Springfield income tax hike to go to streets, police, jobs

By fixing streets and improving safety, Springfield leaders say it can attract jobs.

The plan would be implemented if city residents approve a five-year, 0.4-percent earned income tax increase on the Nov. 8 ballot. The initiative will focus on job creation and retention, Deputy City Manager Bryan Heck said.

“We’ll be able to create an environment that’s more conducive for attracting jobs to our community to make a stronger Springfield,” he said.

Crumbling streets, safety concerns and jobs were the the biggest issues identified by residents in recent surveys.

So about $2 million would go toward a street improvement fund. The tax income would also pay for a Safe Streets Task Force, a special police unit to combat violent crime and heroin abuse. More permanent improvement money will also allow the city to update its aging police and fire fleet.

“We want to eliminate that perception of Springfield being unsafe,” Heck said.

Most of the new money would replace recent cuts to state funding and allow the city to maintain current services.

It will also allow the city to maintain funding for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District, as well as keep both Fire Station No. 5 and the police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue open.

If it fails, Heck said the city will not have the funding necessary to address safety and street issues.

Over the past 10 years, the city has worked with partners to make investments in industrial and business parks, downtown and other infrastructure, such as new parks and a fiber optic cable ring, among others.

“Great progress has been made over the last five to 10 years,” Heck said. “We need to take that next step and focusing on the safety of our community and street infrastructure will aid in attracting and retaining businesses in our community.”

The city and other partners have created more than 400 acres of shovel ready business and industrial park land at AirPark Ohio, Champion City Business Park, Prime Ohio II and the Nextedge Applied Research and Technology Park, Heck said.

Tiffin, Ohio-based Seneca Medical is planning to build a new 150,000-square-foot distribution center for a total investment between $16.3 million and $18.8 million. The distribution center will be the first major development at Prime Ohio II.

“We’re starting to see the fruit of that labor,” Heck said.

About $400 million has also been invested in downtown since 2004, including the $250 million Springfield Regional Medical Center. Of that investment, about $5 million was direct city dollars, Heck said.

A new private SpringFORWARD group has also been started to help finance development downtown, Heck said.

The city has received up to $5 million annually in cuts from the state, including a reduction in local government fund money and the elimination of the estate tax, among others.

While no job goal has been set by the city for its economic recovery initiative, it will track its success throughout the program, Heck said.

The Chamber of Greater Springfield and the city are currently collaborating on a $125,000 independent analysis of Springfield’s finances, an effort to identify cost savings before the income tax issue would go before voters. The consultant will perform a financial analysis and performance audit of city departments and funds.

The chamber is putting up $75,000 of the cost of the study. The city will pay the money back to the chamber with any savings generated from the study. The consultant is expected to present the city with options for savings by the end of September — before the tax increase will be voted on in November.

“We’ll be able to make better and more informed decisions at that time,” Chamber President Jim Lagos said.

The current 2 percent income tax rate is enough, Springfield resident Irene Gray said. She doesn’t plan on voting for the tax increase.

“I just wish they would do what they say they’re going to do,” Gray said. “Everything is about money and then you can’t see the results.”

For more information on the initiative, including a fact sheet, log on to SpringfieldOhio.gov.

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