Springfield residents will vote Nov. 4 on whether or not to raise the city’s income tax to pay for road repairs, but one commissioner believes it could impede the city’s economic recovery.
City commissioners approved putting the five-year, quarter-percent income tax increase on the ballot at Tuesday’s meeting by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Dan Martin voted against it.
While the streets are in bad condition, Martin said he doesn’t believe increasing taxes is the right way to fix the problem. He prefers the city find a consistent way to invest more money back into the permanent improvement fund as the Springfield economy improves gradually over time.
“It may take a little longer to achieve things that way, but I think that’s a prudent way to do it,” Martin said. “I feel that there is some economic turnaround, there’s some signs of economic recovery, so I’m concerned an additional tax on wages may jeopardize that.”
If approved by voters, the ballot issue would generate about $3.75 million per year and be earmarked for road repairs. The city’s income tax would increase from 2 percent to 2.25 percent.
The current rate costs someone making $30,000 about $600 annually. That person would pay about $675 annually if the increase is approved.
Mayor Warren Copeland said he doesn’t see how the city can pay for road repairs with its current revenues and expenditures, regardless of whether the economy improves or not.
“We’ve already voted after a number years to increase the pay of our employees a bit in the coming years,” he said. “I think that will soak up any other new growth we have. I just don’t see any other option. All we’re doing is saying to the people of Springfield: ‘You decide.’”
Commissioner Joyce Chilton voted in favor of the resolution, but said her vote is contingent on the creation of a street task force to give residents a say in which streets are repaired. She wants the task force to be created even if the tax increase doesn’t pass in November.
“I see this as, if it does not pass, it doesn’t mean our citizens aren’t concerned,” Chilton said. “It doesn’t mean they’re not willing to pay for street repairs. It just means that at this time financially it may not be the best situation.”
The task forcecorrect to add task force? meetings should be held as soon as possible, Springfield resident Philana Crite said.
“I would like to know sooner rather than later,” Crite said.
The city “can’t leave a card unturned” in asking the people what they want them to do about street repairs, City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill said.
In 2004, the city asked voters to change the way it splits its income tax. The city used to send 80 percent to the general fund and 20 percent to the permanent improvement fund for road repairs and other capital projects. But it asked voters to change it to a 90 percent-10 percent split to help pay bills, O’Neill said, leaving less money for streets, vehicles and other major investments.
“It didn’t make any sense to buy police cruisers if we didn’t have the money to put police officers in them,” O’Neill said.
Regardless, the city doesn’t have the money in either fund to pay for street repairs now, O’Neill said.
“It would be naive to think that we don’t need to ask for more money to do that,” he said. “This is definitely directed taxation. This is not something we needed to pay our bills to add more people to go to work. It’s a quality of life issue for every resident of Springfield who has a street in front of their house.”
The city has been prudent with managing its budget over the past nine years, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said, but saw $3 million in recent cuts annually by the state government as it balanced its own budget.
“If we still had that money, we wouldn’t need to be doing this,” Bodenmiller said.
Springfield city commissioners also approved increasing the 2014 paving budget to about $928,000. The city had originally planned to spend about $500,000 to pave as many as four streets, including portions of Fremont, Santa Monica, Lexington and Western avenues. The city is also using state money to pave a piece of Grand Avenue.
After paying off debt, the city took about $414,000 from its bond retirement fund and will use it to fix more streets, Bodenmiller said.
“We could have paid other debt with it, but decided to put it back into the streets,” he said.
Seven pieces of roads will be added this year including:
• Eagle City Road, west of Mad River to the corporation line.
• Western Avenue, from Pleasant Street to Dibert Avenue through Davey Moore Park.
• Garfield Avenue, from Cecil Street to McCreight Avenue.
• Vineyard Street, from Providence Avenue to Marinette Drive.
• South Lowry Avenue, between Main and High streets.
• Dayton Avenue, between Jefferson and Pleasant streets.
• East Street, from Selma Road to the railroad crossing. The work will include the southbound lane between Selma Road and Kenton Street and the northbound lane between Kenton Street and the railroad crossing.
Eagle City Road and Western Avenue will be completed before Labor Day, City Engineer Leo Shanayda said, but the rest likely won’t start until after the holiday to give residents a chance to make repairs to curb, gutters and sidewalks in front of their homes.
“We can’t get on those until we give them the proper notice,” Shanayda said.
By the Numbers
$3.75 million: Amount a five-year, 0.25-percent income tax increase would generate annually to repair streets.
$928,000: Amount of money the city will spend this summer on a paving program, which includes a $414,000 increase.
$600: Amount of money the current 2 percent income tax costs a person making $30,000 annually.
$675: Amount of money a 2.25 income tax rate would cost a person making $30,000 annually.
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has reported on a possible city tax increase for street repairs since it was first proposed last month.