MANSFIELD — City council — heading into its annual summer recess over the latter part of July — must decide Tuesday whether to put a proposed “City PRIDE” tax before Mansfield voters this fall.
The additional 0.25 percent, four-year income tax would produce an estimated $3.3 million annually, starting Jan. 1, 2014, and ending Dec. 31, 2017.
It would be Mansfield’s third attempt at a tax increase in four years, following the failure of two other issues that would have increased the income tax.
A proposal to increase the existing 0.50 percent “safety tax” to 0.75 failed in November 2010, with support from 46.3 percent of voters. A proposed 0.25 percent additional income tax for essential public services failed in November 2012, with only 41.95 percent of city voters saying “yes.”
This time, revenue from the proposed “City PRIDE” tax would be earmarked for four specific purposes. Fifty percent would be spent on safety and law enforcement, 22 percent toward parks and recreation, 20 percent on blight removal and demolition, and the remaining 8 percent on street lighting.
Mayor Tim Theaker said that formula was determined by looking at exactly what it would cost to restore street lights turned off to cut costs after the city went into fiscal emergency,then by deciding how to split the remainder on three other sectors residents have said they’d like improved.
As the city struggled with ways to get out of the budget crunch, it was forced to eliminate parks and recreation as a specific portion of its general fund budget.
“We eliminated everything” concerning the park programs, except for assigning one employee, Terry Carter, part-time to schedule events in the city’s 32 parks, Theaker said.
The city has been unable to find money for capital improvements or major repairs to park facilities, in the past several years, after the government reduced Mansfield’s annual community development block grants.
Municipal swimming pools could not have been opened for the past several years without outside donations, Theaker said. But donors have said that money will not be available after this year.
Manpower in the police and fire departments was substantially reduced. The $2.1 million federal SAFER grant, which restored 15 jobs for firefighters, “is going to be done next November,” Theaker said. “Those monies won’t be available.
“I cannot commend the police and firefighters enough for doing what they do, with the amount of people they have. But (the increased workload) will wear on those individuals.”
Over the past few years, the city accomplished a wave of demolitions of substandard properties, through one-time windfalls of outside grants — first from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, and more recently through the Ohio Attorney General’s Moving Ohio Forward program, providing $740,000 to be used throughout Richland County.
Residents have been pleased with resulting demolition work, as eyesores have come down — but both sources will have dried up by the time the proposed income tax would kick in.
Though the federal and state demolition grants had restrictions on the types of buildings that may be razed, funding from a 0.25 percent income tax increase could be used for a wider list of eyesores, possibly including commercial or industrial buildings such as 220 Park Avenue East or abandoned gas stations, Theaker said.
An additional 0.25 percent income tax would bring in about $1.65 million annually toward safety and law enforcement, $726,000 toward parks and recreation, $660,000 for demolitions and $264,000 for street lighting, according to Scott Arnett, internal auditor in the finance department. Over four years, an estimated $13.2 million would be collected.
Theaker said the city has taken steps to cut costs, and has worked hard to make improvements, through projects such as the state and federal grants for demolition.
“When the levy didn’t pass, we cut 10 percent from the budgets of the department under the mayor,” the mayor said. “We cut a lot of overtime. Some departments, engineering did, took a reduction in pay, just so they could meet their 10 percent. We worked with the finance department to get a balanced budget.
“But you can’t keep asking individuals to perform at 120 percent all the time. Eventually, they are going to burn out.”
Why not concentrate on Mansfield’s woes? – They do, it just depends on who you are, and where you live!
It was interesting to learn the downtown Mansfield area is in need of funds to repair murals on several buildings.
What is extremely disappointing, however, is that $4,377,748 (according to the county’s Regional Planning Commission’s 2013 biennial report), was spent on the roundabout on Middle Bellville Road. Why enhance and beautify a portal in and out of the city of Lexington, when it is glaringly obvious that portals into downtown Mansfield, from all directions, are in desperate need of beautification?
This leaves a stench of gross mismanagement of funds, does it not?