Many Ohio local governments facing street repair problems Hamilton is hoping to tackle

As a citizen-led campaign for a Hamilton street-repair levy prepares for the March 17 election, the leader of the effort is telling voters Ohio and many local governments across the state are having the same problem.

“This is not a Hamilton-only problem,” Jack Whalen, leader Hamilton’s Issue 1 tax-levy effort, said in a recent interview.

Many local governments across Ohio have been struggling to recover financially from the Great Recession, which began in 2008. Beyond that, Ohio’s state and local governments saw no increase in state gasoline taxes from 2005 until last year, when lawmakers raised them by 10.5 cents per gallon.

Gov. Mike DeWine had requested an 18-cent-per-gallon increase, saying even that would not be enough. After state lawmakers raised the gasoline tax last year, officials reduced Hamilton’s street-levy amount by the amount of funds the city will receive from that share of the state tax increase.

Hamilton’s proposed 10-year, 3.9-mill property tax levy would will generate $3.1 million per year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $136.50 per year. Proponents hope that when the 10 years are finished, voters will be satisfied with what they saw and will approve a renewal.

According to a report by DeWine’s Advisory Committee Transportation Infrastructure, while people are driving more than ever in Ohio, those gasoline-tax revenues that go to the state and local governments were essentially flat because increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles are consuming less gasoline.

At the same time, costs of repairing streets and highways increased rapidly, officials testified to the committee.

Since 2005, “construction costs have risen dramatically, so that the value of that dollar in 2003 is only 58 cents today,” according to the committee’s report, released in February of 2019.

Connie Fink, president of the Ohio Township Association, told the committee that in 2002, it cost $24,000 to pave a mile of road in Allen County, where Lima is located. By 2013, the cost of doing that same length of road had risen to $62,000, an increase of almost 160 percent, she said.

Meanwhile, more locally, Fink told the state panel, “From 2010 to 2018, the cost of resurfacing a road in Butler County increased over 55 percent, from $70,000 to $109,000 per mile.”

“While traffic on township roads and the cost of road maintenance has increased, revenue available for transportation improvements has remained stagnant or, in many cases, decreased,” she said.

She, like officials from Hamilton and other local governments, also noted significant losses of Local Government Fund revenues, the 2013 elimination of estate taxes and other tax changes also have cost the governments money they used to use for road work.

Middletown in recent years has discussed seeking a levy similar to the one Hamilton is requesting, but had not yet done so.

In February, Larry Mulligan, who then was Middletown’s mayor, testified to the transportation-infrastructure committee, both as mayor and as a board member of the Ohio Mayors Alliance.

“During my time on city council and 12 years as mayor, the condition of our streets and roadways has been a significant concern to many,” he said. “We have consistently heard our residents raise the issue of potholes, limited maintenance and the overall poor condition of the city’s streets, as disappointments and items that need to be addressed.”

Middletown since the Great Recession has focused “on critical services of public safety as a priority, which resulted in limiting funding for other areas of the city,” he said. “Our $30 million general fund budget only allows for $700,000 dedicated for local paving.”

He added that when gas taxes are not enough to repair streets, local governments need to cut into their police- and firefighting budgets to repair roadways, or short-change both street repairs and safety services.

“The city is also faced with increased maintenance expenses on our expensive fire and (emergency medical services) apparatus due to increased wear from deteriorating roads,” Mulligan said.

“The main thing we want to do is educate people,” Whalen said about Issue 1. “Get people so that they’re informed voters. And if they vote no, so be it. But we want them to be informed and have the facts.”

The campaign encourages people to go to the website, for answers to questions. Those who don’t see answers to questions they have are encouraged to pose their own and they will be answered, Whalen said.

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