New political action committee ready to campaign for Hilliard income-tax increase

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group
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.

A new nonpartisan political action committee called Healthy Hilliard has been organized to campaign for an anticipated 0.5 percentage-point income-tax increase on the November ballot.

A 10-member Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee is expected to present final recommendations to Hilliard City Council in June, according to Hilliard Communications Director David Ball.

Council could decide by mid-July whether to ask voters to approve the increase. Legislation to place a tax increase before voters could receive a first reading at Hilliard City Council’s June 28 meeting and a second and final reading July 12, City Manager Michelle Crandall said

City officials have said money from the ta increase be used for recreation-and-parks programs and possibly to fund construction of a new community center. The deadline for filing the issue with the Franklin County Board of Elections Aug. 4.

If approved, the income-tax increase would generate about $7.5 million annually, city Finance Director David Delande said.

The results of a $14,500 community survey by ETC Institute and a $34,000 feasibility study by Ballard*King were presented to the advisory committee and City Council on April 14.

According to the survey, additional bicycle paths, multi-use trails, nature trails and outdoor pools topped the list for desired amenities.

When asked where revenue from an income-tax increase should be directed, outdoor pools, nature trails, green space and bicycle paths scored the highest.

The information can be viewed at hilliardohio.gov/rec-and-parks-future/

“We anticipate the recommendations (of the committee) will include whether to pursue design, construction and operation of a new community center and other recreation and parks amenities, and whether to place an income tax issue on the Nov. 2 ballot,” Ball said.

Healthy Hilliard’s mission is to advocate to improve and expand local recreational facilities and programs, Hilliard City Councilman Les Carrier said.

Healthy Hilliard will hold its first meeting, open to the public, at 7 p.m. May 9 at Ten Pin Alley, 5499 Ten Pin Alley.

Carrier said he will serve as either president or vice president of the new PAC and Councilman Omar Tarazi will serve as its treasurer.

The PAC has established its own website, healthyhilliard.com.

Members of City Council, unlike city employees, can campaign for a ballot issue, Carrier said.

“It’s no different than a council member advocating for legislation,” he said, adding that Tarazi, an attorney, filed to create the PAC through the Franklin County Board of Elections.

“We wanted to be separate (from the city),” Carrier said.

It is an important distinction, Ball said. City employees can provide information but cannot advocate, he said.

“Healthy Hilliard is a separate community organization. Like any community organization, Healthy Hilliard is welcome to use the information the city provides as it goes about its own communication efforts,” Ball said.

Carrier said he expects the organization to be a rare example of “true nonpartisanship” with everyone on board for the benefit of improving the city’s recreation-and-parks programs and amenities.

The city is seeking further input about a possible income-tax increase via social media and its Talk2us engagement platform, Ball said.

If placed on the ballot and approved by voters, the issue would create an earmarked funding stream for recreation and parks, including construction of a community center, he said.

“As Hilliard develops its long-range plans, having a guaranteed revenue stream earmarked for parks, trails, a community center, wellness services, athletic fields, senior services, public arts, and other recreation and parks amenities will continue to make this a community where people choose to live, work, and raise families,” Crandall said.

The need has existed for many years but funding for  recreation and parks has flat-lined, Carrier said.

“I want our kids to play here (and) for Hilliard to be a destination (for recreational activities),” he said.

Recreation and Parks Director Ed Merritt said the city could consider renovating or rebuilding the facilities at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park or building new facilities elsewhere.

The city purchased land known as the Jerman property, just west and adjacent to Municipal Park, for $4.41 million as part of a real-estate deal that City Council approved in November 2020.

The current community center and the 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, formerly called the West Pool, opened in the mid-1970s and has also been expanded and upgraded.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo