Upper Arlington News

Americans for Prosperity takes on UA tax issue

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If money talks, Americans for Prosperity hopes Upper Arlington residents are listening.

The Virginia-based political action committee supported by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch inserted itself into city politics Aug. 13 when it released a statement opposing a Nov. 4 ballot issue that would, if passed, increase Upper Arlington's city income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent.

Americans for Prosperity did not return calls last week seeking comment as to why the group has become interested in the Upper Arlington tax issue.

However, Eli Miller, state director for Americans for Prosperity Ohio, said in a press release that his organization has received "numerous phone calls and emails from Upper Arlington residents expressing great concern" about the proposal.

"We believe firmly that increasing the income tax can hurt economic prosperity and that taxpayer money should stay in the pocket of the taxpayer rather than the city as often as possible," Miller said. "We agree with so many local residents who seem to be saying that raising the income tax just does not make sense."

The stance is significant given the influence Americans for Prosperity can have on political campaigns.

Last spring, the organization spent nearly $63,000 campaigning to defeat the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's property-tax request.

That levy was rejected by 70 percent of voters.

City Manager Ted Staton said he hopes to engage with UA residents on matters related to the proposed income-tax increase, rather than spar with outside interests that oppose it.

Upper Arlington officials have said the income-tax increase is needed to fund deteriorating roadways, stormwater systems and other infrastructure. Last November, then-City Engineer David Parkinson said UA has about $113 million in infrastructure needs over the next 10 years, but no revenue source to fully fund them.

According to city officials, the income-tax increase would generate about $3.5 million in new revenue each year; ballot language stipulates the money raised by the increased tax must be directed toward infrastructure projects.

Staton did not directly respond to several questions submitted to him by ThisWeek Upper Arlington News regarding the tax proposal and Americans for Prosperity's involvement.

He did, however, provide a five-paragraph statement on the tax issue and how he intends to seek local support for it.

In the statement, Staton said "community conversations are critical."

"Our primary focus and interest is to reach out to and hear back from Upper Arlington residents -- and not with those from other communities or even out of state who are part of national special-interest groups targeting communities like ours to divert attention from the local issue at hand," he said in the statement.

"Upper Arlington's income-tax request has very real ramifications for the future of the Upper Arlington community and its citizens."

Staton added that he will reserve Friday mornings throughout September and October for one-on-one meetings with residents interested in the income-tax issue. He said the city also is in the midst of scheduling a series of "in-home and community meetings where groups of friends and neighbors can meet with me to learn the facts and have their questions answered."

He said the city is seeking the increase to cover its extensive infrastructure needs.

"By law, if the issue passes, 100 percent of the funds must be used to fund street repair, curb replacement, water- and sewer-line repairs, bridge repairs and other critical capital improvements.

"None of the funds raised can be used to pay for staff, salaries or the city administration, yet it will allow us to make the necessary investments in our aging roads, water and sewer lines, etc., without taking away from existing core services such as snow and leaf removal, and police, fire and EMS safety services," Staton said, noting that some of UA's capital facilities are nearly 100 years old.

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