ST. MARYS — On May 4, voters in St. Marys are considering whether to make a one-half percent income tax permanent.
Right now the issue is up for a vote every ten years.
“This half percent tax was first passed in 1985,” said Patrick McGowan, mayor of St. Marys. “It’s been overwhelmingly approved, renewed, every time by overwhelming margins.”
The tax itself is needed to keep providing money for police and fire equipment and other things like street improvements.
“The city determined the 1% (tax) just wasn’t cutting it,” said Dan Uhlenhake, councilman at large and co-chair of the levy committee. “The city was growing and in need of these resources so they put out this half percent tax that would be voted on every ten years.”
The extra half percent tax has served the city well over the past 35 years.
“The fruits of that took off in terms of improvement of the streets and water and sewer lines. (We purchased) more rescue vehicles and especially the replacement of the fire trucks and ambulances that were so desperately needed,” Uhlenhake said.
The need to make this a permanent income tax comes down to money and the city’s credit rating.
“The biggest reason is we can get a better interest rate on loans,” said John Bubp, first ward St. Marys councilor and co-chair of the levy committee. “If it didn’t get voted in every 10 years, we would lose one and a half million dollars and so when you go to a bank and they look at this risk, they’re saying ‘we’re not going to give you the best interest rate.’ We can get a better interest rate if it’s permanent.”
McGowan said the one-half percent income tax can save them lots of money if it’s made permanent.
“On a 30-year loan, if we borrowed $20 million over the course of it, we could save approximately $534,000,” McGowan said.
The same applies to bonds.
“When we sell bonds we can get a better rate as well,” Bubp said.
Besides police cruisers, the one-half percent income tax has gone to purchase body cameras, tactical vests, firearms and communications equipment for the police department and turnout gear, safety equipment, breathing and rescue apparatus, ambulances and fire trucks. The money is also used in the street department for rebuilding and resurfacing streets, replacing sidewalks and gutters, recreational park upgrades as well as purchasing dump trucks, snowplows, street sweepers and leaf pickup vehicles.
Those against making the tax permanent want the option to vote on it every ten years.
“It’s a point well-taken,” Ulenhake said. “If it doesn’t pass then we would keep it the same and we would hopefully renew it every 10 years, but there’s no going back on this because it’s so beneficial to the city and you only have to drive through town to look around. We got the greatest streets around. They are excellently maintained.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.