Middletown voters will have the opportunity on Nov. 3 to decide if they want to add 0.25% to the city’s income tax rate for 10 years.
That would be dedicated solely to street and road repairs and resurfacing. The city’s current income tax rate is 1.75%, which includes 0.25% of the revenues going for public safety expenses.
If voters approve the income tax hike, it would generate about $3 million a year in additional revenues for streets. The city’s income tax rate would go to 2% if voters approve.
Middletown City Council approved an emergency ordinance 4-1 Tuesday to place the question on the November general election ballot. Mayor Nicole Condrey voted against the proposal. Susan Cohen, administrative services director, said the city had until Aug. 5 to submit the question to the Butler County Board of Elections to place it on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
Condrey said she wanted to push placing a ballot issue to the May 2021 primary election citing the economy. She also felt that council was moving too quickly and that more discussion was needed before going to the voters.
“I just feel we waited until the last minute,” Condrey said.
Vice Mayor Joe Mulligan pointed out that he brought the topic up in February but council had more pressing issues to address such as coronavirus COVID-19 and hiring a new city manager.
Councilwoman Ami Vitori said there is enough time to educate voters on the need for the income tax increase. Vitori said more voters will come to the polls because it is a presidential election year.
“We’re deciding to let them make their voices heard,” she said.
Councilwoman Monica Nenni said she told voters when she ran for election last year that she would give them the opportunity to vote on the streets issue.
Resident and former council candidate Levi Cramer spoke in opposition saying that council was out of touch with the city and was “almost offensive.”
“We have families who have to decide to be one-income families,” Cramer said. “There are far more options to consider. I think you should delay this decision.”
The city’s first income tax, 1.5%, was approved by Middletown voters in 1969. In 2007, voters approved a 0.25% approved an income tax increase that was dedicated for public safety expenditures, raising the city’s income tax to 1.75%. That 0.25% increase was made permanent in 2012.
Middletown residents also receive 100% reciprocity for income tax paid to other jurisdictions where they work.
In the past 20 years, past city councils have unsuccessfully attempted several times to raise the income tax that would have a percentage earmarked for streets.
In 2018, Mayor Larry Mulligan proposed such an increase, but did not have the support of council to place it on the ballot. At the time, Vitori and Mulligan opposed a proposal at that time saying they were not in favor of raising taxes at that time. Vitori did put a caveat that there could be a time and place down the road for such a tax increase, she but said “now isn’t the right time.”
Vitori said Wednesday that her position has evolved over the past 2-1/2 years listening to constituents and that she did not realize how many people have this as their top city issue. She had hoped that increased economic development issues would have generated more income tax revenues for the city.
“We’re giving voters a voice to decide this issue,” she said.
City Manager Jim Palenick said if the city is going to ask the public to OK an income tax increase, he would advocate bonding street resurfacing because of the low interest rates now for municipal bonds. He said the city may see some competitive bids due to the current economic realities as a result of the coronavirus.
“It would be nice to tell voters that we could touch every neighborhood in the first 24 months,” Palenick said.
He also said there may be possible federal subsidies or other economic assistance for municipalities as there was during the Obama administration.
Scott Tadych, public works and utilities director, gave council an updated pavement condition report. As of this year, the city has 624 lane miles of roadway with 61% or 379 lane miles rated as being in excellent, good or fair condition, according the latest Pavement Condition Index last done in 2017. The remaining 39% of Middletown’s streets are rated as being in poor, very poor or failed conditions. He said the cost per lane mile to pave streets is between $125,00 and $250,000, depending on street conditions.