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Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Celina voters to decide proposed city tax change

By William Kincaid
CELINA - City voters in November will decided whether to repeal a half-percent income tax that pays for police and fire expenses and replace it with the tax of the same rate that would also fund street repairs.
City council members on Monday night passed the final reading of a resolution to place the measure on the November ballot. If approved, the new levy would begin Jan. 1 and expire in seven years. The current levy is set to expire in 2018.
No one from the public spoke for or against the proposal at council's regular meeting Monday night.
Council members were pleased with the draft ballot language devised by city law director George Moore. It must be approved by the Mercer County Board of Elections before going on the ballot.
The issue would expand use of income tax dollars for public right-of-way improvements.
A yes vote, according to Moore, would allow the city to use the half-percent income tax to fund capital equipment purchases and improvements of the fire and police departments as well as improvements to streets, curbs and sidewalks.
No caps would be applied to the funds.
Councilman June Scott brought up concerns addressed to him about the likelihood of the city using too much of the money on streets, leaving the police and fire departments with inadequate funding.
Celina Mayor Jeff Hazel quickly dismissed that scenario.
"I made this statement very clear (to) police and fire: They are a critical core service of Celina and they are number one," Hazel said, "The additional monies for streets will be some of the monies that would be left over after we have purchased the things that we need to do for them."
Imposing funding percentages for emergency services and streets may look good on paper, Hazel said.
"Part of the problem with percentage is if, let's say, police and fire wanted 50 percent, and if something happened, they reached 50 percent, they couldn't buy that next vehicle, well then they're done ... and that's not fair to them," Hazel said.
"But I hear you say, on record here, that police and fire come first?" Scott asked.
"Absolutely. I've said that before and I continue to say that," Hazel replied.
Councilman Bill Sell urged city officials to conduct a public informational session about the levy before the election.
Hazel also said that the levy would not fund city alleys.
"If we add alleys to this ordinance, and I want to put it out there so it's on record, it's going to dilute the pool of money that's there right now, and frankly, we have $15 (million) to $20 million of streets that are falling apart that are just streets, let alone infrastructure," Hazel said. "If we try to add alleys on there, we will then get immediate pressure from people that have alleys behind their house ... to get their alleys fixed, but we literally have streets that are turning to gravel. So, the streets have got to be a priority, at least this time around."
Hazel agrees alleys are important but said streets are paramount. The city does patch and chip-and-seal alleys, much more cost effective methods of repair, he said.
The city's current total income tax rate is 1.5 percent. The one percent income tax generates about $3.1 million annually for the general fund and is used for the operation of the fire and police departments. The additional half-percent brings in $1.6 million.
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