By Timothy Cox
ST. MARYS -- City officials are hoping voters approve a 10-year, 0.5 percent income tax renewal that allows government leaders to aggressively pursue capital improvements.
The income tax -- first approved by voters in 1985 -- has generated $17.5 million since its inception. That money has helped the city maintain its streets, build a new swimming pool, add police and fire vehicles and take care of other issues, Mayor Greg Freewalt said.
"It's for our safety, it's for our parks, it's for our streets," Freewalt said. "We certainly need to pass this tax renewal if St. Marys is to remain a progressive city."
The first 0.5 percent renewal effort in 1995 saw wide community support, Freewalt said. The city's 1 percent income tax has been in place since 1961.
The additional half-percent tax helps keep the city's streets among the best in the area, Freewalt said. St. Marys spends an average of $800,000 annually on upgrading streets; that figure was $1.2 million last year. By comparison, cash-strapped Celina has been spending only about $30,000 annually to repave streets. "St. Marys has the finest streets and sidewalks anywhere in the area. We're not afraid to say that," Freewalt said.
The 0.5 percent income tax is earmarked for capital improvements, which means it cannot be spent on general operations. That guarantees to city voters they will see tangible results from their tax money, Freewalt said. There are no specific projects planned for the extra tax money; officials simply plan to keep investing in infrastructure and equipment the city needs, Freewalt said.
The 0.5 percent tax generates about $1 million annually for city coffers. Without it, many programs, including street resurfacing, would be scaled back.
"This tax has allowed us to remain a leader in the area. We hope our voters want to keep it that way," Freewalt said.