Income tax on Tiffin ballot

City officials are urging voters in Tiffin to approve an income tax levy that would fund maintenance of roads and bridges.

The five-year, 0.25-percent tax increase would take effect Jan. 1. The new tax would generate about $1.3 million annually and would cost those who work in Tiffin 25 cents per $100 earned. The money generated could be used only for road and bridge maintenance and construction.

Assistant Engineer Matt Watson said Tiffin spends much less on its annual paving budget than many neighboring cities.

He said without grant funding, the city spends about $300,000 a year to repave some of the 89 miles of city roads.

Watson said at that rate, it would take 40 years to repave every road in Tiffin.

He said Bucyrus has a $1 million budget and it takes about 12 years to repave all of its 89 miles of road.

Mansfield has a $3.5 million budget and it takes about 12.5 years to repave 321 miles of road.

Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz said Bucyrus and Mansfield operate on tax levies used specifically for roads, similar to the one proposed to Tiffin voters. In Bucyrus, the tax is 0.5 percent and in Mansfield, voters have a chance to renew a 0.25-percent levy every four years.

Watson said the useful life of a repaved road is about 15 years.

He said if the levy is approved, about $1 million would be spent to repave roads each year and he said every street in the city would be repaved in a 15-year cycle.

Watson also said of the $1 million spent each year, about $250,000 is to be used to guarantee curb ramps are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said that $250,000 would be freed up for other projects after all city roads are made compliant.

The city also could save money with a larger paving budget because buying materials in greater quantities typically means a better price, Watson said.

Montz said many people do not know the Ohio Department of Transportation does not pave state routes within city limits.

“There are grants available, but they are rare and are becoming few and far between,” he said.

Montz said the levy is important because it gets the city ahead of schedule and frees up money for the Capital Fund budget.

It would allow “us to take what we were spending on paving and use it for new trucks, ambulances and police cruisers,” he said.

Montz said the Capital Fund budget is about $890,000.

“An aerial firetruck can cost $1.2 million to $1.3 million. A cheap firetruck is $600,000. A police cruiser is $50,000. An ambulance is $250,000,” he said. “It adds up quick.”

He said the fire department is using a 1998 ambulance.

“It’s got just a ton of mileage on it and it’s already failed a few times,” he said.

Montz also said the police department’s Special Response Team is in desperate need of new tactical rifles.

Watson said additional tax money could help the city be competitive for state and federal street paving grants. He said it is beneficial when the city has more money to match a state or national contribution.

Montz said the extra funds also could save the city from borrowing for the Ella Street bridge replacement. Early cost estimates put the project at $5 million and Montz said about $1.5 million would be put aside for it over five years if the levy is approved.

Montz said if more roads are repaved, drivers will experience less wear and tear on vehicles and tires.

He also shared a story illustrating the importance of having roads in good condition when trying to attract businesses to the community.

“Alex Melvin, from Rural King, flew in from Illinois and wanted to drive through a few streets,” he said. “Many businesses who are considering locating in a city will want to check the conditions of the roads and an indicator of the quality of life and the health of the economy.”

Seneca Industrial and Economic Development Corp. President and CEO David Zak agreed levy passage would have positive ramifications for economic development.

“New and existing businesses, as well as residents, continually judge the quality of life of a community, and they constantly make decisions about where they want to be,” he said. “If a community doesn’t invest in its infrastructure and roads, it will be viewed as not having pride, being fiscally weak and having a low quality of life.

“We live in a very competitive environment, and the levy will put us in a strong position to attract and retain businesses and employees.”

Watson said homeowners could see property values increase.

“It’s so much more than just making our streets smooth,” Montz said. “It is a net positive effect.”

Montz said even if someone’s street isn’t paved next year, it still will benefit that person.

“If you work in Tiffin, you’ll pay this tax,” he said. “You’re still using the streets. You’re certainly also helping (bring in) businesses and saving on wear and tear to your vehicle.”

Montz called the levy a “monumental” decision for Tiffin voters.

“It could make or break our future,” he said.

If the levy fails, Montz said city officials may need to consider other options, such as a property tax or removing income tax reciprocity.

He also said residents need to understand the city cannot institute a sales tax.

He said if the levy isn’t passed, city officials will have to face difficult decisions.

“Do we pave the roads or do we buy a new ambulance,” he said. “We will be facing tough decisions on roads that are well past their useful life.”