Council refuses to choose between 2 different tax plans
Request for income tax increase headed to fall ballot, tax credit cut waits in the wings
Reynoldsburg City Council was expected to choose July 22 between two contentious tax proposals.
Instead, members approved both: one ordinance to put a 1-percent income tax increase on the fall ballot and another to implement a 50-percent reduction in the city income tax credit.
Residents will vote on the 1-percent income tax increase in November, but the tax credit reduction can go into effect without voter approval. It would raise taxes for the 80 percent of employed residents who work outside of Reynoldsburg, resulting in their paying a 0.75-percent income tax to the city on top of whatever they pay the city where they work.
In a posting to his Facebook page after Monday's meeting, Council President Doug Joseph called council's action "a very sad day for the City of Respect."
"Reynoldsburg City Council voted tonight for not one but two income tax increases," he wrote. "As President of Council, I did not get to vote but I am very opposed to them. They will hammer cash-strapped families and discourage job-generating businesses from locating in the city."
Council members Barth Cotner, Leslie Kelly and Chris Long voted against the income tax reduction, while Monica DeBrock, Cornelius McGrady III, Mel Clemens and Scott Barrett voted for it.
Kelly cast the lone vote against putting an income tax increase on the ballot. She wanted it tabled until spring and the tax credit taken out of consideration.
"I wanted more time to develop a clear plan on what we would do with the money," she said. "I've been vocal from the beginning that I don't like raising taxes on people without voter approval."
DeBrock voted for both tax ordinances, but said, "I absolutely do not want both ordinances in effect."
"It was never the intention of most of us on council to have both an income tax rate increase and an income tax reduction," she said. "If voters pass the tax rate increase, we can rescind the tax credit reduction before it affects residents."
DeBrock said she prefers the income tax increase over the tax credit reduction.
"Council has to do our job," she said. "If the tax rate increase does not pass, then we would have the tax credit reduction to raise revenue the city really needs. In the long term, I think the tax credit reduction would be just a financial Band-Aid for us until we can pass a tax rate increase."
The income tax increase, if approved by voters, would hike the city's income tax from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent and would raise about $5 million for Reynoldsburg, City Auditor Richard Harris said.
Voters have rejected the last three attempts to raise the city income tax.
Harris said the tax credit reduction would raise about $3 million per year.
Cotner called council's action disappointing.
"I don't like having both tax issues out there, so that we are saying you have to pass the tax increase or the income tax reduction is already in effect," he said.
"I would rather go to the community and ask for the resources to help our community grow," Cotner said. "I think everyone on council has agreed that the city needs more revenue to fund city operations, from street repairs to infrastructure needs, to basic needs such as the police force."
Kelly said she would like to see a detailed plan on how the money from the tax increase would be spent, along with a detailed narrative on how money has been spent in the past.
"I don't feel like we are making every effort to keep people informed," she said.
Joseph said the timing of the tax credit reduction decision limits citizens' options.
"The mayor could veto the ordinance within 30 days, but I don't think there is time to do a ballot referendum," he said.
Ben Piscitelli, from the Franklin County Board of Elections and officials from the Fairfield and Licking County boards of election, said in June that a referendum petition to put the income tax credit reduction on the ballot would require 1,306 valid signatures of registered voters.
He said the referendum petition would have to be filed with the city clerk within 30 days of the ordinance being passed and the city clerk would have to transmit the petition and a certified copy of the ordinance to the board of elections by Aug. 7.
A referendum may only be voted on during a November election.
DeBrock said she thinks Reynoldsburg is doing a good job of using taxpayer money, "but we need more money to be in competition with other cities to bring in businesses that pay a living wage."
"The tax rate increase will provide a larger increase in revenue but we will still have to be creative with finances to get the most for our city," she said. "Reynoldsburg is a great city, but I feel we need additional money in order to realize our full potential. I would like to see us build some kind of community center and get the funds to hire a development director."
She said increasing city revenue is needed in order to protect property values.