Members of Bexley's Alternative Revenue Task Force have forwarded a list of recommendations to City Council estimated to generate $1.5 million annually in new income for the city.
In 2011, council identified an upcoming gap in funding for the city as part of Ohio's elimination of the estate tax, as well as current and future reductions in funds Bexley receives from the state.
"The task force was comprised of 30 Bexley residents all dedicated to curing the city's budgetary issues," City Councilman Tim Madison said. "After numerous meetings and several months of hard work, the task force presented to City Council its findings and recommendations that includes potentially $1.5 million in new annual revenue for our city.
"There has been a past history of City Council shelving these types of reports, but I have personally promised the task force that their efforts will be thoroughly considered by this City Council. I cannot promise that each and every proposal will be implemented, but I believe that many of the proposals must be utilized to negate the need for future tax increases on our citizens," Madison said.
In 2011, City Council proposed an income tax increase, which voters approved. However, community leaders said then that a future increase of income taxes was an unsustainable model.
"At this time, it appears that any additional increases in income tax rates would be difficult to adsorb by the community," the Alternative Revenue Task Force report noted. "We have reached a friction point on traditional avenues of revenue generation as a community."
Options for revenue
Bexley City Council commissioned the Alternative Revenue Task Force to look at new ways to generate revenue for the city.
The task force, armed with figures and projections provided by the city auditor, set a goal to identify $1 million in alternative revenue. It formed subcommittees and those subcommittees identified more than $1.5 million in alternative revenue.
The recommendations include:
* Public service fees -- $450,000 in anticipated annual revenue. The city pays for fire and police safety services to serve the community. There are non-residents who utilize these services without contributing through income taxes.
* Digital ad revenue -- $100,000 in anticipated annual revenue. The city could leverage, through partnerships, a website that helps residents find reputable services and offers businesses an opportunity to market to the community.
* Parking meters on Main Street -- $250,000 in anticipated new annual revenue. Main Street businesses could benefit from meters while the city would realize significant income from them.
* Speed cameras -- $750,000 in anticipated new annual revenue. While this recommendation is described as primarily a safety issue, there is an opportunity to realize revenue while making the community safer for children and pedestrians.
* Economic development -- Long-term opportunities for the city to generate revenue by developing land and attracting new businesses also was listed as an option, but no revenue figure was tied to the suggestion.
The task force presented what it called "a well-balanced, broad-based plan that does not lean on any of our constituencies too heavily. It is our hope that the recommendations will be viewed in their entirety. It is the task force's view that if viewed as individual initiatives, political pressure could jeopardize the viability of the plan and ultimately the fiscal health of the city."
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler said the task force report was "thoughtful and well-presented. We had an energized group of highly qualified residents from a diversity of professional backgrounds put together a meaningful and creative analysis of ways the city can seek alternative revenue beyond the traditional taxation paradigm.
"I think we owe it to them and to our residents to seriously consider every recommendation. For sure, some of the recommendations require public input and further exploration before being instituted."
One recommendation that has the potential to be controversial, especially if not instituted with great care and exposed to an adequate public process, is the recommendation for speed cameras, Kessler said.
"Even prior to the formation of the task force, we've been researching speed cameras and considering how a selectively placed and well-marked speed camera might provide a safer environment for residential streets that have chronic speeding problems," he said.
"One area in particular that we've been exploring this year has been College Avenue. College is a residential street with a uniquely challenging speeding environment ... "
Kessler said it is difficult to come up with ideas for alternative revenue that don't involve some form of controversy.
"I think when discussing these recommendations, we need to be respectful of the reasons these items might be controversial for some, while at the same time not shying away from discussing them simply because the conversation is uncomfortable or requires us to work through some more complicated and larger big-picture questions.
"We know, from our experience in funding our city services in a challenging revenue environment, that simply accepting the comfortable status quo is not enough; we know that we need to get creative and not shy away from issues that might engender controversy if they are otherwise the right thing for our community at the right time."
Kessler praised task force members for volunteering their time and working to ensure the greater longer-term viability of city finances.
Madison said he hopes residents will attend a meeting on the task force findings and recommendations set for 7 p.m. Jan. 15 in City Council chambers, 2242 E. Main St.
He encouraged residents to contact him or any other council member or the mayor , to discuss the recommendations.