City will ask for tax increase to revamp roads

ThisWeek News – August 1, 2016

As Delaware residents choose their favorite presidential candidate Nov. 8, they’ll also decide if they are willing to pay higher income taxes for better roads and traffic-congestion relief.

Delaware City Council on Monday, July 25, voted unanimously to put a request for an income-tax increase on the fall ballot. If the issue is approved, the city’s income-tax rate will increase from 1.85 percent to 2 percent.

The proposed increase would generate more than $2 million per year in revenue, which could be used only for road or parking projects. City officials have said the possible new revenue could be put toward increasing maintenance on existing streets, paying local costs for major grant-funded projects and creating new roadway connections to relieve traffic congestion.

City Manager Tom Homan said it’s difficult to overstate the need for new funding for roads as the city continues to grow rapidly.

“This is, in my opinion, the most important issue facing the community,” he said.

Homan said the ballot issue also helps address concerns raised by residents in a 2015 survey conducted by Saperstein Associates. According to the survey, city residents viewed traffic congestion and poor road conditions as two of the top three problems city officials should be working to fix.

Council already has given the city’s administration the go-ahead to apply for federal grant funding for two major projects to relieve traffic in the city.

The city will request funds through the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission to improve the Point intersection of U.S. Route 36 and state Route 37 on the city’s east side and to update traffic signals throughout the city.

The cost of the next round of improvements to the Point has been estimated at $22.5 million. The cost of updating traffic signals throughout the city has been estimated at $3.5 million.

Delaware officials have said the two projects — and even local matches for the projects, if the city receives grants to cover the majority of costs — would be unaffordable without an influx of revenue. Local costs for the Point improvements, for example, are estimated at about $6 million.

Any project to improve the congested intersection would require workers to replace the existing railroad overpass with a larger span. The new bridge would allow for the construction of additional lanes at the intersection to relieve congestion.

City Engineer Bill Ferrigno has called improvements to the Point the “single most-critical transportation need in the city.”

Vice Mayor Kent Shafer said the city’s plans for possible new revenue have been “well-vetted and well-thought out.”

“None of us take lightly going to the voters for a tax increase,” he said.

Council conducted four hearings on legislation to put a tax increase on the ballot. During the hearings, no members of the public spoke out against the measure.

Mayor Carolyn Riggle said some residents have asked her why council had not proposed a tax increase for roads earlier.