Powell voters will decide in November whether to raise the city’s income-tax rate for the first time in nearly three decades.
City Council on Aug. 7 voted 6-1 to place an income-tax increase on the Nov. 8 general election ballot after weeks of discussion and months of research by an 18-member citizen task force.
If approved by voters, the city’s income-tax rate will increase from 0.75 percent to 1.15 percent.
The ballot language also increases the credit from 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent for residents who live in Powell but work in and pay income taxes to another municipality, and mandates that 25 percent of all income-tax revenue be dedicated to infrastructure maintenance and improvements.
Brendan Newcomb, who is serving his first term on council, was the lone vote against placing the issue on the ballot.
Council members Brian Lorenz and Daniel Swartwout both raised concerns over the proposal, but ultimately sided with the rest of council, saying they weren’t “obstructionists.”
Lorenz was one of the most vocal opponents of the proposal but said city voters should have a say.
Swartwout agreed: “It’s in the hands of the electorate now.”
At a July 31 special hearing, council members were divided on how -- and when -- to ask voters for additional funding for infrastructure issues.
Powell has been hampered by cuts to local-government-fund revenue sharing and the repeal of the Ohio estate tax, city leaders said. Funding for infrastructure costs has been limited to about $500,000 a year, mainly from gasoline taxes.
The city's income-tax rate has remained the same for 27 years.
Former Marysville fire Chief Gary Johnson was one of a few residents who spoke during the public-comment portion of the July 31 meeting.
Johnson retired in 2012 and said he moved to Powell in part for its bike paths. He cautioned that putting off costs in one department could trickle down to other areas -- something he said he witnessed in Marysville during the 1980s.
"What we're seeing here is a 'pay me now or pay me later' scenario. We started deferring vehicle maintenance ... I started seeing apparatus that was out of service for long periods of times. As we grew our population, we started stacking (911) calls," Johnson said. "There are a lot of hidden costs to these deferred costs. I've lived this. I know what happens."
Some council members raised concerns over rushing the issue to the ballot and whether the city should devote more efforts to prioritizing capital-improvement projects and growing its commercial tax base.
"I don't think we should be in a hurry on this. I'm not in favor of asking people to raise their taxes," said Lorenz. "I believe there's other opportunities ... more palatable right now than an income-tax increase. I've always advocated that we look at a strong economic-development program."
Others on council, including Mayor Jon Bennehoof and Vice Mayor Tom Counts, said they believe the task force's recommendation is the best option.
No City Council members are up for re-election this year and Ohio's gubernatorial and midterm races are expected to help drive voter turnout in November.
"What better opportunity for most voters to vote on an issue that's really important to the city in either a presidential year or a gubernatorial year?" Counts said.
Bennehoof said a combination of state funding cuts, rapid development and "extreme fiscal conservatism" have led to the shortfall. Regardless, he said, council must put forth the best possible solution and allow voters to decide.
"It's not our decision, it's not the task force's decision, it's the community's decision," he said. "Singlehandedly, without the voters, we cannot solve it. We could cut until the cows come home and it won't meet the need."
For more information on the task force and city finances, visit tinyurl.com/powelltaskforce.