We support the 0.20 percent income-tax increase that Athens voters will consider in the Nov. 8 general election (Issue 1 on city ballots). The city has grown significantly since the last general-purpose income tax hike in 1986, as has the Ohio University campus.
This means city services – especially fire, police and code enforcement – have been badly stretched. At the same time, the city’s older streets and other infrastructure have been deteriorating with time.
The income-tax hike – on both city residents and non-residents who work in the city – would increase city revenues by $1.4 million per year, at least initially, city officials estimate.
There’s no evidence that city has been irresponsible with its spending. No alarming jump in spending has occurred, and the city auditor’s office has been keeping tight control over departmental budgets.
State revenues have been declining, from $800,000 a decade ago to around $325,000 per year now. While the city’s income-tax and property-tax revenues have increased much more than any decline in state revenue over the same period, this isn’t happening in a vacuum. Personnel, medical/benefit and equipment costs keep rising year after year, and the cost of providing services in a growing city has increased as well.
Over the years, Athens residents have shown time after time that they appreciate city government efforts to improve this community, both with essentials and aesthetics. This income-tax increase will provide the money to allow those efforts to continue.
However, that’s not the main reason to approve Issue 1. That would be the fact that this measure would allow our police and fire departments to bring their staffing to adequate levels. Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle pointed out last week that his department has the same staffing levels it had in 1985, yet the city has grown both geographically and in population. OU is bursting at the seams, and the considerable impacts of its 21,000-student Athens enrollment, as we all know, don’t confine themselves to campus.
Currently, the Police Department doesn’t have enough officers to assign one to Court Street on busy, non-large event nights. Anyone who has strolled down our uptown thoroughfare on a Friday night during Fall Semester likely should agree that this officer assignment is necessary.
Likewise, the Fire Department has its lowest staffing (22) since 1971, according to Fire Chief Robert Rhymer. On any given shift, the department has an average of 4.5 firefighters, which is a slim crew in such a large city.
Code enforcement also could use more staff, officials say.
We feel that Mayor Steve Patterson and city administration have laid out a persuasive case for passing Issue 1. The city has grown, and now needs more revenue to responsibly handle that growth. Vote yes on the Issue 1 income tax.