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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

Editor's note - The original version of this story on March 14, 2017 contained incorrect information regarding how much money will be generated  with the .5 percent increase in the city's income tax.  The story has been corrected and KnoxPages.com apologizes for the error.

By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter

MOUNT VERNON — Joel Daniels, safety-service director, told members of the City Finance Group on Monday that the administration recommends a .5 percent increase in the city's income tax. The increase will generate between $3.8 and $4 million.

Auditor Terry Scott said that revenue from an income tax increase would go toward four areas: roads and bridges, capital improvements and infrastructure, safety forces and general operations. “It's not our intention to raise the income tax just to hire more people…that's not our problem,” he said. “Our problem is infrastructure.”

Residents last saw an income tax increase 34 years ago. Voters have to approve an increase. Ballot language would include specifically what the money will go toward. The money can be allocated to a number of things, including debt service and capital improvements. Of the current 1.5 percent tax, voters dedicated .5 percent to safety services.

“This is where we would like for your vision to go next, determining on a long-term basis where we need to go,” Scott told the finance group members. “We've done very well, but I don't think we can go another 30 years...and it's not fair to put that kind of burden on our community.”

“Do we have the right amount?” asked group member Clint Bailey. “Is one-half percent enough or should it be .75 percent? We've been very successful at keeping income tax rates down. We've been prudent, but now it's the right time and the responsible thing to do.”

Scott gave group members a list of items to be included in 2018 funding. At the group's request, he will create a list noting which projects can be funded with the money generated by a .5 percent tax increase. Following are the items and their cost.

Roads and Bridges: $7.899 million plus brick streets
Parrot Street resurfacing/intersection improvement $75,000
Mount Vernon Avenue bridge $5.5 million
Gay Street/Gambier Street turning radius $94,500
Blackberry Alley $400,000 (grant received)
ODOT paving U.S. Route 36 $550,000
Green Alley project $200,000
Columbus Road/South Main Street intersection $1,079,700
Brick streets $18 million

The Parrot Street project will be done in conjunction with the county engineer and involves widening the turning radius. Regarding the Mount Vernon Avenue bridge, City Engineer Brian Ball is applying for a third grant to add a bike lane on the north and south sides of the bridge as the state looks favorably on bike trail projects. The grant money will be applied to the bridge project; the city will incur a smaller cost to extend the southern bike path to a terminus on the campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Hamtramck and Burgess streets are the two worst brick streets; in the past, the city has not had available money to put into a fund so that brick street projects can be scheduled.

Capital Improvements and Infrastructure: $1.142 million to $1.144 million
*Plaza Building study (building replacement) $100,000
*Service garage, material bins $6,000
*Safe Routes to School $500,000
*Bike trail underpass $75,000 (underway)
*Dump truck $185,000 (salt spreader/plow)
*Backhoe $120,000
*Mowers $10,000-$12,000 each (multi-year rotation)
*Crewcab truck $45,000
*Large tractor/mower $34,000 (parks)
*Pickup truck $32,000 (street department)
*Tractor w/loader and mower $35,000

Scott said the Plaza Building will need to be razed and rebuilt in the next 10 years at a cost of around $10 million or more. Whether to rebuild on the current site or locate elsewhere is undetermined. Considerations include sharing a courthouse with the county, with separate courtrooms for drug, municipal and common pleas courts but common security entrance and secure parking lots; and building a combined fire/police station next to the county jail.

Safety Forces: $1.5 million to $1.545 million, plus personnel costs
*Cruisers $100,000
*Ambulances $200,000
*Fire pumpers, $380,000-$425,000
*Ladder truck $820,000
*Fire personnel $100,000 per person (wage, benefits, equipment, training)
*Police personnel $75,000 per person (wage, benefits, equipment, training)

General Operations: $185,000 plus health and pension
*GPS mapping $10,000
*Annual tree removal program $100,000 (separate from what the Ariel Foundation underwrites)
*Survey and real estate deed work $75,000
*Health insurance
*Pension, employer portion

Ball said the city has not been budgeting for survey and real estate work. There is much “cleanup work” dating back decades that needs done to finalize easements and other details. After several years of “catch-up,” the budget amount will drop to $25,000 a year.

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