Springfield to explore options for street repairs after tax rejected

Before the election, city officials said they see no other way to fix neighborhood streets without more money. However business leaders believe the city should make repairs using its current budget.

A proposed income tax increase was defeated Tuesday with about 54 percent casting no votes to 46 percent in favor of it. The five-year, quarter-percent increase would have generated about $3.75 million per year to pay for road repairs. The municipal income tax would have increased from 2 to 2.25 percent if it had been approved.

While disappointed with the outcome, Springfield City Commissioner Kevin O’Neill wasn’t surprised by the loss. The city should consider going back on the ballot, he said, especially in light of the close margin of defeat.

Voter turnout was about 44 percent in Clark County and even lower in the city at about 34 percent, according to unofficial election results from the Clark County Board of Elections.

“The turnout at the polls wasn’t a testament to what the people really think overall because not as many people voted as they normally do,” O’Neill said.

Springfield City Commissioner Dan Martin opposed placing the income tax increase on the ballot. While residents greatly supported a half-percent income tax renewal in May, he said Tuesday’s defeat is proof residents want city officials to stay within the current budget.

“The message I think that was sent is that people expect us to work within that 2-percent, as far as maintaining a neighborhood streets program,” Martin said. “I think we should respect that message and come up with some alternatives.”

The streets maintenance problem needs to be addressed, but the business community wants to see a plan that looks at every street in the city, said Mike McDorman of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. The chamber already started speaking with Springfield leaders about different ways to solve the problem.

“We’re just asking for a plan that addresses the problem in a more comprehensive and sustainable way,” McDorman said.

This year the city spent about $900,000 on its paving program. The city has used federal and state dollars to pay for road projects, but the money can’t be used for neighborhood street repairs.

The streets still need major repairs, O’Neill said, and the city will have make tough decisions during budget meetings on Nov. 18 and 19.

“We have to have a mechanism in place to pay for that,” he said. “If the people decide they don’t want to do it, that’s their call. We have to find the money to keep the streets passable to where there are no major problems.”

The city collected about $29.7 million in income taxes for 2013, which makes up about 74 percent of the city’s general fund revenues. While the city’s income tax has increased in recent years, state cuts to the local government funds and the phasing out of the estate tax have resulted in about $3 million less for the city annually.

Last year, the city ran an operating deficit of $140,000. It plans to dip into its reserve funds to cover a projected $1.3 million shortfall this year.

The city currently spends about 71 percent of its general fund on public safety, including police, fire and emergency medical services, dispatching and the municipal court. The city’s charter requires minimum staffing levels for the police and fire divisions.

Springfield City Commissioner Karen Duncan hoped voters would see the need and react positively to knowing the money would be earmarked for street repairs. She supports minimum staffing for police and fire, but said it doesn’t leave much money for other services.

She’s unsure about going back on the ballot, especially after Martin and the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce opposed the increased income tax.

Duncan is open to speaking with business leaders to find alternative ways to pay for street repairs, but doesn’t believe there’s any fat to trim from the city’s budget.

“I don’t rule out anything,” she said.

The city might be able to use money from closure of the air traffic control tower, Martin said. He’d also wants to share more services with other local governments, such as combining emergency dispatch operations between the city and county.

The streets are full of potholes and the patches used this summer are going to open up again this winter, said Jeannie Hall, a Springfield resident. She supported the income tax increase on Tuesday and said the roads need to be fixed.

“It’s bad on your car,” Hall said. “I’ve gone over potholes that have literally knocked my hubcap off.”

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