Upper Arlington News

City notes

UA must balance costs with expectations

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In last week's ThisWeek Upper Arlington News, UA reporter Nate Ellis did a nice job of capturing the state of the city's fiscal picture as we begin the new year.

Our budgets have been trending downward in response to Local Government Fund reductions and the elimination of the estate tax. We are a much leaner organization -- currently operating with approximately 28 percent fewer employees than we had at our peak.

We have privatized some service areas, such as our solid waste and custodial services. We have implemented several shared services arrangements, such as a fuel agreement with OSU that saves both time and money for our crews.

Additionally, we have entered into revenue-generating partnerships with other entities -- for example, providing fleet maintenance services for the Grandview Heights and Norwich Township fire and EMS vehicles.

Despite all the pencil-sharpening that has already been done and plans for placing further emphasis on shared services opportunities, there is a point at which we have to ask ourselves -- as a community, not just the city organization -- how deeply do we cut? To date, residents have seen little in the way of impacts to the tangible services we provide, such as police and fire safety services, snow removal and leaf collection, pothole repairs and the like.

But if we remain on our current path without action, that day is not far off.

Results of the 2013 Community Survey tell us that most in the community value the level of services we provide and cite them as a top reason for choosing to live here. It's clear that quality city services are an integral part of what gives Upper Arlington its appeal, along with our exceptional education system for our children, great neighborhoods with strong property values and, of course, the one thing that will never change -- our location within the region.

If we were to reduce or eliminate services, what would go? What could we comfortably change while resting assured that our actions wouldn't be the tipping point for reducing residents' satisfaction and ultimately putting all that we hold dear at risk?

Leading on from the story by Nate Ellis in the weekly paper, it was serendipitous to also find a letter to the editor in the Jan. 9 Columbus Dispatch in which a resident expressed great satisfaction with the level of services we provide Upper Arlington citizens. This gentleman states that, "Yes, our taxes are high, but so are our city services."

While I certainly appreciate his sentiment that the investment of tax dollars is well worth the services he gets in return, I would be remiss if I did not point out a few important facts about your property tax rates in UA.

First, the property tax rates are higher in eight other central Ohio communities - Bexley, Grandview, Westerville, Dublin, Hilliard, Worthington, Gahanna and Grove City.

Second, when you slice into the property tax pie, just 9 percent of the total translates into revenue for the city; the majority supports the schools, at 64 percent.

And while we're on the subject of taxes, because the majority of working Upper Arlington residents work outside our borders, income tax revenues are not generated to the level that one might expect. In fact, data from the Regional Income Tax Authority (RITA) reflects that more than 80 percent of the income earned by UA residents is taxed by other jurisdictions, and these residents pay no income tax to the community in which they live.

In short, many in the community are enjoying an exceptionally good value in the services they receive from us for the taxes they actually pay to us.

These thoughts and more are currently before the Citizen Financial Review Task Force, a team of Upper Arlington citizens who have volunteered to take on the charge of exploring city finances in great detail, with the goal of developing a set of viable options to help solve the challenges ahead.

You can find more about this task force on our homepage, at www.uaoh.net.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is going to be a pivotal year for Upper Arlington and I sincerely hope you will be part of the dialogue that helps guide our decision-making.

Theodore J. Staton is Upper Arlington's city manager.

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