Upper Arlington News

Guest column

Upper Arlington has few options to grow revenue

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Even though I spent my entire professional career in public finance, I had an incredibly difficult time expressing some of those very concepts in this article.

I think part of my difficulty stems from the importance of the message I hope to convey.

I was honored to chair the revenue options subcommittee for the Citizen Financial Review Task Force.

Our subcommittee looked at every source of revenue currently available to the city, and also explored some nontraditional sources. We studied other communities in Ohio and beyond to see how others fund city services.

I was cautiously optimistic we might find some well that had not been tapped, or come up with some creative funding methods used by other cities that our administrators had not yet considered. We did not.

We received data outlining every service and program provided by the city, and the level to which each recovers its direct costs.

Some -- police, fire, street maintenance -- do not charge fees for most services provided and have low cost recovery. Others, such as parks and recreation, already have substantial overall cost-recovery models in place.

We also learned the city already has policies to regularly review and pursue fee increases when appropriate.

The city already has a robust economic development effort underway and policies in place to encourage economic development. However, economic development alone cannot offset revenue losses or provide sufficient funding for the city's needs due to the limited amount of land zoned appropriately to support business activity.

While recommending that cost recovery and economic development efforts continue to be high priorities, we were forced to conclude that a tax alternative was necessary.

The Ohio Revised Code provides municipal corporations with two courses of action: taxation on real property and taxation on income.

Historically, most Ohio municipalities rely more heavily on income taxes.

Income tax receipts are affected both by the rate of taxes imposed by a municipality and by the credit (if any) given to residents for taxes paid to another city.

Upper Arlington's income tax rate is 2 percent, and a 100-percent credit is in place. Working residents pay a local income tax, but most probably don't realize that if they work in another community, the taxes they pay go to that community.

Because of the tax credit, if the community's income tax rate is the same or higher than ours, UA does not receive any of this income tax. If the community's income tax rate is lower than ours, UA receives the balance between that community's rate and our 2-percent rate.

Correspondingly, if a Dublin resident works here (which assesses a 2-percent income tax rate with 100-percent tax credit), UA gets its 2-percent income tax and Dublin receives nothing.

If a Columbus resident works here (2.5 percent income tax rate with 100-percent tax credit), UA receives its 2 percent and Columbus receives the 0.5-percent balance commensurate with its higher taxing rate.

Since so many of our residents work outside city limits, the majority of local income taxes paid by UA residents go to other jurisdictions. The majority of these residents work in communities that already have the higher 2.5-percent taxing rate.

As a subcommittee, we were not anxious to recommend an increase in taxes of any kind, and reluctantly concluded that some increase in one of the types of taxes available was needed.

We chose to look more closely at income tax options rather than real property taxes, since property taxes historically have been dedicated to funding our schools, for the most part. In addition, property taxes place a burden on seniors in our community, whereas income taxes do not, since they apply only to earned income and not pensions or investment earnings.

We concluded that an increase of our city's income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.5 percent was the best of the available choices. It brings UA in line with Columbus, Grandview Heights, Bexley and Worthington. More importantly, estimates show that this increase will provide adequate funding to support the critical infrastructure improvements our community needs.

I, along with most of my colleagues, am convinced we've reached a fork in the road as far as our city's future is concerned.

In the coming months, it is likely that we as a community will be asked to vote to increase our municipal income tax rate.

I urge you to seek out as much information as you can about the financial issues facing our community and to understand why the Citizen Financial Review Task Force believes we need to increase our municipal income tax rate in order to keep our place as a community of choice within the region.

Michele Hoyle is chairwoman of the revenue enhancements subcommittee of the Citizen Financial Review Task Force.

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