SIDNEY — Further discussion on the city’s next steps on the 0.30 percent municipal income tax levy and voters’ misperceptions was held Monday during Sidney City Council’s workshop session.
The levy was defeated in May with 894 votes for and 1,241 votes against the issue. The levy was to provide permanent funding for street maintenance and for fire department operations, with half of the proceeds permanently designated for street maintenance and half for fire department operations. It would have replaced the five-year 0.25 percent levy for street maintenance that will expire Dec. 31, 2019.
City Manager Mark Cundiff again led the discussion and provided three printed pages of misperceptions and negative comments about the levy. The comments were broken down by street, fire and overall general comments. Sidney’s city staff replied in print to each of the listed comments, Cundiff said, to better educate the public about the levy. The full list of citizens’ comments and city staff’s responses can be found on the city’s website at https://bit.ly/2EQCuAD .
The list contained comments varying from questioning how the 0.15 percent would be enough for streets, to how the newly instituted gas tax will help with city street repairs, to the claim the current 0.25 percent funds was not spent on roads. Other questions asked varied from how a third northern fire station would help a resident that does not live on the north end of town, why did the city put fire and street issues together, to what type of income is taxed with the levy. Cundiff did not read through the questions and answers during Monday’s meeting. Members all agreed they had read the information prior to the meeting.
Council members shared other additional feedback they have heard, from surprise the levy did not pass, to people wanting the issues separated on the November ballot, to confusion about how the gas tax will help with street repairs.
Cundiff said there was a six-year period where the city did very little street repairs. He noted after the current levy passed, Sidney was able to make great progress, but grant funds also made it possible. He said if there were no levy funds, Sidney would be ineligible for grants. A match of local funds is necessary to receive grant money. Cundiff said city staff believes 0.15 percent will provide enough funds for street repairs with grant funds.
“We feel confident that with 0.15 (percent levy funds), plus the gas tax, we will be able to continue the (street repair) program,” Cundiff said. “We were in the pipeline for certain grants that had to have a local match (of funds). This (0.15 percent levy) money was going to pay for that local match.”
Cundiff told council, as an example of how levy funds work in conjunction with grant funds, if the city wasn’t paying for the one block section of street repairs on Russell Road, between Wapakoneta and Main Avenue, the current project would not be underway. He said without the levy funds the city would not get the grant money, and therefore there would not be enough money for the project.
Cundiff again pointed to the following three options for the November general election ballot that were previously discussed:
• Place a combined 0.3 percent permanent streets/fire levy;
• Place two levies: a five-year 0.15 percent street levy and a permanent 0.15 percent fire levy;
• Place two levies: a permanent 0.15 percent street levy and a permanent 0.15 percent fire levy.
Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan confirmed with Gary Clough, assistant city manager, public works director, that the city designates about $600,000 annually for street repairs. She said the need to repair roads is never going away or will ever be cheaper. Milligan said the third option presented with permanent funds would be best to allow for city staff to plan ahead for city-wide street repair needs. Council member Steve Wagner agreed with Milligan. Council member Darryl Thurber said at least the street levy needs to be permanent. He said $600,000 is just a “drop in the bucket” of what is needed to keep the road repairs going.
Mayor Mike Barhorst said council members will need to make the decision about which option to put on the ballot at the June 10 meeting. The city has until July 22 to place the issues on the November ballot.
Council member Janet Born expressed concern about how to get the message out to voters about the issues and to show up to vote. Barhorst said, as city leaders, they need to take the lead “to encourage people to do the right thing.”
In other business during comments at the end of the meeting, Born congratulated Kari Egbert for recently receiving her Master Municipal Clerk of Courts Certificate.
Wagner shared the weekend-long Trap-Neuter Release (TNR) program had a little less than of a full clinic of cats captured.
Barhorst said he received notification from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency that the property owner across the street from the potential third fire station on Wapakoneta Avenue was awarded a grant for an affordable rental housing development. Barhorst also shared Walmart is donating $1 million to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Save the Children Foundation in Ohio, Kansas, Texas, Indiana and Missouri for disaster relief.
In final business, council also went into an executive session to discuss the appointment of a public official. No action was taken by council when members emerged from the session.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.