A message from Mayor Pat Moeller regarding Issue #1, the temporary street levy that will be on the March 2020 ballot:
For a number of years, members of City Council and I have spoken to many of our residents regarding their concerns about the state of our streets. These concerns have led to Issue #1, a temporary 10-year street levy, being placed on the ballot next month.
During several Plan Hamilton meetings held in 2017-2018 and in City Council’s discussions with residents at Council meetings, deteriorating streets were mentioned as a primary and critical concern. However, with limited funds and less intergovernmental revenues from the State and Federal government, fixing our streets has become an issue we need to own locally.
I have heard comments about the City’s budget. Yes, the State of Ohio has increased the fuel tax, providing approximately $1.2 million per year to Hamilton for street improvement. Yes, the recently enacted increase to license renewal fees provides approximately $300k per year to Hamilton for street improvements from homeowners, renters, and commercial entities. The reality is that when you add these new sources to our existing spending, that’s still less than half of what we need annually just to stop the streets from getting worse each year on average.
You may ask if there are other opportunities to cut spending and redirect funds to streets. Prior to the recession in 2008, the City spent almost $48.5 million annually from the General Fund. More than a dozen years later, the City is now spending less — $47.1 million in 2019. This does not factor in inflation over that period, which would show us as being even more frugal.
I have also heard comments about the City’s participation in the Spooky Nook Champion Mill project. This project is an exciting and transformational project for our City, State, and Midwest region. Yes, the City has funding commitments to the project, primarily loans that will be repaid and utility improvements. The utility improvements will have a financial return as a result of Spooky Nook Champion Mill being such a large utility customer. Other entities, such as the State of Ohio, Butler County, and the Butler County Convention and Visitors Bureau, have also provided funding and tax credits to this $140+ million project, illustrating the significant impact it will have on the entire region.
Let’s look at the facts. The grant amount the City has invested in Spooky Nook is $8 million. I know that is a lot of money, but it’s important to keep in mind that the City would likely have spent that and potentially more to demolish and clear the Champion Paper site. City Council chose to invest the monies into the Spooky Nook Champion Mill project which will restore a historic landmark, provide tremendous positive economic impact, and will result in explosive transformational gains for our entire region.
The City had to weigh the potential one-time injection of $8 million into the streets (equivalent to 2.5 years of levy funding) versus what we believe will be many prosperous decades with the Spooky Nook Champion Mill development in our community. The Spooky Nook project has already had a positive economic ripple effect in Hamilton — a ripple effect which will continue to grow and contribute revenues that will ultimately improve funding to our streets, police, and fire/EMS.
With respect to our streets, we can no longer afford to wait for funding to come from elsewhere. Accountability for the street repairs must now also be local. With this in mind, in May of 2019, Hamilton City Council unanimously passed a resolution providing guidance to City staff should Issue #1 street levy pass. This guidance helps establish how levy funding will be distributed neighborhood by neighborhood and establishes that levy funds are to be spent only on residential streets with the input from Hamilton citizens. Such opportunities for resident input on levy expenditures are rare.
I asked the Clerk of Council to place a Resolution on the November 6, 2019 Council Meeting to place formal language for Issue #1 on the March 2020 ballot. At the November 13, 2019, Council Meeting, we unanimously approved this Resolution requesting the Butler County Auditor to certify what a 3.9 mill levy would produce on an annual basis.
The time has now come to ask our residents if they will support additional funding for our streets.