Gahanna leaders and a group called Citizens for a Stronger Gahanna are promoting an issue on the Nov. 6 ballot that would increase the city's income tax from 1.5 to 2.5 percent if voters approve it.

The issue calls for 75 percent of the increase to be dedicated for capital improvements, maintenance and repair of streets and other physical properties, and 25 percent would go toward general municipal operations.

There's no known organized opposition regarding the tax measure.

Absentee voting will open Wednesday, Oct. 10, for the general election.

Dewitt Harrell, co-chairman of Citizens for a Stronger Gahanna, said he examined all facets of the current tax revenue situation and its shortfall effects on Gahanna.

Harrell has lived in Gahanna for more than 20 years and is a former Gahanna-Jefferson Board of Education member.

He's the former chief financial officer of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and current chief financial officer for PrimaryOne Health.

"Fiscal sustainability of our town is important to me," Harrell said. "I know how carefully the city manages the budget on a tax rate that has not changed in 42 years, and is the lowest amongst 15 neighboring cities," he said.

By comparison, revenue for Bexley, Westerville and Whitehall have grown by 50 percent, 47 percent and 45 percent, respectively, over the last 10 years, he said.

"Wear, tear and growth have caused costs to increase faster than our revenues, and this makes it impossible to deliver the same level of services at current tax rates," Harrell said.

He said there are three key things to know about the tax measure, listed as Issue 29 on the ballot.

"First, it's a reform of the current tax structure where a 1 percent change will allow Gahanna to collect or keep nearly $4 million that is currently being collected by neighboring cities who have a higher tax rate than Gahanna," he said.

"For example, the employee who works in Gahanna and lives in Columbus currently pays a total of 2.5 percent in taxes," he added. "In essence, 1.5 percent is paid to Gahanna and the remaining 1 percent returns to Columbus (after all credits are considered). However, with tax reform, Gahanna would collect the entire 2.5 percent, as other cities do with similar rates."

A second example, Harrell said, involves a decrease in taxes for an employee who lives in Gahanna and works in Columbus, with the credit moving from 83.3 percent to 100 percent. He said this employee would save 0.25 percent, reducing 2.75 percent in total taxes to 2.5 percent.

"Third, 75 percent of the new revenue to the city will be protected for capital infrastructure needs and projects like streets, curbs, parks and trails," he added.

What Harrell said he likes most is that retiree pensions, IRA's, Social Security, disability and/or military income wouldn't be taxed.

"Our recommendation to put Issue 29 on the ballot was not made lightly, as we understand the financial impact to families," he said. "But the alternative -- a growing and significant gap in services -- also has consequences. Fewer street rebuilds, no new curb programs, no plans for growth in safety, cutbacks in our community parks and maintenance hurts all of us."

Community conversations

Gahanna Mayor Tom Kneeland said the more residents know about the tax measure, the better their decision will be.

He met on Sept. 23 with father and son, Mike and Robert Poe, at the Lily Stone Bed & Breakfast, 106 S. High St., to discuss the issue, along with resident Kari Hawk and city council president Brian Larick.

Kneeland said the tax proposal voters rejected in 2013 did not commit a specific percentage for capital maintenance and improvements like streets, curbs, parks and trails.

Now, he said, the tax issue would set aside 75 percent of the money raised for capital projects, with the remaining 25 percent used for operating costs, including safety services.

"Before, it was just going into the general fund and out of the general fund. Things for capital (projects) were allocated to other accounts out of the general fund," he said. "This is much different than that. This really protects that money and it can only be used for one thing."

Kneeland said the city is projecting a $2.6 million deficit in 2019 without addition revenue.

If the income tax increase is approved, the city would gain about $2.7 million in additional revenue in the first year of collection and up to $9 million when it's fully implemented in the third year.

He said infrastructure and safety are pressing needs in the city.

"We've got a capital needs assessment of major projects," Kneeland said. "We have to get the most important things done with what we've got."

As a person who doesn't like numbers, Hawk said, the issue makes sense to her.

"I care so much about my city," she said. "I don't see any tomfoolery."

She said residents are excited about the new west side park off McCutcheon Road.

"That's what people want," Hawk said. "People need something tangible. That's how I relate."

Robert Poe asked if new parks would be built and where they would be located, if the issue passes.

"I think the biggest thing is connectivity, then maintenance and upkeep," Larick said. "We already have the west side park underway. We need completion of it."

Robert Poe questioned the timing of the ballot issue.

"A lot has happened since 2013," Larick said. "One of the most important things that was done was a performance audit, a neutral evaluation."

He said the city also rewrote its financial reserve policy and established rules for how much is to be kept in reserves.

"Now we have language for what circumstances are logical to go into the reserves," Larick said. "We also updated our investment policy and modernized it. We're a fiscally conservative-run community."

He said the city also implemented a debt policy that details reasons the city would go into debt.

"They are core to have a good, solid structure," he added. "That is all new stuff since 2013."

Larick said the budget document also was rebuilt in 2014 to be a narrative.

"Now there's information to judge," he said. "It's dramatically better than it was."

More about the tax issue can be found online at Stronggahanna.com, including a calculator to figure out how the proposal would affect an individual's income taxes.

Information also can be found online at Gahanna.gov/issue 29.

Future chats with Kneeland about Issue 29 are scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Mrs. Turbo's Cookies, 1050 Beecher Crossing Road; 9:30 a.m. Oct. 13 at Upper Cup Coffee, 121 Mill St.; and 6 p.m. Oct. 16 at Lily Stone Bed & Breakfast.

Town hall meetings will be held with Kneeland and city staff at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Gahanna Lincoln High School, 140 S. Hamilton Road; 6 p.m., Oct. 25 at Gahanna Middle School West, 350 N. Stygler Road; and 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at Shepherd Church of Nazarene, 425 S. Hamilton Road.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla