Road levy, tax reciprocity, stormwater fee, assessment all considered
Council: ‘The streets are not getting any better’
By Beth Church
Rossford City Council is serious about moving forward soon with street improvements.
But every option to fund the road work will require taxpayers to contribute additional dollars.
Council discussed city finances and funding options at a committee-of-the-whole meeting Monday.
Council President Larry Oberdorf urged immediate action.
“I think we have to move forward–the streets are not getting any better,” he said.
Councilman Robert Ruse agreed, “The time is now. We waited way too long.”
“We don’t have a lot of good roads in Rossford outside of what we’ve touched in the last five years,” he acknowledged.
He reminded his colleagues that the public works committee developed a street-by-street plan in 2014 with an estimated cost of $20 million.
“We have a plan,” he said. “It spells it out, it circles the city. And each area had the dollars [costs] with it.”
“If we had the dollars available, we know how we would attack it.”
City Administrator Mike Scott provided several financing options for council to discuss:
•Placing a property tax levy on the November ballot–each 1 mill generates about $100,000.
•Changing the tax reciprocity policy for residents who live in Rossford and work elsewhere. A 50 percent credit provides about $750,000 additional income tax revenue, and a 25 percent credit provides $375,000.
•Adding a stormwater utility fee for residents–$3 monthly per household would generate $377,000 per year, or $3.50 monthly would generate $440,000. However, these funds can only be used for storm sewer projects, he noted.
•Reducing the reserve fund to a seven-month level–and use the remainder to borrow an additional $3 million.
This option would likely cause the city’s bond rating to decrease, costing the city more in higher interest rates when borrowing, Mr. Scott said.
Council member Caroline Zuchowski Eckel also noted the option of assessing property owners for work on their streets.
Councilman Jerry Staczek questioned whether a method that assesses property owners for street and sewer repairs is equitable.
“If a certain neighborhood doesn’t have the income to opt in, they won’t participate,” he said.
Councilman Ruse said council previously had adopted a policy whereby assessments would be used to fix unimproved streets to pay for curbs and sidewalks when the sewer work is completed.
Councilman Dan Wagner said the drawback to assessments is that the city pays for the project initially and homeowners can pay back the assessment over 10 years.
Law Director Kevin Heban pointed out that method was used for the west portion of Hillside Drive.
A cost of about $2,500 was assessed to Hillside residents, and although they had the option to spread payments over 10 years on their property taxes, most just paid off the entire amount, he said.
Mr. Scott encouraged council to look at using a combination of the financing methods.
“We could borrow against the reserve fund as a seed to get things going,” he said.
Councilman Oberdorf would like to see action taken immediately, and questioned whether some of the funding sources would be approved by citizens.
“You have to look at the reality of these options,” he said. “These all sound great but are they real? If we wait to put another issue out there, that’s going to be awhile before the revenue is coming in.”
Council member Eckel said the voters’ approval last November of a bond issue for new school facilities could be seen in a positive light.
“It could show a trend that voters are in favor of improvement,” she said, adding that they might also favor a road levy.
At its meeting next Monday, May 22, council will consider an ordinance on changing the tax reciprocity.
Councilman Ruse suggested a plan for reducing the credit from 100 to 75 percent for four years, and in the fifth year reduce it from 75 to 50 percent.
About 2,100 Rossford residents who work outside the city have historically received a 100 percent credit for the income taxes they pay to other communities.
Council member Eckel said the public works committee would discuss the stormwater utility fee, as well.
“I think that’s something that needs to go into effect,” she said.
The committee also will ask Mannik and Smith engineering firm to update the 2014 street improvement plan with current costs.
Council also asked Finance Director Karen Freeman to provide possible levy millage and estimated revenue to be considered at their next meeting.
The committee-of-the-whole meeting began with a presentation on overall city finances by Mr. Scott.
Displaying information compiled by Mrs. Freeman, he noted the city currently “is in good financial shape.”
Rossford has a AAA bond rating, and a reserve fund equal to 10 months of the 2017 budget.
“Revenues are stagnant, and expenses are increasing,” Mr. Scott said. “However, we’re living within out means.”
He compared city revenues of $5.48 million in 2012 to $5.84 million in 2016.
During the same period, general fund expenses were $4.05 million in 2012 and $4.53 million last year.
Mr. Scott listed the following road projects that are already funded–some by grant money–and scheduled:
•Safe Routes to Schools adding sidewalks, traffic lights and more, $233,000, this summer.
•Hollywood Boulevard connector road, $1.95 million, ODOT funded, this summer.
•Pilkington railroad crossing, $500,000, state and county funding, this summer.
•Harmon Business Park roadways, $3 million, funded with tax incremental financing (TIF), this summer.
•Downtown re-signalization, $555,000, this summer.
•State Route 65 repavement, $1.488 million, summer 2018.
•Buck/Lime City roundabout, $3.922 million, summer 2019.
•Route 65/Lime City/ Colony roundabout, $2.54 million, spring 2019.
•Island View Park/Lime City bike path, $428,000, spring 2019.
The next council meeting will be at 7 p.m., Monday, May 22, at the municipal building, 133 Osborn Street, and is open to the public.