The Urbana City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to place a tax hike on the May 7 ballot.
The council authorized an additional six-tenths of one percent tax on income to the current additional four-tenths rate, establishing a new additional tax rate at one percent. The council also unanimously approved a resolution declaring the necessity of an election on this issue to take place May 7. If passed by voters, the tax will take effect on July 1.
According to the ordinance, safety services no longer can be adequately funded by the four-tenths rate due to reductions made at the state level of government. Council member Dwight Paul, who is sponsoring this ordinance, said that currently more than 58 percent of the general fund goes toward fire/police/EMS.
“In ‘91 we had 21 officers,” said Mayor Bill Bean, repeating some of the points Urbana Police Chief Matt Lingrell made at a public hearing on Jan. 8. “We had an investigative unit which we don’t have now. (Lingrell) also mentioned that we had an elderly unit and a juvenile unit, and we don’t have that either. You look at the aging population of Urbana, and it would be nice to have an elderly unit… I just think Chief Lingrell really brought it home the other day and talked about what we don’t have now that we had before, and it takes money to do that.”
Bean also said that the city had lost $2.5 million as a result of policies put in place by former Gov. John Kasich, and that Urbana and other cities in Ohio are now seeking ways to make up the revenue.
“Yes, stabilizing the police fund … there is a side-benefit that it would free up some funds for possibly doing some other things that we need to get done,” said Paul. “In particular I just go around the city and you see infrastructure deterioration no matter where you go, and the situation has been for a long, long time that things just get kicked down the road. Funding is funding, it takes money to get it done, and at the end of the day it’s dollars and cents, plain and simple, and unfortunately there is no real good way to do it. People are going to have to pay one way or the other, and this is just the mechanism that we thought would be the most fair and the best way to try to deal with it.”
Urbana voters rejected similar ballot measures during the last November and May elections. Several council members said they supported putting the issue on the ballot one more time because support increase substantially as a result of better education on the second try.
Local minister Brian Wonn read council a correspondence approved at the Champaign County Ministerial Association meeting on Jan. 10.
“Although we are supportive of adequately resourcing the Urbana Fire and Police Departments, we are concerned over the proposed increase in the earned income tax for the citizens of Urbana as discussed at the January 8, 2019 city council meeting,” read Wonn. “In particular, we believe the 43 percent increase in taxes paid (going from 1.4 percent to 2 percent) would have a disproportionate impact on lower income individuals who are already struggling to cover their household expenses.”
Wonn said that the challenge of trying to cover increasing costs with limited resources was experienced by all government entities, businesses, organizations and individuals to varying degrees, and that overall the Ministerial Association was thankful for the good work done in managing funds entrusted to the care of the city. The correspondence suggested pausing from consideration of the proposed tax increase to allow time for further study of the relevant issues in cooperation with other community partners.
In his remarks, council member Pat Thackery said he kept hearing that there were other options, but that nobody had been able to tell him what those options were.
Urbana resident Steve Brune also stood up during the citizens’ comments phase of the meeting to give more details about his suggestion, proposed at the public hearing, that Urbana look to increasing the tax base rather than the rate. He advised that many cities throughout the country were in a similar situation to Urbana, in that they didn’t have room to expand their city limits, but many cities were incentivizing property owners to build accessory dwelling units on their property or offering workforce housing incentives for commercial developments.
“What this does is it increases the density of the city and it increases people that are living here, working, and paying this tax rather that increase the rate,” he said. “We need to promote some innovative and non-conventional thinking to solve these problems. They are kind of out of the box, and that’s what cities around the country are doing, is looking out of the box, figuring out new ways to do this, because they’re all facing the same problem – they’ve got urban growth boundaries around them, they can’t expand, and they don’t have the money for infrastructure if they do expand.”
Enterprise Zone Agreement
Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Enterprise Zone Agreement and real property tax exemption for Urbana Hotel LLC. Champaign Economic Partnership director Marcia Bailey said that the city school district had already approved the resolution, and that following council approval is must also be approved by the county commissioners before being sent to the state.
This concerns property that has been zoned B-2 to accommodate plans for a 54-room hotel on South High Street. Bailey said that a group of nine local investors are continuing to work on final purchase and transfer of the property using a local bank, but that only a rough draft of plans for the hotel is currently available.
“It’s estimated that there’s $47 million in sales based on tourism in Champaign County, with what we have right now,” said Bailey. “With that, there’s about 350 jobs in support of our tourism, and that’s without having this new hotel. The feasibility study was a real eye opener for all of us; the university has approximately 2,500 overnight members of sporting teams that do not stay here.”
Also at this meeting:
– Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the director of administration to sign a grant agreement with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for the Natureworks program for park improvements at Melvin Miller Park.
– Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the director of administration to apply to the Ohio Department of Transportation under the transportation alternatives program for improvements to South High Street. The city held a public meeting about potential improvements on Jan. 10 and is still accepting comments until next Tuesday. There is not yet any cost estimate for these improvements.
– Council unanimously appointed the following city residents to the Urbana Charter Review Board: Kimberly Brooks, Charles Moody, Earl Evans, Justin T. Weller, Audra Bean, Cassie Kress, Carrie Thomas, Stephanie Truelove, Amy Paul, Lydia Hess, Patrick Trenor, Addie King, Brandon Shockey, Michelle Heflin, Craig Evans and Al Evans.
– Council heard the first reading of an ordinance amending ambulance service rates and charges. Paul said that in reviewing the ordinance he discovered that basic life support is increasing by one percent, advanced life support one by 2 percent, and advanced life support 2 by 2.5 percent. Ambulance service rates have not increased since July 2015.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304