Rocky Fork Enterprise

Income-tax increase with full credit

City Council approves putting issue on May ballot

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Gahanna residents will have a say May 7 in what amenities and services the city offers.

City Council approved legislation on Feb. 4 to place an issue on the ballot to raise the income-tax rate from 1.5 to 2.5 percent and to increase the credit from 83.3 to 100 percent.

Council members Stephen Renner, Ryan Jolley, Beryl Anderson, Brian Larick, David Samuel and Brandon Wright voted in favor of taking the income-tax issue to the voters, and council member Karen Angelou dissented.

Angelou said she feared a favorable vote to place the issue on the ballot would be misconstrued as an endorsement of the tax.

"Loud and clear you will hear N-O from me," she said.

Renner, council president, said the city's charter states that the people have the right to choose when it comes to their local taxes.

"They get to tell us at the polls in May," he said. "Again, what type of Gahanna do you want?"

If voters approve, the new rate would be effective Jan. 1, 2014.

The city administration estimates a deficit of $8 million annually without additional revenue.

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said Gahanna needs to either increase its revenue or make serious cuts to have a balanced budget in the future. (See related story on the State of the City address.)

Several residents spoke during a public hearing on the matter, and additional public hearings will be held Feb. 19 and March 4.

Fifteen-year Gahanna resident John Williams said he's not in favor of taxes, but he would like to maintain the quality of life he currently enjoys.

"To continue that overall quality of life, we will have to step up and pay for it," he said.

Resident Tom Weber, former longtime city attorney, said Gahanna is in competition with neighboring New Albany and Westerville, which are thriving.

"We must attract younger families with children," he said. "People who are young and have children are looking at places to live to raise their children. They are looking for superior facilities."

If businesses no longer think the city is willing to commit to better services and higher taxes, Weber said, they might not commit to Gahanna.

"Just to maintain is a form of decline," he said. "If we don't do something quickly, I think we will be in a downward spiral."

Resident Tom Kneeland, former city technology director and longtime council member, said he is concerned about survivability, adding that the city has lived off its savings.

"I grew up here in the '50s," he said. "We're no longer a village. We have to understand we can no longer live off savings and produce a steady stream of equity."

When he served on council, Kneeland said, most businesses were concerned about quality of life and whether the amenities were good for employees.

Resident Ray Kautz said he isn't against the tax increase altogether, but he prefers it on a November ballot.

"I feel if it's proposed in May, you won't get a full voice," he said. "I feel the whole process is being rushed."

Resident Alicia Holloway also sought a November ballot issue.

"It's important to understand as a citizen what all the issues are," she said. "By making this a May issue, it shortens the ability of information to be public."

Anderson said the electorate has to make the decision.

"People in our country, Ohio and Gahanna are challenged," she said. "Families have to tighten belts and make hard choices. We're asking what Gahanna they want to live in and at what cost."

She said current economic predictors aren't favorable concerning the cost of items like food and gasoline, and residents will face future tax increases for schools and fire.

Residents should consider how the issue affects their finances in relation to all other factors, she said.

Personally, Anderson said, she's not in favor of raising taxes but thinks the people should decide.

Jolley said leaders would have plenty of time to educate voters about the issue.

"There has been plenty of time to be educated, and there's plenty of time to become educated," he said. "We either need to pass (the tax increase) if citizens choose and implement it or come up with drastic measures to proceed without that tax revenue. Our budget is due in June to the state."

Renner said a widget on the city's website at gahanna.gov would allow residents to calculate what the increase would mean to them. He said he and other residents who work where a 2.5-percent income tax is imposed have a net effective tax rate of 2.75 percent.

"Why isn't that being talked about?" he asked.

With council adjusting the tax credit given to residents who pay income taxes to other municipalities from 83.3 to 100 percent, Renner said, it would be a reduction in taxes.

Stinchcomb said the city is at a pivotal point, and it's important that residents decide what kind of city they want.

"Staff has the ability to deal with the cards we're dealt," she said.

Stinchcomb said a page at gahanna.gov is dedicated to the tax initiative.

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