Springfield may go back on ballot with .4-percent income tax increase

Shane Delaet, an employee with the City of Springfield Service Department, works on a street light along Fountain Avenue Friday. The city of Springfield may go back on the ballot in May, but some commissioners are undecided about the idea. Bill Lackey/Staff
Shane Delaet, an employee with the City of Springfield Service Department, works on a street light along Fountain Avenue Friday. The city of Springfield may go back on the ballot in May, but some commissioners are undecided about the idea. Bill Lackey/Staff

Voters rejected an income tax increase in November.

The city of Springfield may ask voters for a .4-percent income tax increase next spring, two months after a similar proposal was rejected at the polls.

Springfield City Manager Jim Bodenmiller is recommending commissioners approve placing a temporary, 5½-year, .4-percent income tax increase on the May 2 primary ballot. The income tax rate in Springfield would increase from 2 percent to 2.4 percent, if approved.

The City Commission is expected to hear a first reading of the legislation on Tuesday and will vote on the proposal at its Jan. 17 meeting. A similar proposal was rejected by just 227 votes in November.

If approved, the tax would generate an additional $6.7 million annually through 2022. For a worker making $30,000 a year, the tax would cost an additional $10 per month.

Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland and City Commissioner Karen Duncan each said they would support going back on the ballot for a tax increase.

City Commissioners Kevin O’Neill and Dan Martin both said they’re undecided about asking for a tax increase again. Commissioner Joyce Chilton could not be reached for comment.

Bodenmiller has received a lot of calls from the public asking to the issue be placed back on the ballot, he said.

“It was a very close vote in November and there were still a lot of people who told me they weren’t fully aware of the issues or the city’s financial situation,” Bodenmiller said. “I’ve said it before: We’re at a financial crossroads.”

If approved, the money will allow the city to reopen both Fire Station No. 5 and the police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue, which are both expected to close next week.

An additional $2 million would go toward a street improvement fund. The rest would 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.

Unofficial results from Election Night showed the income tax issue failed by just 55 votes. But the Clark County Board of Elections declared 717 provisional ballots cast by city residents should be counted. After those were counted on Nov. 22, the final, official results showed the tax increase was defeated by 227 votes.

Copeland hates asking voters for more taxes, but said the city has no choice if it wants to retain important services, he said.

“From our point of view, we’re in desperate shape if we’re not able to pass it,” Copeland said. “It’s really critical to the future of Springfield.”

Earlier this month, a divided Springfield City Commission passed its budget for next year, which included $800,000 in cuts to the municipal court, parks and police and firefighters overtime.

The city is projected to generate $38.4 million in general fund revenues next year. However, the city is estimating about $39 million in spending, leaving about a $600,000 deficit next year.

The city has already cut the fat out of its budget and is now looking at reducing basic services, Copeland said.

“That’ll be more obvious given the cuts we’ll be making which will really hurt,” he said. “I’m hoping people will take another look at that as a result of (the cuts).”

During the election, city leaders said up to 10 civilian workers at the police division could be laid off and replaced by removing officers from the streets if the levy failed. It also said it would lay off up to 25 non-union employees, many of whom work at City Hall, without more tax revenue. The city may begin reducing staff in March, Bodenmiller said.

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Earlier this year, a resident-led advisory group and an independent auditor each performed studies that showed the city must both pass a tax increase and make cuts to solidify its future moving forward.

“They’ve said unequivocally that we need more resources,” Duncan said. “I think the citizens are going to understand that and I absolutely think we should give it another shot.”

O’Neill is still researching going back on the ballot, he said. He’s not against asking residents to vote again, but he doesn’t want to lose again, O’Neill said.

“I don’t know what we’ve done to change what we were doing prior to the last vote,” he said. “I see nothing differently.”

Springfield has seen a lot of development and growth over the past few years, but the city’s financial situation can stall that growth, Bodenmiller said.

“I think we suffer from a bit of an image problem as a result of the condition of our streets and violent crime we’ve experienced,” Bodenmiller said.

In-depth coverage

The Springfield News-Sun provides complete coverage of government spending, including extensive coverage of cuts being made to the city’s general fund budget.

By the numbers

$6.7 million: Revenue the tax would raise per year if approved by voters

2 percent: Current income tax rate

2.4 percent: Proposed income tax rate

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