As the vote that could increase Powell's income tax approaches, leaders who helped put the issue on the Nov. 6 ballot say it's the best way to fund the city's future.

In August, Powell City Council voted to place an issue on the Nov. 6 general election ballot that would raise the city's income tax from 0.75 percent to 1.15 percent while increasing the tax 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.

Ballot language also mandates that 25 percent of all income-tax revenue be dedicated to infrastructure maintenance and improvements.

According to the city, a resident earning $100,000 per year would see a $400 net increase in taxes annually if the issue is approved by voters.

The plan was formulated largely by the city's Citizen Financial Review Task Force, an 18-member group that over six months in 2018 put together a report regarding the best way to fund the city's infrastructure needs, which include repair of crumbling streets and sewer lines.

Former Powell City Council member Richard Cline helped lead the task force. He said the committee ultimately found it had three options to find an additional $2 million per year needed by the city.

Cline said the city could slash budgets consistently, increase property taxes or increase income taxes.

Slashing budgets, he said, wasn't feasible. The committee found that Powell "really does operate a lean and mean budget" and couldn't find places to cut anywhere near as much as was needed.

An increase in property taxes, on the other hand, would result in too much of a cost to residents -- a number Cline said approached $1,600 for the median taxpayer.

That left the committee with an income-tax increase as the "only viable alternative" to accomplish what Cline emphasized couldn't be too much or too little money. Instead, they wanted to raise just enough to do what needs to be done, he said.

"We started from the position of, 'Let's establish what the need is.' We wanted to establish the difference between needs and wants," Cline said. "From the committee's perspective, a need is something we have to do and a want is something we'd like to do and residents would probably approve, but isn't an absolute necessity."

Once those were established, he said, committee members "worked backward" from the $20 million over 10 years they felt was needed.

"The goal here is to raise what we need and nothing more but also nothing less," Cline said.

Mayor Jon Bennehoof said when he was presented with the facts, it seemed clear that an income-tax increase was the city's only viable option.

"Do I think there were alternatives? There were probably tens of alternatives," he said. "But do I think the task force did an incredible job? They invested a lot of time. ... They, I think, did a very credible job with coming up with an equitable solution that addresses our compounded problem of infrastructure maintenance."

Those maintenance concerns are driving much of the city's push toward funding.

Bennehoof called growth "a blessing and a curse," adding the city has waited too long to begin improving roads and other fading infrastructure, especially given its position in rapidly growing Delaware County.

"We're in virtually the fastest-growing (county) in the country, and a lot of growth drives a lot of infrastructure," he said. "Some of that gets built by developers ... but then maintenance has to come to roost at some point. We're at that point where our city has grown to a point where we have to start doing the maintenance on the things we've been sort of Band-Aiding."

During that period of "Band-Aiding," the city hasn't increased income taxes, unlike other communities.

In fact, it's been 27 years since Powell last increased its income tax. Bennehoof and Cline agreed the city's reluctance to increase taxes should foster good faith among residents.

"I know the philosophy of the city staff has matched the philosophy of City Council, which is, 'We're going to be pretty cautious. We're not going to spend money unless we absolutely have to,' " Cline said. "I think our residents like that. I think they appreciate that, and I hope we've earned some goodwill and demonstrated to voters they can trust the city with this."

For more information on the ballot issue, visit www.cityofpowell.us.

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