Rocky Fork Enterprise

Residents: Try tax hike again in fall, when more people vote

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Several local residents urged Gahanna City Council to place an income-tax levy back on the ballot in November to allow more voters to decide.

A proposal to increase Gahanna's income-tax rate from 1.5 to 2.5 percent was defeated by 122 votes in May, with only a small percentage of the city's residents going to the polls.

City leaders say more revenue is needed because of a $12.8 million budget gap between the projected general-fund revenue and identified needs for 2014. The gap is estimated at $8 million in 2015 and $9.7 million in 2017.

Resident Tom Wester, who's a Planning Commission member, said he has lived in Gahanna for 19 years and supports a levy for several reasons.

He said the city hasn't raised its income-tax rate in 35 years.

During that time, he said, several subdivisions have been built, such as Rathburn Woods, Hensel Woods, Crossing at McKenna Creek, Academy Woods and Harrison Pond.

In 1987, Wester said, the city had 50 miles of streets. Today, it has 134 miles of streets to maintain. In addition to more street maintenance, he said, the city has more traffic signals and signs, streetlighting costs and mileage for police patrol.

"The city is at a crossroads," Wester said. "The mayor's June 24 presentation to City Council presented the operational vision for the city without increased revenue. The time has come to realize that the needs are outgrowing the resources."

Resident George Mrus commended finance director Jennifer Teal for the job she has done and for delivering the difficult news to council and the public.

He implored council members to put the issue back on the ballot.

Mrus said it would be a dereliction of duty to withhold residents the opportunity to vote on the tax question.

Resident Kate Kautz said she wants the city to keep the current tax rate.

"Last week's financial forecast by the mayor and finance director was very discouraging and disconcerting," she said. "The presentation was discouraging in its gloomy forecast of the next 18 months, with no glimmer of a silver lining without a tax increase."

Kautz said the forecast contains an inherent assumption that revenues of existing businesses would remain flat and need to be supplemented through an increase in taxes.

"Gahanna is one of the few central Ohio communities with a low tax rate that favors our businesses -- present and future -- entrepreneurs and anyone employed anywhere but the city of Columbus," Kautz said. "My intention is to keep it that way."

She said she looks forward to public discussion about the issue.

Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education President Claire Yoder encouraged council to let the electorate to make the decision rather than the small percentage who voted in May. She said the school district is considering a tax levy in spring 2014.

"It's an investment in our community and kids," she said. "If you don't have a healthy community, you don't have healthy schools. If you don't have healthy schools, you don't have a healthy community. We'll continue to work together and make this a place where people want to come and have their kids go to school."

Council member David Samuel said he was digging through 2010 notes from Gahanna's Citizens Financial Advisory Committee. It was a group of residents and businesspeople charged by the mayor to review the 2011 general-fund planned revenue and expenses and develop recommendations for the future.

"The closing paragraph hit me," Samuel said, reading, "In order for Gahanna to continue to be a top city for many to call home, to compete for future business and to continue its award-winning standards in education, citizens of Gahanna must be willing to invest, take some risks, hold many accountable and empower many more to work hard to attain the city's top potential.

"It's not about the Gahanna we live in today or lived in yesterday. It's about the Gahanna that our sons, daughters, grandchildren and future generations will live in. It is our turn to plant the seeds today for a great harvest in the future."

Samuel asked each council person: "What do you want for your city?"

"I came here because we had nice-looking neighborhoods, great streets and schools and it's affordable," he said. "I'm here because I wanted to be here."

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