The city of Pickerington has received an approximately $300,000 shot in the arm after income tax collections for 2011 came in higher than the previous year.

The city of Pickerington has received an approximately $300,000 shot in the arm after income tax collections for 2011 came in higher than the previous year.

According to city finance director Chris Schornack, the city collected approximately $5 million in income taxes in 2011, up from the approximately $4.7 million in income taxes the city collected in 2010.

Because the city's annual budget is proposed each fall, city officials couldn't rely on the increased tax collections when city manager Bill Vance proposed an $8.2 million operating budget for 2012 last October, or when Pickerington City Council approved the budget in December.

Now, however, the money can be placed in the city's general fund.

"It just stays within the general fund and council can decide how to appropriate it when necessary," Schornack said. "It's unrestricted money, so it can be spent on anything. It's very good news for the city."

Schornack couldn't say definitively what led to the uptick in income taxes in 2011, but noted the city has taken added steps to identify and collect on delinquent taxpayers.

"In November 2011, the city took the first step towards moving the delinquent tax accounts to our mayor's court for prosecution," he said. "This first step was to notify the delinquent taxpayer of the amount due - or documents missing - and set an established date to make payment by.

"From this mailing, the city generated a significant response," he said. "For the accounts remaining that did not respond, or have not established a payment plan, the city will begin to prosecute these cases in early 2012."

Pickerington has a 1-percent income tax for people who work in the city, as well as those who both live and work there. Local businesses pay that income tax on net profits, as well.

Additionally, the city levies a 0.5-percent income tax on Pickerington residents who work outside the city and pay income taxes to the municipalities in which they're employed.

In addition to getting more aggressive with delinquents, Schornack speculated the increased tax collections last year could be a reflection of more residents entering or getting back into the workforce. He also noted Pickerington experienced 87-percent population growth from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As for when or if the city will spend the additional funds, council President Gavin Blair, who also chairs council's finance committee, said that's to be determined.

Blair said he expects some or all of the money will be used to supplement city infrastructure projects, such as planned enhancements to state Route 256. Pickerington has secured a $5-million safety grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation for that project, but must provide an additional $1 million from city coffers.

Blair also said the Pickerington Police Department could receive a portion of the increased tax collections, but no decisions are likely to be made until after a council planning strategy this month and after a five-year budget plan, which would prioritize local projects and spending, is adopted.

"We're in the process of setting up a council retreat where we're going to go through the agenda for the year," he said. "My plan, first and foremost is to adopt that five-year budget.

"I hate to spend any carryover (funds) until we adopt that plan," Blair said. "It's a working document and it can be changed, but obviously, this council will be here for the next two years. It'll give us a good working plan."

Blair said he expects to introduce legislation this month for a five-year budget plan, but said it likely won't be adopted before March.

In the meantime, he lauded the city's tax department, Schornack and city manager Bill Vance for continuing efforts that are improving Pickerington's ability to collect taxes owed.