Several people spoke in favor of a possible increase in the city of Delaware’s income tax rate for road construction during a public hearing at Delaware City Council’s meeting on Monday night.
“This is the most consequential issue facing our community right now,” said City Manager Tom Homan. “Our transportation system lacks sufficient dedicated and sustainable funding.”
In recent weeks, city officials have held 17 outreach meetings of what they call “Moving Delaware Forward” regarding transportation plans. At the meetings, the city has fielded questions and talked about 50 potential projects, such as making The Point four lanes under a new railroad bridge; extending Merrick Boulevard to provide a direct connection to Troy Road; and extending Valleyside Drive to link William Street and Central Avenue.
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about the importance of this issue,” Homan said. “There’s a lot of interest. As soon as you start showing residents pictures of what The Point looks like backed up on a Friday afternoon, and you start talking about new connections throughout the city, and the need to address the maintenance of our roadways, people are very interested.”
If council approves “Moving Delaware Forward,” voters would be asked to increase the current 1.85 percent income tax rate to 2 percent. City officials have said that the rate increase would generate about $2.2 million annually, which would augment the moneys the city gets from license fees, state gas tax and the general fund.
“We continue to grow, but continue to be challenged by our infrastructure,” Homan said. “There’s no shortage of ways to improve the traffic network around the community.”
Holly Quaine, president of the Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke first during the public hearing. She said in June that the chamber’s board of directors voted unanimously to support the levy.
“We think it’s very important. It makes sense,” Quaine said. “We can’t grow, and not address the growth.”
“Nobody likes increasing taxes, but I think we all need to step back and see the pluses and minuses that we’re getting from it,” said board member Jack Brickner. “To have a good community, you need to be able to get from one end to the other. Going around the city, there’s a lot of aging infrastructure the city does need to address.”
Paul Craft, superintendent of Delaware City Schools, said he was impressed with the city’s plan. He said he was speaking for himself, not the school board.
“It will provide that role of a safe, efficient transportation network for our ever-growing city,” Craft said. “I do see as an educator some advantages in the transportation of our students. This year alone, Valleyside would have saved us several hours of transportation as we moved kids back and forth from Carlisle to Schultz.”
“For the police department, our biggest issue in the city with crashes is from Meijer’s to The Point,” said Police Chief Bruce Pijanowski. “We are taking two lanes of traffic and reducing it to a point.”
Enforcing speed and removing crashes at The Point is a huge investment in manpower, Pijanowski said. In addition, the improvements would mean shorter times to get to crime scenes.
Intelligent traffic signals, which could be obtained with levy passage, would eliminate the “accordion effect” seen at The Point, Pijanowski said.
“Response times are the nature of our business,” said Fire Chief John Donahue. “This levy will assist us with our response times with new roads, less congestion and increased safety for our forces and the general public.”
The tax rate increase could provide the fire department with more traffic pre-emption capabilities, which activates stoplights to turn red.
No one spoke out against the tax hike.
Also on Monday night, a hearing on proposed changes to the city’s charter was held. There was no public comment.
The charter is the governing document used by the city. Every eight years, the charter is reviewed and voters will decide whether to accept any proposed changes to the document. For the last couple of months, a city-appointed charter review commission, led by chair Mary Jane Santos and guided by city attorney Darren Shulman, has made its way through the document.
The proposed changes were designed to make the charter easier to read.
Council can accept or reject the proposed changes. If council accepts the commission’s recommendation to place the issue before voters, council would submit the amendments to the Delaware County Board of Elections for the November ballot. Shulman said that because there are so many proposed changes, it will be presented as a single ballot issue.
The second public hearing on both matters will be on July 11. Speakers are generally given three minutes and asked not to repeat other people’s comments. City Council chambers are on the second floor of City Hall, at 1 S. Sandusky St.
Aug. 10 is the deadline to submit local issues to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.