The City of Delaware does not have a levy on the ballot to address its transportation system needs this coming election. Planning Commission member Jim Halter wants to know why.
During a commission meeting on Wednesday, Halter said the city should place a levy on the ballot every other year “until we finally got one passed” to address road maintenance funding.
“There is just no choice here,” Halter said.
Last November, more than 60 percent of Delaware voters rejected a levy that would have raised the income tax from 1.85 percent to 2 percent. The 0.15-percent increase would have generated $2.2 million annually for resurfacing roads and improving the transportation network.
“So why don’t we go with another levy?” Halter asked City Manager R. Thomas Homan.
“Schools are on here,” Homan said, referencing the Delaware City School’s 8.35-mill emergency levy on the Nov. 7 ballot. “… Some of that’s just deciding what the timing is going to be; assessing what happened and why.”
“People don’t want to pay more taxes is what happened; it’s pretty simple,” Halter said. “… I think they’re going to have realize how bad these roads are.”
The City of Delaware has added 55 miles of roadways over the last two decades, according to a memo from Bill Ferrigno, the city’s public works director and engineer. The addition of each mile costs the city $15,000 annually to maintain.
“The ability to maintain roadway and traffic infrastructure throughout the city has not been sustainable for some time,” Ferrigno said.
In addition, the majority of available funding is allocated to high traffic streets known as arterial and collector streets instead of local roadways, which make up 55 percent of the city’s roadway network.
On average, the city resurfaces about 1.3 miles of local streets instead of the recommended 4 to 5 miles, Ferrigno said.
The city has graded 58 percent of its local streets as fair or below. Arterial and collector streets are below the fair grade at 46 and 55 percent, respectively.
If the levy had passed, the city would have allocated $800,000 per year for local street resurfacing. Instead, the proposed five-year capital improvement plan has allocated $150,000 annually.
In addition, the city is working to secure enough funds for The Point project. It has secured about $17.6 million in state and federal grants to widen and replace the railroad bridge at The Point. The project will cost more than $25 million. The city will need $6.2 million as its 20-percent match by 2022.
Homan has allocated $350,000 for the project each year in the proposed CIP, which is out of balance from 2019 to 2022.
“I think the (Delaware City) council is going to have go with another levy,” Halter said.
Councilman George Hellinger said some residents didn’t like last year’s levy being permanent, based on the feedback he received. He said council initially considered a 10 to 15-year term for the levy.
“The point was made these needs are never going away, so it kind of changed council’s thinking,” he said.
Hellinger said some voters saw the levy as giving the city “a blank check.” They would prefer a maintenance-only levy without network improvements, which he called “short-sighted.”
Halter said the city should seek a temporary levy. Voters can then judge the city’s efforts and reward them by voting for it again when it comes up for renewal and possibly make it permanent.
“Schools do renewables all the time, right,” he said.
Commission member Dean Prall said residents are going to want something in return for a higher income tax.
“They’re going to want a bigger (tax) credit,” he said.
Delaware now offers a 50-percent tax credit for residents who work outside of the city.