I would encourage voters in the city of Sidney to vote “YES” on the levy that is on the May 7 ballot. Unfortunately, there is little else on the ballot. The Democratic Primary ballot has nothing else to draw voters to the polls. The Republican ballot has the Municipal Court race and the levy. Those who vote an Independent ticket will also only see the levy on the ballot.
In polling conducted some months ago, the citizens identified police/fire safety and infrastructure as Sidney’s top priorities. City council members are in full agreement with residents. To maintain and improve the quality of life for residents and to help attract developers, businesses and future residents, we need to provide high-quality, emergency medical response and fire protection. In addition, we need to continue the progress that we have made in returning city streets to a regular maintenance schedule.
City Council debated whether to put both issues on the ballot independent of each other or to place a single issue on the ballot. That was a question that was posed to likely voters by the consultant and the results were clear. Voters preferred to see one issue.
The 0.3 percent levy that will be on the May 7 ballot 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 including capital improvements, equipment, maintenance and repair and the construction, operation and maintenance of an additional fire station.
Since the five-year street levy was passed in 2014, nearly 70 miles (about 60 percent) of city streets and roads have been resurfaced. That five-year levy expires in December of this year. The proposed levy would begin in January 2020. We need to continue the progress that has been made so that we can have all city streets on a regular maintenance schedule.
The need for an additional station was first identified nearly four decades ago. Since then, the city has grown from 5,204 acres to 7,740.89 acres, a 48 percent increase in size. In addition, 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, the call volume at the Sidney Fire Department has increased 899.55 percent over that same period of time!
Some residents have asked why we need a “continuing” levy. The need for funds to maintain streets is a permanent one. The life cycle of a street is currently eight to ten years. Sidney has is one that is on-going or permanent. When the General Assembly dramatically changed the distribution of tax monies during the Great Recession of 2008, the city lost approximately $1.7 million in annual revenue. As a result, City Council had to make tough choices as we no longer had the revenues necessary to maintain infrastructure and certainly did not have the revenue necessary to build anything new.
The levy applies only to municipal taxable income for people who work or live in the city of Sidney. Not only does Sidney has 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.
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.
Recently a resident asked why we needed a third station when Piqua only had one. Piqua’s population has not grown in the last half century. Over that same period of time, Sidney’s population has grown by nearly 20.2 percent! While Piqua once had a greater population than Sidney, that is no longer the case. As noted earlier, the city has more are than was previously the case, and call volume has ballooned.
In addition, we have been fortunate that we have been able to add to our employer base in Sidney. Voters may forget that in 1978, Sidney had the highest per capita unemployment rate in the State of Ohio. Twelve years later, Sidney had the lowest unemployment rate in the state of Ohio.
The turnaround was the result of a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people. Sidney has been very fortunate to have had good leadership — people who have cared deeply about the community and had the courage to make decisions that have provided long-term benefits for our residents.
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. In recent months, we have implemented or revised three programs that can make a positive impact on our neighborhoods, the central business district, and the community. Those programs include Vacant Property Registration; a new Greater Downtown Community Reinvestment Area; and a Revitalization District.
That forward momentum needs to continue. As Henry Ford once said, “If everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.”
The writer is the mayor of Sidney.