief Michael Taylor presented to council his 2011 budget and with it some requests - two new officers and three new cars.
Each new officer costs approximately $80,000 and each new vehicle and its equipment is nearly $40,000, Taylor said.
At this point, council has only been able to authorize the purchase of one car, Taylor said.
Taylor explained to council that in the past 90 days, of 270 shifts, only 104 of them were fully staffed.
Councilman Brian Wisniewski called the department “woefully understaffed.”
However, revenues are flat and expenses are up, Finance Director Chris Schornack said.
In an effort to cut costs, the city is exploring the possibility of eliminating its dispatcher positions and contracting instead with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department, Taylor said.
Taylor said he plans to meet with the sheriff in the next few weeks to explore and discuss this option.
These are the financial struggles facing the city and its staff as it works to cut expenses and provide services while trying to refrain from asking the voters to reach into their pockets.
If council does agree to put an income tax levy on the May ballot, it would increase the current income tax from 1 to 2 percent.
If approved, it would be the first increase since being established in 1976.
According to the Greater Ohio Association of Tax Administrators (GOATA) website, several other central Ohio communities have an income tax rate higher than Pickerington.
Westerville has an income tax rate of 1.25 percent, Reynoldsburg and Gahanna both have an income tax rate of 1.5 percent and Dublin and Columbus have an income tax rate of 2 percent.
During the finance committee meeting that proceeded the Oct. 6 budget work session, councilmembers weighed in on the potential increase before agreeing to continue the item on next month’s agenda.
Despite being presented a balanced budget, some council members were fearful that a number of important city projects would continue to be postponed and decrease the quality of life for its citizens.
Councilman Brian Sauer said the city has $2 million in unfunded requests before council and various other projects that have been postponed.
Sauer also said the city was unable to match an Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) grant in 2008 to improve the S.R. 256/Refugee Road intersection, which is ranked 30th on ODOT’s “Hot Spot” list.
According to City Engineer Greg Bachman, ODOT was prepared to offer the city $1.5 million if the city could match that amount, which it was unable to do.
He also referred to the city’s inability to build sidewalks, a component of the city’s strategic plan and another multi-million dollar project.
“I don’t know where you’re going to cut to find the money to be able to fund these projects and maintain the quality of life here,” Sauer said. “I just don’t see any other avenue than going to an increase in the income tax.”
Wisniewski seconded that notion.
“The reality of the situation is the city is in desperate need of funding,” he said.
Mayor Mitch O’Brien said that looking into 2012, the city has no money for any opportunities for economic development.
“No one, especially me, is asking council to raise taxes,” he said. “I am asking only that we give the residents the opportunity to decide if they want to invest in their community further than they already have.”
Councilman Jeff Fix expressed several issues with the proposed income tax increase.
First, he said the city needed to do a better job communicating with the public about the city’s financial situation.
He added that the city also needed to show the public that it is exploring alternative sources of revenue as well.
Lastly, Fix said he was reluctant to ask voters to reach in their pockets when the city is showing a 30 percent carryover in the proposed budget.
Councilman Gavin Blair suggested getting though the budget process before making a decision on the levy.
Council will continue to have budget work sessions during the next few weeks and consider the needs and requests of each department before revisiting the proposed levy during the next finance committee meeting.
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