The city of Urbana is asking voters to approve an income tax increase Tuesday for the benefit of city safety services.
Last December, the Urbana City Council approved an ordinance placing an income tax increase on the May 8 ballot. The issue proposes to replace the current additional tax of 0.4 percent with a 1.0 percent rate – which would bring the total new income tax rate in the city to 2.0 percent.
Urbana Director of Administration Kerry Brugger emphasized if the increase is approved, the existing 0.4 percent would be removed and replaced by a 1.0 percent rate. This would be a net increase of 0.6 percent after voter approval of the increase and replacement. Contrary to some circulating opinions in the community, the total city income tax would not increase to 2.4 percent.
The last time Urbana had an income tax increase was in 1992 after voters approved the 0.4 percent additional tax specifically for police and fire operations and equipment in November 1991.
Within the last eight years, rising operating costs, continued reductions in Local Government Funding, and inflation (among other factors) have contributed to what the city describes as an erosion of the financial base for city operations.
According to information provided by the city, the staffing level for the Urbana Police Division is at 19 sworn police officers – which is four below the staff levels in 2010. For the Urbana Fire Division, staffing is at 22 sworn firefighters/paramedics which is one above 21 in 2010.
While staffing for the services has fluctuated, the number of calls for service has continued to increase.
In 2017, the Urbana Police Division had 14,279 calls for service which was up from 13,158 in 2016 and 12,913 in 2010. Brugger pointed out the number of calls for drug offenses in 2017 was 529, five times more than the 107 in 2010.
The Urbana Fire Division had 2,756 total calls for service in 2017 (up from 2,646 in 2016) and up 17 percent from 2,295 in 2011.
“It gives you that dedicated revenue that gives you a little more to play with when you’re looking at spending money,” Brugger said of the proposed tax increase. “A new firefighter or new police officer between their salary, benefits and all the stuff you have to do fully loaded it’s probably closer to $70,000 or $80,000 a year. That’s significant when you’re looking at if you want to hire three … that’s a pretty good chunk of money – so that’s why we want to make sure we’re improving the dedicated money coming to them.”
If voters approve the replacement tax, it would be used specifically for police and fire operations and equipment.
Combined, the safety services divisions account for 53 percent of Urbana’s annual budget with police accounting for 24 percent and fire for 29 percent.
Within the 2018 general fund expected revenue of $6.54 million, $3.47 million is allocated to safety services with police at $1.59 million and fire at $1.88 million. This leaves the city with $3.07 million to operate the remaining divisions from the general fund.
Brugger said the increase would direct a little extra money for capital purchases as the fire division will have to replace an engine in the next three years and a squad will need work within the next couple of years. He said police will need certain equipment, computer software and servers.
Brugger noted the proposed 1.0 percent replacement tax would not cover all of the police and fire budget and a percentage would still have to come out of the general fund.
If the increase is approved by citizens, the new rate would take effect on July 1.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.