Hilliard could pitch income-tax-rate hike to boost recreation department

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

Hilliard voters could be asked to approve a 0.5-percentage-point income-tax increase on the Nov. 2 ballot to fund the potential construction of a new community center and to support recreation-and-parks programs and other facilities.

The current local income-tax rate is 2%, and the increase would bring it to 2.5%.

A community survey will determine residents' preferred amenities – and appetite for funding those amenities – as the city undertakes a feasibility study and begins laying the groundwork for a possible ballot issue, said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.

Hilliard City Council on Jan. 25 authorized the creation of a 10-member recreation-and-parks advisory committee. Its tasks will include reviewing the findings of the feasibility study and the community survey, Ball said.

Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department director Ed Merritt stands outside the Hilliard Community Center on Dec. 18 with program manager Beth Simon (left), recreation aide Lindsey Dembowski, recreation supervisor Geoff Dew, recreation supervisor Amy Van Huffel, recreation supervisor Haley Bush, recreation supervisor Kristan Turner, program manager Megan Goudy and recreation supervisor Darcy Baxter. A feasibility study is being conducted to gauge interest for a new community center; the current facility was built in the mid-1970s.

The feasibility study, performed by Ballard*King, will cost $34,000, and the community survey, administered by ETC Institute, is $14,500, Ball said.

The survey was mailed to 1,500 random households in the city limits of Hilliard, he said.

“We want at least 300 returned” and to tabulate the results by the first of May, Ball said.

Meanwhile, the 10-member advisory committee will include five residents, one high school student, two representatives of City Council, one representative of Destination Hilliard and one representative of Hilliard City Schools.

Hilliard City Schools Deputy Superintendent Mike McDonough has been nominated to represent the school district, said Stacie Raterman, director of communications for the district.

Tim Kauffman, executive director of Destination Hilliard, said a member of the organization’s board of directors will represent Destination Hilliard.

Sixteen people, including one student, thus far had applied for appointment to the advisory committee, Hilliard City Manager Michelle Crandall said Jan. 25.

The deadline to submit applications for appointment to the advisory committee was Jan. 29, Ball said.

City Council will meet in executive session Feb. 8 to discuss the candidates for the advisory committee, said council President Pete Marsh.

“I’m excited about a student being on the committee," McDonough said. "That’s the voice that matters the most.

The advisory committee is scheduled to meet March 10, April 14, May 12 and June 9, Crandall said.

If an income-tax levy is advanced and approved by voters, it would raise Hilliard’s income-tax rate from 2% to 2.5%.

Legislation to place it on the ballot would receive a first reading by City Council on June 14 and a second and final reading June 28, Crandall said.

The deadline for filing a petition to direct the Franklin County Board of Elections to place a levy on the Nov. 2 general-election ballot is Aug. 4.

If City Council approves the measure, a steering committee would be named in June to promote the levy, Crandall said.

The steering committee could include members of the advisory committee but also other members, Ball said. The steering committee would be autonomous and act similar to organizations that garner support for school district operating levies, he said.

“It’s a tight timeframe, but we think it’s doable,” Crandall said.

If approved, the income-tax-rate increase would generate about $7.5 million annually, according to finance director David Delande.

Even so, many residents work in other cities with a 2.5% income-tax rate and would not be affected, said recreation and parks director Ed Merritt.

Hilliard, like many cities, provides a tax credit for residents who show the equivalent income taxes were paid in another taxing district where a person is employed.

The city provides full credit up to 2% for taxes paid to the workplace municipality, but if the Hilliard rate increased to 2.5%, the credit also would be 2.5%, Ball said.

As for what would be done with the new revenue, many possibilities are in play, but they should come into sharper focus in time, Crandall said.

“There are a lot of options,” Merritt said.

The city could renovate or rebuild facilities in Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park or build new facilities elsewhere, including at a 125-acre site known as the Jerman property, which is east of Alton Darby Creek Road and south of Scioto Darby Creek Road and adjacent to Municipal Park and the Hilliard Ohio Soccer Association complex, Merritt said.

With three high schools and possibly of a fourth in the future, it is possible the city could partner with the school district to discuss a natatorium, Merritt said.

The city also could explore partnerships with health-care corporations for medically integrated recreation-and-parks facilities, Crandall said.

The community center and Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center were built in the early 1970s and connected via an expansion project in the 1990s, Merritt said.

The Hilliard Family Aquatic Center, once known as the “West Pool,” opened in the mid-1970s and also has been expanded and upgraded since then.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

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