SIDNEY — Registered voters who live within the city of Sidney are being asked to approve the 0.30 percent municipal income tax levy on the Tuesday, May 7, ballot. The levy will provide permanent funding for street maintenance and for fire department operations.
The levy will replace the five-year 0.25 percent levy for street maintenance that will expire Dec. 31, 2019. The new levy will be split evenly between street maintenance and fire department operations, with half of the proceeds permanently designated for street maintenance and half for fire department operations.
Sidney citizens identified police and fire safety and infrastructure as top priorities when polled several months ago, Mayor Mike Barhorst said when asked why voters should vote for the levy.
“The 0.3 percent levy will be equally divided with half being used for the purpose of construction, reconstruction, resurfacing and maintenance of streets, alleys, bridges, curbs and gutters and the other half used for fire department operations, capital improvements, equipment, maintenance and repair including the construction, operation and maintenance of an additional fire station,” Barhorst specified of how levy funds will be spent.
He said Sidney City Council debated whether to put the issues together on the ballot or independent from one another. After consultants surveyed likely voters, he said it was evident voters preferred to see one issue on the ballot.
“City Council members are in agreement that to maintain and improve the quality of life for Sidney residents, and to help attract developers, businesses and future residents, we need to provide high-quality, emergency medical responses and fire protection for all residents and those employed in the city. But also to continue the progress that we have made in returning city streets to a regular maintenance schedule,” Barhorst said.
The levy applies only to municipal taxable income for people who work or live in the city of Sidney, Barhorst explained.
“Not only does Sidney have more manufacturing jobs per capita than any other city in Ohio, but we have jobs outside of manufacturing that also attract people who work here but live outside of Sidney. In fact, 53 percent of the tax will be paid by those who live outside the city limits,” Barhorst said. “In addition, the levy will not tax Social Security, pension or disability benefits. In addition, it does not tax investment income or income from 401K plans.”
John Coffield, Streets and Safety for Sidney Committee treasurer and Shelby County treasurer, said, “I think streets and safety are two of the most important things that a city can provide for its citizens. And we are already paying 0.25 percent income tax right now just for streets. So this is raising it from 0.25 to 0.30; that is an increase of 0.05 percent. So for an individual making $35,000 per year, that’s $17.50 additional taxes they pay over the year. I look at that as being a fairly small price for people to pay for additional safety and better roads.”
Fire department operations
If passed by voters on Tuesday, half of levy funds will go toward constructing and operating a third fire station north of Sidney at 2401 Wapakoneta Ave. on the 12.5 acres of land the city of Sidney purchased in 2017. The fire station is envisioned to have a 50-plus year life span.
“City residents have identified roads and public safety as top priorities, we, as city leaders, agree.” Fire Chief Bradley Jones said. “This levy will address both of these important needs. It’s an investment in the quality of life for Sidney residents. We need to address the gaps in our fire and EMS coverage, and continue the investment in our streets.”
Over the last year, Sidney has been working with architects and consultants on the master plans for a third station which Jones presented in the 2014 Community Risk Assessment. These plans were updated from 2008 and show a 30 percent increase of call volume and considerable growth potential for north of Sidney. During the updating process, the current agency performance was evaluated against national standards and criteria. He said the analysis of the 2014 data indicated, just as the 2008 CRA had, a third station was necessary.
A construction cost of $4.3 million for Station No. 3 was estimated after the recent master planning process was completed. As outlined in the 2019-2023 Five-Year Plan, City Manager Mark Cundiff said at the Feb. 11, 2019, Sidney City Council meeting, the city budgeted $50,000 in 2018 for conceptual design and $275,000 in 2019 for initial engineering services for the proposed third fire station. If the proposed levy does not pass, the $275,000 will not be spent.
Shelby County Commissioner and Streets and Safety for Sidney Committee Chair Bob Guillozet, who is a former deputy fire chief, paramedic and fire marshal for the city of Sidney, said the need for an additional station was first identified nearly four decades ago.
“The city has just grown tremendously. We need to keep the response times down because it really effects the outcome of a lot of different incidents,” Guillozet said. “And we need to keep maintaining our roadways. I think this levy will give us the means to get both missions accomplished.”
When asked if enough funding will be available with the new tax levy, Assistant City Manager/Public Works Director Gary Clough said he believes there will be.
“We did the best analysis we could on what we thought was needed to maintain a pavement condition rating of at least 70 (which is the city’s goal for street maintenance). We did make some assumptions that we will continue to get state and federal funding to supplement the monies that we have, but we feel confident with the life spans that we have projected and the projection of receiving state and federal money, that we can keep these roads (in a condition) that the community will be satisfied,” Clough said.
There is still about 40 miles, or 35 percent, of Sidney roads that have not been worked on over the last eight years, he said. Some of those roads are in good shape, and some need repairs. But Clough said other roads that were first repaired in 2011 are reaching the end of their “useful life” and will need repaired again soon.
“We, unfortunately, fell way behind (on street repairs) for an eight-year period. We have worked very hard for a five-year period to bring the streets back up to a condition that is acceptable. But streets are driven on everyday and they deal with the freeze and thaw of the winter weather, so they have a limited life span of acceptable surface conditions. So, we have streets that we haven’t gotten to yet that we need to fix so they are acceptable. And we’ve got to make a long-term commitment to maintain these roads so the community is satisfied with their conditions. Without this levy that would be difficult to do,” Clough said.
Coffield noted, “From a personal standpoint, I think streets are important in the city; obviously, it effects everybody. And to me, it gives an impression of a city when you drive into a city based on how the roads are.”
Barhorst pointed out that in nearly four decades, the city has grown from 5,204 acres to 7,740.89 acres, a 48 percent increase in size. In addition, he said Sidney’s population has grown 20.2 percent.
“That population growth does not include the several thousand people who do not live here but come to Sidney to work each day, use city services and then return home. Perhaps more importantly, during that same period of time, the call volume at the Sidney Fire Department has increased 899.55 percent,” Barhorst said.
To keep up to date on the progress being made in the city, or for answers to specific questions, Barhorst encourages people to call their City Council member. He noted that the Sidney Daily News regularly runs council members’ names and contact information online and in print. He said information can also be found on the city of Sidney’s website, www.sidneyoh.com .
“Very simply, Sidney needs to continue to move forward. Without the passage of the levy, Sidney will not be able to add a third fire station or continue the current level of street improvements,” Barhorst said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.