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Mayor drops income tax proposal from Middletown's council agenda

Posted: 10:35 AM, Aug 06, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-06 22:46:04Z

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio -- Middletown voters will no longer be asked to consider a deeply unpopular income tax increase to fund road improvements, but the city still needs to pull millions in repair costs from somewhere.

The ordinance would have been placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot, but Mayor Larry Mulligan pulled it before the city council’s agenda was published last week. Mulligan proposed raising the city income tax from 1.75 percent to 2 percent to raise about $3.2 million per year for 10 years that would go solely for street and road repairs and maintenance.

The additional revenues would have augmented the funds the city budgeted for streets and roads in addition to state and federal grants received.

"Repaving hasn’t been what it should be," Mulligan said, leaving many city roads in fair to poor condition. It's a problem he called "decades in the making."

"It didn’t happen overnight. It’s something we can begin to address and make good progress towards," he told WCPO in late July.

The increase would have just been a drop in the bucket. It's estimated that Middletown needs $160 million to fix all of its streets.

The ordinance was given a first reading at the July 17 meeting and was scheduled to have a second reading Tuesday and be adopted as an emergency ordinance. That would let the city meet a Wednesday deadline to submit ballot issues to the Butler County Board of Elections for the November general election.

Passage would require a super-majority of four votes from the five-member council, and two council members had already said they would not vote for the proposed levy. Last month, members Steve Bohannon and Ami Vitori both said they were not in favor of Mulligan’s proposal.

Bohannon and Vitori said it was not the right time for an income tax increase. Vitori added she made a campaign promise last fall not to raise taxes. Both council members maintained their positions when contacted earlier this week.

Mulligan said he pulled the item off the agenda, saying that there weren’t enough votes.

“I understand people’s perspectives,” he said. “It’s didn’t seem to be worth it to place it on the agenda.”

Mulligan wrote a guest column July 29 for the Journal-News making his case for the road levy, urging residents to contact their council members.

“I believe Council should allow the citizens to vote on this referendum in November for a number of reasons,” Mulligan said. “First, our city streets are a primary concern to many residents. Second, the city has very limited financial resources to address ever decaying streets. And, third, if we fail to address the issue now, the cost will only increase in future years.

“During my time on council and as Mayor, the condition of our streets and roadways has been a significant concern to many. Many fellow citizens raised the issue of potholes, limited maintenance and the condition of the city’s streets as disappointments and an item that needed to be addressed.”

While Mulligan made his case for the proposed levy, the Journal-News took a Facebook poll last week asking readers if they were for or against the road levy.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 900 people voted in the poll and 555 people, about 61 percent, were against the levy, and 384, or about 39 percent, were for the levy. Facebook readers were also invited to share their comments.

“The last time the City proposed a tax to pay for road improvements, and it passed, the money was put in the general fund and the road improvements never happened,” wrote Amy Hembree.

“I understand that no one wants to pay more taxes. Myself included but the roads do need a lot of work. It is not the City of Middletown’s fault that large manufacturers moved to different locations. Most made the plans to move without ever telling city officials what their intentions were,” wrote Dianne Hendricks McKinney.

Sixty-five percent of Middletown's streets are currently rated to be in either fair, poor or very poor/failing condition. For streets like Gladys Drive, it doesn't look like a fix is coming anytime soon.

"It gets bumpy — real bumpy," said Gladys Drive resident Brandon Killin. "It's fun trying to weave around the potholes as much as you can."

Most of the time, crews will just patch potholes as they appear, Killin said. 

"It's OK for a couple of months, then the patches pop out and it's right back to square one," he said.

For now, the city will continue to put together a combination of local, state and federal funds to keep the road projects going until a more permanent solution can be found.

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The Journal-News is a media partner of WCPO.