Delaware city officials are contemplating meetings to inform the public about a potential transportation levy that could go on the November ballot.
City Council held a work session on Monday and discussed a proposed 0.15 percent income tax levy that would generate an additional $2.2 million annually that would be divided between resurfacing, maintenance and network improvements. It would raise the city’s income tax rate to 1.85 percent.
“We need to address what is an important issue for the city and, in my opinion, necessary if we’re going to improve our road service, signal timing, congestion issues and new connections throughout the community,” said City Manager Tom Homan.
Although the city seeks federal funding for road projects, the process is highly competitive, and that securing local matching funds can improve the chances of getting a project fully funded, Homan said.
“It’s important for us to educate people on what it costs to pave a road, and what’s going to happen to our roads if we don’t pass a levy,” said Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle.
“Our transportation program must include a more comprehensive annual resurfacing effort that addresses the deteriorating condition of the local street network and reverses the downward trend in pavement condition,” states an executive summary prepared for council. “In addition, there are more than 50 improvement and expansion projects identified within the city’s transportation plans that would expand network connectivity, reduce congestion and improve the overall efficiency of our transportation network.”
Council also discussed whether the levy would be permanent or for 15 years. Vice Mayor Kent Shafer recommended a permanent levy because it provides flexibility in administering the funds long-term.
“Our problems aren’t going to go away, it continues to grow,” Shafer said. “The only way we can make some of these improvements is with additional funding we don’t have now. Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but a lot of people are moving to Delaware because it’s a great place to live, work and raise a family. With more people, there’s more congestion and use of the roads, and we have to find some way to deal with that.”
“There’s a level of expectation of service,” said finance director Dean Stelzer. “At some point, you’ve got to go back to the voters.”
In order to go on the ballot, council would need to take legislative action in June. Council members proposed open houses with civic and homeowners’ associations, as well as in all four of Delaware’s wards, before taking action. As well as getting feedback, council members said the meetings would help inform the public regarding road projects. Council members suggested that there should be a high priority project in each ward, a list of projects and timeline should be made, as well as fact sheets and an interactive tool online to calculate costs.
Two residents got to speak during the 90-minute meeting. One complained about being double-taxed for county road projects, and another said he couldn’t believe council was “on board with more taxes.”
“This isn’t glamorous. This is taking a chance to be publicly barbecued,” said council member Lisa Keller. “I’ve already made the decision that I would recommend placing the levy, because knowing what I know and in my experience with the budget process, I need to say to the public, you need to make a decision. Whether the public chooses to vote for that once they have that information, is completely up to them. If we don’t act, I feel like it’s irresponsible of us.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.