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The Delaware Gazette - July 20, 2010

Powell City Council is considering putting an income tax hike on the November ballot, but in this tough economic climate, would residents actually vote for it?

City officials went looking for an answer to that question through a survey recently conducted by an independent public opinion research company.

Forty-nine percent of registered Powell voters say they oppose raising the city’s income tax from 0.75 percent to 1.5 percent, which city council has proposed. A smaller percentage of people, 44 percent, favor the tax increase, but seven percent are undecided.

Those poll numbers, however, told a different story when respondents were given additional information about the tax proposal. When residents were told the tax would generate money to maintain capital assets — such as streets, traffic lights and bike paths — public opinion shifted drastically.

After learning this, 59 percent of respondents said they favor the tax, 38 percent said they oppose it and three percent are undecided. Respondents were largely supportive of the tax after hearing other aspects about the proposal, too, such as the fact that residents who live in Powell but work outside the city would not pay any new taxes.

The findings are part of the 2010 Powell Community Survey, which was conducted in late June and early July by Columbus-based Saperstein Associates. About 400 registered Powell voters were randomly selected and called as part of a phone survey on a variety of community issues.

The survey results regarding the city’s tax proposal seem to validate a point some city council members have already made: A majority of voters would support the proposal if they understand how it works and why it is needed.

Powell City Council is expected to decide tonight whether it will place the tax proposal on the November ballot. Only one council member, Sara Marie Brenner, has spoken out publicly against the measure, making it likely the proposal will have the votes needed to pass.

City officials say the income tax would generate $2.2 million annually to fund long-term infrastructure plans; companion legislation would require the new tax money be used only for this purpose during the next 10 years.

City officials say the money would cover all the projects identified over the time period as “musts” — such as road repairs — and some of the “needs” — such as improving traffic flow — but would not provide enough money for “wants” such as bike path connections.

Opponents of the proposal say the tax unfairly puts the burden of paying for infrastructure projects on people who live and work in Powell. The proposal includes a 1 percent tax credit for Powell residents who work outside the city, which means commuters — 62 percent of city residents — would not actually see their taxes go up if voters approve the plan.

Powell currently has one of the lowest income tax rates in Central Ohio. If city council recommends a 0.75 percent tax increase and voters approve it, Powell would still have one of the lowest rates in the area. If the city plans to put a tax increase request on the November ballot, it must be filed with the board of elections by Aug. 19 at the latest.

The 2008 Powell Community Survey also asked residents what they thought about the city’s income tax rate, which has not changed in two decades: 55 percent said it was “about right for what you receive in return;” 33 percent said it was “too high;” and six percent said it was “a bargain.”


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