WILMINGTON — The only option for keeping current city services intact, infrastructure strong and the city safe and vibrant is to vote for the 0.5-percent temporary municipal tax Nov. 8, according to city leaders at Thursday night’s public forum at the Murphy Theatre.
The forum was hosted by The Campaign for Wilmington’s Future, a group of Wilmington residents that believes passage of Wilmington City Council’s proposed temporary municipal income tax increase is necessary “for the quality of life residents have come to expect in a community once ranked as one of the best small towns in America.”
Attendees got the chance to ask Mayor John Stanforth, Police Chief Duane Weyand, and City Safety and Services Director Brian Shidaker about the increase.
An estimated 79 percent of the tax will be paid by people who don’t live in Wilmington but who work here and benefit from the services that the city provides to employers, including fire and police protection, snow removal, transit services, street repair and water and sewage services, according to the committee.
Shidaker began the forum with a slide show that included examples of what the previous years have looked like financially for the city, including the carry-over balances, who would benefit from the increase and who would be hurt the most if it doesn’t pass.
Shidaker reiterated what the committee has stated previously — that the departments most affected would be the fire and police. Additional revenues will be invested to maintain streets and enforce building codes to prevent derelict properties from destroying investments made by homeowners and businesses.
“I wanted to inform the public of our financial situation because the truth is it’s what we enjoy in our country,” Shidaker said. “You do have a voice and a choice in November. If you want to maintain the services in the city of Wilmington, you have that choice.”
Weyand and Stanforth then joined Shidaker on stage to answer questions submitted from residents earlier via email.
Weyand was asked how law enforcement would be affected and what that would mean for response times. Weyand stated that currently the police department is adequately staffed with 21 officers, but if the temporary tax increase doesn’t pass, it could mean personnel cuts.
“Anything less than that really jeopardizes it,” Weyand said. “If you take five or six officers away from us you’re basically down to one working per shift.”
Shidaker added that this could affect residents by crime rising because of the lack of on-duty officers.
“You cannot have one person on duty in the city of Wilmington,” he said. “I am very passionate about this because I have young children and I don’t want them living in a city that doesn’t have enough officers on duty.”
The committee has pointed out that, if approved, Wilmington’s 1.5-percent earnings tax “will be in line with almost all Ohio cities, including the county seats of neighboring counties.”
Stanforth was asked what changed between his campaign promise of not raising taxes to now favoring this temporary increase. The mayor said he anticipated this question and responded by saying that it was a hard pill to swallow, but he felt that it is the right decision.
“Unless you want me to lay off police officers, breach contracts and not fix a single street in the next five years, the city needs more money,” said Stanforth, “I come from the working class. I know how much work goes into earning your paycheck. I take it very seriously when asking for some of it.”
When the three city leaders were asked their visions for the future of Wilmington if the increase passes in November, Weyand said he believes the increase will help continue to make the city a bright and prosperous place to live.
Shidaker said that safety in the city will be maintained and that the city itself will continue to thrive, while Stanforth said he won’t let the city down, and that the increase will help the city remain safe while growing.
Reach John Hamilton at (937) 382-2574.