Paul McKibben reports:
Residents – and people who just work here – could end up paying higher taxes for fire and emergency services.
Mason City Council is expected to vote today on a proposed charter amendment that would go before voters this fall.
The goal is to raise more money for the city’s 33-member fire department.
The income tax hike would affect employees at some of Greater Cincinnati’s key employers that have facilities in Mason, such as Procter & Gamble and Cintas. An estimated 21,000 people work in the city, which is home to more than 1,100 businesses.
The city already has a 1 percent income tax. It also has a 5-mill property tax levy for fire and EMS scheduled to expire at the end of 2013.
The proposed ballot measure would add a 0.12 percent income tax for fire/EMS on top of that 1 percent income tax, though only for nonresidents.
The fire income tax and the existing income tax would cost someone working 40 hours a week at $10 an hour $4.48 a week.
That’s 48 cents a week more than what he or she pays now.
Councilwoman Char Pelfrey said at a June 11 meeting she was initially concerned about “messing with” the earnings tax because the city has held it at 1 percent. She called it a minuscule increase.
“I don’t even feel bad about the fact that a nonresident would be contributing to our fire service … and EMS because once they enter into the city of Mason we are providing for them the quality service that every Mason resident has,” she said.
The city responds to about twice as many fire calls at homes and apartments than at businesses, city statistics show.
Covington resident Wayne Best works in Mason and doesn’t like the proposed fire income tax.
He called it “a tax without any kind of representation. We have no say in it. They’ve got to live within their means and provide service to what they need to,” he said.
The proposed charter amendment also includes a property tax levy for fire/EMS not to exceed 5 mills.
That would take effect Jan. 1, 2014.
It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about an extra $18 a year if council decided to take the full 5 mills.
The 5-mill levy under the proposed charter amendment would cost a homeowner more than the existing levy because the new levy is adjusted for inflation.
The proposed charter amendment also gives City Council the flexibility to set the rate of the proposed levy and the fire income tax.
“The charter amendment seeks to come up with a long-term solution to secure funding for fire services and to do that in a way that does not increase the real estate tax rate and does not increase tax rates for Mason residents,” City Manager Eric Hansen said.
The current fire levy does not produce enough money to pay for the fire department, forcing the city to dip into a fire reserve fund, Hansen said.
By the end of this year, the reserve fund will have $3.2 million, down from $4 million at the end of last year.
The fire department’s budget runs between $5 million and $6 million.
Factors contributing to the fire department’s funding woes as outlined by Hansen in a May 11 memo to council are:
• The amount collected from residents from the fire/EMS levy hasn’t increased or been adjusted for inflation for the past nine years.
• The state eliminated the personal property tax and state reimbursement that decreased funding for the fire and EMS operations by more than 12 percent or $700,000 per year.
Hansen said the city’s fire department has reduced spending by joining the Northeast Fire Collaborative (Blue Ash, Loveland, Sharonville, Sycamore Township and Symmes Township), delaying capital purchases and using part-time employees to maintain minimum staffing levels.
Also, Hansen said the department has continued to work with Deerfield Township and other surrounding communities to improve coverage and reduce redundancies.
He said current agreements provide for mutual aid for all fire and EMS runs by dispatching the closest department regardless of jurisdiction.
Anyone who works in Mason pays the current income tax. Mason residents who work in another community with a 1 percent income tax don’t pay Mason’s income tax, according to Hansen.
If voters reject the charter amendment this fall, Hansen said, “We reduce our services or we stabilize our revenues. And council would have to determine whether they want to go back and just change the services. … Or they go back and look at other revenue alternatives.”
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