Pickerington City Council will debate a possible income tax increase in October, as well as other options to bolster city revenues.

Pickerington City Council will debate a possible income tax increase in October, as well as other options to bolster city revenues.

At 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at City Hall, council's finance committee is expected to mull strategies for increasing city revenues or slashing spending through possible reductions of city personnel or services.

The confab is needed, various city officials have said, because it's becoming increasingly difficult to provide expected levels of services and maintain day-to-day operations without either finding new revenue streams or cutting expenses by laying off city workers.

One option on the table is an income tax levy.

"We have known since a while back that, at some point, we going to have to do something to increase revenues," Pickerington finance director Chris Schornack said.

While nothing has been decided, the finance committee, which consists of all seven council members, last month discussed asking voters next year to support increasing the city income tax from 1 to 2 percent for those who work in Pickerington but don't live in the city and for those who don't pay an income tax elsewhere.

At the outset of 2010, council passed a $7.45-million budget.

According to minutes from the Sept. 8 finance committee meeting, such a levy would generate approximately $1.3-million in new, annual revenue.

However, some council members have reservations about asking voters to increase taxes at a time when the local and state economies are still trying to gain footing, and when the state unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent.

Also, Pickerington voters flatly rejected the city's last attempt to raise income taxes to 2 percent in November 2008, by a nearly two-to-one count.

"I don't think we've done our due diligence in cutting enough yet," council member Gavin Blair said last week.

Council president Tricia Sanders said last week she doesn't currently favor an income tax increase because of the economy and because the Pickerington Local School District could also be on the ballot next year if its levy on the Nov. 2 ballot fails. That levy would restore an 8-mill levy originally passed in 1977.

"My gut feeling is, I think we will hold off on a tax levy, but I can't say for sure until next month," Sanders said. "It's definitely still in the discussion mode. We can see both sides.

"It's a little scary because you start talking about the (city) budget and there's just no money," she said. "But people out there are hurting so bad, too."

Although a decision hasn't been made, council on Sept. 21 did vote 5-2 to approve setting aside $25,000 to hire a consultant to help the city promote an income tax levy. No company has been hired to provide the services, and Sanders said the money won't be spent unless the city moves forward with a levy.

"With (the 2008 levy) not passing last time, I think we need a professional person who has worked with other communities in our same situation," Sanders said, explaining her support of appropriating the money for a consultant. "It has to go through, when and if it goes on the ballot, and I think we need someone to help us do that."

Blair and council member Cristie Hammond voted against the appropriation for a consultant.

Hammond said she's not necessarily opposed to an income tax increase, but she's not sure she supports a levy that provides a 100-percent credit to those who live or work in the city but pay at least 2 percent in income taxes to other municipalities.

She also said she doesn't support "paying money that we may or may not have to promote this (tax) issue."

In addition to his aversion to an income tax increase, Blair said the city shouldn't hire anyone to help them build a levy campaign.

"I don't support the idea behind it and I also don't support a campaign for it," he said. "My philosophy behind paying consultants is it's a misuse of taxpayer money to try to convince (voters) to vote 'yes.'"

In 2009, Pickerington paid Columbus-based Governing Dynamic LLC $18,500 to conduct a 47-question telephone survey that randomly polled 300 city residents about a variety of issues, including their possible support of an income tax increase. It was part of at least $52,000 in contracts the city has paid to the company in the past two years for the survey, strategic planning and to help bolster the city's communications with residents.

Sixty-three percent of those polled for the survey last year said they would oppose increasing income taxes to 2 percent.

"There will be services, obviously, that will be cut if we don't go to the ballot," Sanders said. "That hasn't even been discussed yet."

One area that could get hit if taxes aren't increased is Pickerington's Police Department.

According to minutes from the Sept. 8 finance committee meeting, Schornack said police department expenses are outpacing the city's general operating revenues and can't be sustained.

City manager Bill Vance, who came to the city July 1, said he currently doesn't have a recommendation for council.

"I'm still assessing our financial strengths and weaknesses," he said.