City talks income tax to fund public safety

By Dean Wright -

GALLIPOLIS — With the approach of the primary election on March 15, Gallipolis city officials are asking the public to consider approving a 1 percent income tax increase to help fund public safety operations after a loss of nearly $1 million in revenue since 2011.

“One of the reasons we need it (the tax issue) passed is for protection of the public,” said City Commission President Tony Gallagher.

According to City Manager Gene Greene, when he worked with the municipal maintenance garage in the 1970s, the city had a staff of 35 individuals. It currently is staffed at eight. He further said the police department once had nearly 20 officers and now operates with 11, including the police chief, a lieutenant, a K-9 handler, a detective and seven road officers.

City Clerk and Auditor Annette Landers said the Gallipolis Police Department accounts for roughly $1.2 million of the general fund. This year, the city anticipates it will bring $2.95 million into the general fund. The police department’s budget is the largest of all the city departments.

Gallagher emphasized that while it may appear the city has money to spare on projects like the waterfront improvement project along Gallipolis’ river bank, it is funded heavily by grants awarded by the state and various other organizations. Where departments like the water treatment plant and sewer treatment plant seem to be operating without as much pressure, state law dictates that funding generated by billing from both facilities cannot be moved to other departments in city finances.

Members of the public have asked why the city has seemingly lost so much money over the years. According to the three city officials, much of the funding has been loss due to cuts in state funding and tax law changes. According to budget records, in 2011, the city had access to $3.97 million to operate departments. Funding dropped to roughly $3.93 million in 2012. It fell further to about $3.55 million in 2013.

Officials anticipate the city will bring in its lowest revenues in 2016 at roughly $2.95 million if something does not soon change with revenue generation. Currently, with municipal income taxes, the city anticipates it will bring in roughly $1.55 million from individuals working in Gallipolis for the 2016 year. That number has remained arguably steady with a total of $1.59 million being tallied in 2011.

City tax officer Ron Lynch has told the Tribune in previous meetings he estimates the city to lose at least $100,000 or more in tax revenue due to changes in state tax law with the passage of House Bill 5. The law mostly affects contract workers who reportedly can file tax papers later than previously able when their employees enter the city to work.

According to Landers, money was also further lost because Ohio’s law changed in the collection of estate tax. In 2011, Gallipolis collected roughly $200,000 from the tax. Now, with changes in tax law, that source of revenue no longer exists. According to city records, estate tax brought in roughly $400 in 2014 and nothing in 2015 with the abolishment of the practice.

City officials have told municipal department heads in the past that money spent in their agencies was done as efficiently as possible and with due diligence. City commissioners have claimed that gradual cutbacks of employees, equipment and resources have led to a point where the municipality is dangerously close to not being able to operate without reductions in service to its citizens. “Death by a thousand paper cuts” has been a phrase used within the halls of the Gallipolis Municipal Building in regards to the phenomena.

City officials claim the 1 percent income tax increase would alleviate stress on the police department as funds would go chiefly to its operation. With that, other city departments would also be able to operate more easily.

According to Greene, several of GPD’s police cruisers have upwards of 130,000 miles on the vehicles. Two cruisers were added to the department’s fleet last year, but others are sorely aging. Greene has cited miles traveled as not being a good indicator of the amount of use a cruiser can see. He also referenced hours spent idling as police investigate collisions as well as other incidents as putting large amounts of wear on police equipment, even when vehicles are maintained properly. Greene said that vehicles should be bought on a rotational basis in an attempt to keep up with law enforcement demands.

Police Chief Jeff Boyer had cited in the past that local crimes seemed to be on the rise and his staff was running with minimal manpower. He said the continued practice of operating as such was not sustainable.

If a city must house a prisoner, that can potentially cost the municipality nearly $70 a day.

According to Greene, one to two officers operate in Gallipolis during the day and night. However, if an officer becomes tied up with an emergency or must transport a prisoner to another county, that potentially could serve as a danger as no other officer is available to answer a call. It may also mean more overtime pay to an officer, which the city’s budget may not be able to handle in its current state. Greene said when a citizen or individual visiting the city calls for police support, they are entitled to have an officer appear in a timely manner. Without more funding, that may not be possible.

Greene cited manpower as a chief need for the police department quickly followed by costs for training and the housing of prisoners.

Both Greene and Landers in the recent week had stated to municipal department heads that they would take cuts to their own salaries if necessary to help fund the city’s operation.

According to Landers, with a 1 percent income tax increase added to the city’s already existing 1 percent income tax ordinance, she said it would cost an individual a little less than $10 a week in income tax if they were already making $50,000 a year.

City officials have also brought up the need to replace fire trucks as well as air bottles for firefighters. Whereas the fire department’s estimated budget for 2016 is around $204,000 as of current from the general fund, that leaves little room for the replacement of things like tires on the trucks, safety equipment and other necessities. Volunteer firefighters currently receive $8 a run to help compensate them for personal equipment used in protection of the city and surrounding townships.

According to Gallagher, “If people in town or coming to town shop or work want to see us continue paving roads or catching criminals, we really need to pass this (tax) issue.”

Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.

By Dean Wright