Reynoldsburg City Council wrestles with revenue problem

By Dustin Ensinger
Staff Writer

Reynoldsburg City Auditor Richard Harris told city council members they need to unify and speak with one voice when it comes to the need to increase revenues.

It appears they have a long way to go.

Some Reynoldsburg City Council members want a potential tax increase tied to the creation of a recreation center. Others think that is a bad idea. Still others believe the need is so pressing that the city’s income tax credit should be immediately reduced or eliminated.

Councilman Scott Barrett is in the latter camp. He believes the city is in an emergency situation. He said the city’s infrastructure is crumbling, it needs more police officers and has trouble retaining good employees due to low pay compared with nearby municipalities.

“When is this going to be an emergency for this council?” Barrett asked.

Barrett believes the city should completely eliminate its 1-percent income tax credit offered to residents who work in other municipalities.

“We can always give it back,” Barrett said.

A proposal to cut the income tax credit in half was defeated by council earlier this year. It would have generated about $3 million annually.

In addition to Barrett, the measure was supported by council members Cornelius McGrady and Mel Clemens.

“What are you hoping to accomplish when you keep asking the same question?” Councilman Barth Cotner asked Barrett.

Cotner supports going to the ballot to try and pass an income tax increase tied to the creation of a recreation center.

“We’ve not tried this approach,” Cotner said. “I just feel that people can relate to something positive.”

Councilwoman Leslie Kelly also supports that approach.

“The key is, we’ve got to give the community something to get behind,” she said.

Harris, however, noted city voters resoundingly rejected a similar proposal in 1998.

“It wasn’t marketed particularly well,” Harris said.

City voters have not approved an income tax increase in the city since 1981. Last year voters rejected an income tax increase – from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent – by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin.

The city operates on a budget that generates about $14 million in income annually. Gahanna and Reynoldsburg are the only two Franklin County cities to tax their residents’ income at a rate of less than 2 percent.

Councilman Chris Long does not believe the creation of a recreation center is the way to garner support to raise income tax rates. He noted the wealthy community of Orange Township in Delaware County recently rejected a proposal to raise property taxes to pay of the construction of a community center. He said officials should focus on selling voters on the needs of the city and not the wants.

According to Harris, the city at one time spent an average of 15 percent of its income tax revenue on capital improvement projects. In recent years, it has spent about 2 percent of income tax revenue on capital improvements.

At the current rate of spending, it would take about 200 years to complete the most recently improved capital improvement plan.

“There’s clear justification to go back to the people,” he said.

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