Kent weighs plan to fund street work

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Council's finance committee voted 5-1 to implement a series of measures aimed at directing about $1 million more per year to street funding.

Councilman William Schultz cast the dissenting vote. Councilman Wayne Wilson, who chaired the committee, did not vote.

The measures, suggested by Councilman Ed Pease, include:

Increasing license plate fees by $5 for Kent residents, which would raise up to $100,000 annually for road repairs.

Implementing a $3 monthly utility fee to address pending state and federal mandates regarding storm water runoff, which would free up about $400,000 annually for storm water runoff.

Assessing residents $75 each year for services such as street lighting, leaf pickup, brush chipping, tree maintenance and spring clean-up. The city has the authority to levy up to $250 per year without a vote. Pease said the $75 fee would free up about $465,000 annually for street repairs.

Pease said that when combined with the $500,000 the city spends in street repairs and maintenance, the move would assure the city has $1.5 million each year to spend on roads.

The decision came after a long discussion of the Assessment Policy Review Committee's report, which recommended the city abandon involuntary assessments and initiate a series of other financing measures instead.

They included the license plate fee, a traditional road levy or a "charter levy," which committee member John Lehman said would give the city greater flexibility. A charter levy would enable voters to authorize up to a certain amount in taxes, and take less than the maximum if needs were not great that year.

Pease said council could always put a levy on the ballot later, but viewed the other suggestions as stable sources of revenue.

"I'm probably the last one to raise taxes. But (ordinance number) 925 is a tax, let's not kid ourselves," Pease said, referring to the city's existing assessment ordinance.

Schultz, however, said the voters should have a chance to decide whether they want to start paying more for city services.

"We're talking about imposing a tax upon the residents without their vote," he said.

Pease said the city's existing assessment ordinance is unfair, noting that the Liske family donated their property on Fairchild Avenue to the city to avoid the assessment. He also said his son, who owns property on Fairchild, may have to sell his farm to pay the assessment.

The other fees, however, would be charged equally to all residents.

"It's a small price to pay to double what we do for streets," Pease said.

Council will decide whether to enact the recommendation at Wednesday's council meeting.

Several residents, most of them property owners whose streets had been improved under the assessment ordinance, told council the involuntary assessment policy is unfair because a small group of residents pay for improvements benefiting all residents.

Schultz said voters had rejected a tax increase for roads in 1981, but approved a similar tax hike for fire protection, and predicted voters would reject another levy.

But others said much has changed over the years, and predicted another levy would fare better at the polls.

"That was 17 years ago," Councilwoman Aimee Lyle said. "I wonder if it's not time to ask them again. We keep talking about policy based on something that happened almost 20 years ago."

The committee also voted to delay any decision on whether residents on South Willow Street, Lake Street and the triangle area should be billed under the assessment ordinance.

Some council members said it would be unfair to exempt people from assessments in the future but bill those whose roads were improved under the ordinance.

But others pointed out that several people who had been assessed under Ohio law before the assessment code was implemented would likely complain if residents on South Willow, Lake and the triangle were exempted.

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