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. 6 general election ballot after weeks of discussion and months of research by an 18-member resident 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. Newcomb said he doesn't look at taxes "in isolation," and added while he agrees the city needs to fix crumbling infrastructure, he doesn't want to burden taxpayers.

Council members Brian Lorenz and Daniel Swartwout both raised concerns over the proposal, but ultimately sided with the rest of council in placing the issue on the ballot, saying they weren't "obstructionists."

Lorenz was one of the most vocal opponents of the proposal. He suggested an amendment to the ballot language that would have raised the credit for residents working outside the city to 0.65 percent.

The amendment failed after officials estimated raising the credit would cause roughly a $650,000 shortfall in the needed funding.

Focusing on tax equity drowns out "the horrendous need in the city for maintenance and repair," said Tom Counts, vice mayor.

"We can never get there because we're so focused on this fairness argument that we forget why we're here," Counts said. "We've got a serious problem and the city can't solve it. If we don't do something now or in the short term, it's going to get worse. We have to come together as a community to solve this problem."

The city's 18-member task force spent six months reviewing Powell's financial challenges. In June, the task force released a report detailing why an income-tax increase is the most fiscally responsible way to raise an estimated $2 million in additional revenue annually.

Powell's income-tax rate has remained the same for 27 years. Central Ohio cities with a 2.5 percent tax include Columbus, Grandview Heights, Worthington and Upper Arlington; Dublin and New Albany have a 2 percent rate.

The city of Delaware has a 1.85 percent income-tax rate.

Gahanna's rate stands at 1.5 percent, but its leaders July 2 approved a November ballot issue to raise its income tax to 2.5 percent. If approved, 75 percent of the increase would be dedicated to infrastructure maintenance and capital improvements.

Powell has 120 lane miles of streets and roads, 77 miles of storm sewers and 24 miles of bicycle paths. In the past, much of the maintenance of the city's infrastructure has been funded by estate taxes and the local government fund, plus some grants.

For the past eight years, the city has been hampered by cuts to local government fund revenue sharing and the repeal of the Ohio estate tax, city leaders said. Recent funds for infrastructure costs have been limited to about $500,000 a year, mainly from gasoline taxes.

The task force found the city receives only about 4 cents from every dollar of property tax paid. A property tax also would not collect any tax from people who work in the city and use its infrastructure but live elsewhere.

Former City Council member Richard Cline, who led the task force, said its members felt an income-tax increase was the best option, saying it will cost the average taxpayer "less than a pizza and a six-pack every month."

"The task force looked at (the credit) and concluded that, on balance, this is a Powell-wide problem and everyone in Powell should contribute to the solution," Cline told council Aug. 7. "Let the voters decide. We are blessed with a really bright electorate in Powell ... and people who are very thoughtful about what their responsibilities are to the community."

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Village Green Municipal Building, 47 Hall St.

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