Delaware tax increase fails; Parks levy passes


Last November, the City of Delaware agreed to look to the voters for an income tax increase that would generate additional revenue to address the backlog in street and infrastructure repairs. On Tuesday, as part of the primary election ballot, most of those voters told the city to look elsewhere.

Of the 8,073 votes cast, 62.6% turned down the proposed tax increase that would have moved Delaware’s income tax rate from 1.85% to 2.20% for the next five years. Had it passed, the increase was expected to generate an additional $7 million annually over the five years.

The ballot language for the proposed levy went through many iterations last year as the city closed in on what it felt was the best chance for the measure to be supported by the community. Most notably, the city debated the pros and cons of asking for a permanent increase compared to a temporary increase that would allow residents to see how the money was being used before deciding on a renewal.

After plenty of spirited debate, the Delaware City Council concluded a temporary increase was likely the only path to approval, particularly after the feedback the city received in 2016 following a road levy that failed overwhelmingly. Despite its best efforts to appeal to the residents, though, the city must still figure out what its next play will be with no additional source of revenue coming down the pike.

During the process of approving the ballot language, the city suggested that if the ordinance failed, the council would continue to analyze city expenditures to address the revenue shortfall, including the potential reevaluation of the council-authorized income tax credit residents enjoy when working outside Delaware.

“The city will be greatly limited in its capacity to fund essential services and address pressing community needs,” Community Affairs Coordinator Lee Yoakum warned ahead of Election Day. “This will have a direct impact on residents’ quality of life, including revenue shortfalls, continued deterioration of roads and public spaces, reduced recreation services, and less local business growth.”

Tuesday wasn’t a total failure for the city as voters approved a renewal of sorts for the existing 0.15% parks levy approved in 2008. The Parks and Recreation Department will now be permitted to utilize those funds for operating purposes rather than only toward debt services as the levy was previously implemented.

“We are very appreciative of this opportunity to continue serving the residents of Delaware and providing the best park system we can for the city,” Parks and Recreation Director Ted Miller told The Gazette. “We have a phenomenal staff that is going to continue to work hard improving the parks and recreation we have and expanding amenities where we can.

“The steady growth of Delaware along with the sustained increase in visitation since the start of the pandemic , this funding will be critical to help us maintain and improve our parks. The Parks and Recreation Department also includes Oak Grove Cemetery and the maintenance of street trees, so those areas will also be supported by this funding.”

On Wednesday, City Manager Tom Homan said of the results, “I want to extend my gratitude to all residents who participated in the democratic process. Their engagement is crucial for the betterment of our city. While we are pleased that the parks and recreation tax renewal was approved, it’s evident that there are concerns regarding the proposed new income tax increase. We respect the decision of the majority and understand the importance of fiscal responsibility and accountability.

“However, there are critical needs in our community that cannot be addressed without additional funding. Moving forward, we remain committed to addressing those needs in the most prudent and effective manner possible. I will be addressing the next steps with City Council at their March 25 meeting. Among other things, this will include a dialogue with our residents to better understand their concerns and explore solutions to address the pressing issues facing our community.”

Homan added, “We’re halfway there. Together, we will work towards a thriving and resilient future for the city of Delaware.”

Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.

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