Income tax increase or tax-credit reduction?
That's the choice members of Reynoldsburg City Council's finance committee continued to discuss Monday, even as Councilman Scott Barrett said it was time for someone to "step up" and make decisions about how the city can pay for long-delayed infrastructure repairs.
Speaking at the finance committee meeting May 19, Barrett said he wants to begin drafting legislation to cut the city income tax credit in half "and have it to chew on" at the next committee meeting June 2.
The finance committee did not vote Monday on preparing the legislation.
"We have gone so long without making infrastructure repairs that we are forced to make some tough decisions," Barrett said. "We don't have even a rainy day fund for an emergency situation. Unfortunately, I think the tax credit would be the only thing that might make a difference."
He said the city has gone too long without money to repair the city's crumbling roads.
"This is not just conjecture," Barrett added. "We are not making up reasons to spend money. We are elected representatives and someone has to step up."
Council approved a 50-percent reduction in the income tax credit last July, but the move was vetoed by Mayor Brad McCloud before it could go into effect.
It would have required residents who work outside the city to pay a 0.75-percent income tax -- half of the city's 1.5-percent rate -- to Reynoldsburg, on top of whatever they pay to the city where they work.
McCloud said he feels differently now, though.
"Last summer when I vetoed the credit, I wanted voters to decide on the income tax that was on the ballot," he said. "I said if the levy failed, it would be a different conversation.
"We have reached that day," he said.
Since 1981, Reynoldsburg voters have rejected four ballot issues that would have raised the city income tax rate. Last November's failed attempt would have raised the rate from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent.
McCloud said Reynoldsburg operates on half the revenue of most cities its size.
"We can't keep staff members because we can't pay what other cities do," he said. "We also have part-time code-enforcement positions. We do our best with what we have, but we need more."
Councilman Mel Clemens said city services come with a price.
"I don't want to be taking things away unless we have to, but its going to come to that point," he said. "My preference would be that we do the tax credit adjustment, then put a tax issue on the ballot and if that passes, we could adjust the tax credit."
Councilman Cornelius McGrady III said he has been crunching numbers and talking to City Auditor Richard Harris.
"I don't like taxes, either, but I was figuring out that a 2-mill property tax would bring in about $1.4 million per year and cost homeowners less than $6 a month," he said. "Like the mayor said, we can't continue to operate this way and need to do something.
"We need to make voters understand our roads are deteriorating rapidly; many are 20 years old," he said. "We have to generate some money somehow."
Councilman Dan Skinner wondered why the city did not consider a smaller income tax hike of a half-percent instead of 1 percent.
"I'm concerned that if we cut the tax credit and then go to the ballot with another tax issue that people will say, 'You already took money from me, so why should I vote for another tax issue without a guarantee you will take away the first one?'" Skinner said.
Councilman Barth Cotner said the message is still the problem.
"We have to find a different way to tell people about what we need," he said. "It could be that a one-half percent hike would have been more palatable to voters. There are ways we can address concerns people have, and I think going away from the way we keep doing things may be what we have to do."
The next full council meeting is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at the Reynoldsburg Municipal Building, 7232 E. Main St.
The next committee meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. June 2 at the same location.