Springfield residents split on tax hike, support grows if facing cuts

About 48 percent of survey respondents say Springfield is headed in the wrong direction.

Communication is also key to educating Springfield residents about a possible tax increase, the consultant who performed the survey said at Tuesday’s city commission meeting.

The beginning of the phone survey shows 45 percent of respondents would support a 0.39-percent earned income tax increase, which would cost someone earning $30,000 per year about $9.75 more per month. About 42 percent of people said they wouldn’t support the tax, while the rest were unsure.

>>LEARN MORE: Report recommends Springfield raise income tax

>>EARLIER COVERAGE: Committee says Springfield should study finances

More than 50 percent of respondents weren’t aware the city had used rainy day funds each year since 2012, while 61 percent weren’t aware a tax increase was being considered.

About 48 percent of people believe Springfield is headed in the wrong direction, 36 percent said it was headed in the right direction and the remainder were unsure, according to the results of a survey completed by a consultant and released Tuesday.

The poll also asked Springfield residents what they thought about cuts to the police and fire divisions, as well as to as parks.

The survey, which polled residents through phone and e-mail, asked residents if they would be more supportive of a tax increase if it meant eliminating 10 civilian employees from the police division, or closing the fire station on Commerce Drive or the police substation on Johnny Lytle Avenue.

It also polled about eliminating funding to the National Trail Parks and Recreation or abandoning its neighborhood streets program.

Later in the survey, 66 percent of respondents said they would support a tax increase if it maintained current service levels, restored neighborhood streets program and re-established a special police unit to combat violent crime and the heroin epidemic. About 25 percent responded no, while 9 percent responded unsure.

The survey was conducted last month by Hudson, Ohio-based Impact Group, at a cost of $18,500. More than 600 people were surveyed but some didn’t answer every question, including about 430 who took the phone poll.

“People need a message 11 times before it sinks in,” Impact Group co-founder Tom Speaks said. “They’re just busy, they have their families and lives and everything else. The last thing they’re worried about is city legislation. You need to really be out there with these items so they’re aware of them, again and again.”

Last month, focus groups were also held to gather information from residents. The major findings from the focus groups include better communication with residents, a perception of a lack of transparency that leads to mistrust and people are upset about crime and street maintenance. The poll results will be used to determine the city’s future operations, including possible changes.

About 30 percent of residents believe they receive good value for services, while about 36 percent say services are OK and another 13 percent say services are poor. About 10 percent responded services are very good, while six percent say services are very bad.

The city provides a multitude of services, but more than 70 percent of its budget is spent on police, fire, EMS and the municipal court. The city could spend up to $31.6 million this year on personnel expenses and medical insurance, according to the 2016 budget approved last December.

Respondents believe fire and EMS (46.5 percent) and police (40.3 percent) are the most important service in Springfield, followed by street paving (3.2 percent), junk and trash removal (2.8 percent) and parks and recreation (2.3 percent). Another 4.9 percent responded unsure.

About 85 percent of the respondents said they’ve lived in the city more than 20 years, while another nine percent lived here between 10 and 20 years.

Earlier this year, an advisory group consisting of business leaders and residents was chosen to analyze the city’s budget, which has a projected $930,000 deficit. The Community Financial Advisory Committee recommended the city ask voters to increase the income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.4 percent for five years, as well as complete an in-depth study of its expenses and possible cuts if it hopes to pass a tax increase in November.

If voters have enough information, they’re more likely to vote for the tax increase, Speaks said. The city must get its message out more to the community, he said.

During the focus groups, residents were angry local money was being spent on the reconstruction on Veterans Bridge on North Fountain Avenue, rather than paving local streets, Speaks said. Residents were shocked, Speaks said, when they discovered federal and state money covered the total cost of the project.

“Those are examples of you guys as a city doing a really good job leveraging funds, but the citizens just don’t know,” Speaks said. “The marketing message really needs to get out there.”

Springfield spent $40,000 earlier this year for a new website, springfieldohio.gov. It also joined Facebook last month.

“The idea is to have a simple message which uses all the different methods to get out,” Speaks said. “The idea is to have your message and say it as much as possible across all of those mediums. There is no silver bullet.”

The city recently began posting Channel 5 videos and audio podcasts of commission meetings on its website, City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said.

“We doing a lot of the right things, we just should have been doing them for the last five, 10 years,” Bodenmiller said.

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