London council votes to put income tax increase on May 3 ballot

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(Posted Feb. 7, 2022)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

London city council voted 6-1 to place a 0.5 percent income tax increase on the May 3 ballot. If passed, the levy would help to fund the fire and EMS department and to build a new community center and a new police department.

The decision to go to the ballot came during a special council meeting on Feb. 1. The legislation was introduced at council’s regular Jan. 20 meeting at which time a motion was made to suspend the three-reading rule to allow for an immediate vote on the legislation. When the motion failed to get enough votes, council scheduled two special meetings, one on Jan. 26 and one on Feb. 1, in advance of the Board of Elections’ Feb. 2 deadline to file issues for the May 3 ballot.

Council member Greg Eades cast the “no” vote on Feb. 1, saying he feels the process is being rushed, however he did commend city administrators and his fellow council members for scheduling the special meetings to give the community opportunities to comment and ask questions. He’s also happy about the town hall meetings the city has planned to allow for further discussion before the May 3 election.

Those town hall meetings are set for 6 p.m. March 8, March 22, April 12 and April 26 at city hall, 20 S. Walnut St.

At the Feb. 1 meeting, Stacy Patterson was one of several residents who addressed council about the proposed levy. Like Eades, she thinks the process is being rushed. She also thinks it’s a bad time to ask citizens for more money and that other city needs should take priority.

“I just think we need a little extra time and more consideration towards the citizens when we’re constantly going to be reaching into their pocketbook,” Patterson said.

Phil Dowler was among residents who said the city needs to focus on fixing water and sewer issues rather than constructing new buildings. He likened the city to an older car with a failing transmission.

“You guys are talking about a big chunk of money which would mean that you’re going to put a set of nice, shiny wheels on this old car,” Dowler said.

Residents Brent McDaniels and Joann Gray also referenced the city’s infrastructure issues in their comments.

“We need to fix our terrible water, sewage and flooding problems. We can do better than this,” McDaniels said.

“We need to fix this sewer system more than we need a new police department or a new rec center,” Gray commented.

Resident Michael Norman said he would like to see the city address all of its needs–new community center, new police department, fire and EMS department funding, infrastructure repairs, etc.

“It doesn’t need to be one or the other,” he said.

Norman supported council’s vote to place the legislation on the ballot now but said he is unsure how he will vote on the levy. He encouraged city leaders to conduct a feasability study for fixing the city’s infrastructure, like the studies done for the proposed police department and proposed community center.

Resident Rob Newman, who has worked for the city of Columbus for 38 years, thanked the council members for their work, saying he knows it can be a thankless job. He said he hoped that London’s leaders had done the proper analysis and secured a legal opinion to ensure that the levy request would not exceed legal debt limits and would meet all legal requirements.

Newman also implored city officials to work on the infrastructure issues, specifically flooding problems. Not everyone can afford to address those problems as they impact their individual homes, he said.

In response to some of the audience concerns, Rex Castle, London’s safety service director, said the street department has completed one or two storm sewer projects each year for the last several years. The city collects fees on each resident’s water bills to go toward storm sewer projects. Castle said the city pursues grants for such projects, using the storm sewer utility fees as matching funds to get more bang for the buck.

Council member Anthony Smith said he has experienced flooding issues at his home, so he understands residents’ concerns about infrastructure. He also noted the cost to overhaul the entire system would be astronomical. At past meetings, Mayor Patrick Closser said infrastructure repairs are ongoing.

Smith commended the city’s department heads, specifically mentioning the police chief, fire chief, and parks and recreation director.

“As a city, we consistently ask all of these leaders to run these departments to the best of their ability, but we really don’t equip them with everything they need,” he said.

Council member Rich Hays, who sponsored the legislation calling for the ballot issue, talked about the city’s growth. From 2020 to 2021, the number of building permits issued in London doubled. The school system is experiencing increased enrollment at the kindergarten and first-grade levels.

“We definitely are a moving city. We are starting to build here. We’re starting to get more people in. More construction is going to be going on. It’s just starting to boom,” Hays said. “We need to keep up.”

He noted that the police department’s current building is dilapidated. He said the proposed new police facility and the proposed new community center would be built to meet current needs and accommodate future growth.

“It’s actually an investment in the future,” Hays said.

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