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Cincinnati Council is considering a recommendation to ask voters to raise the income tax

City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
/
WVXU
City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cincinnatians could see an income tax increase on the November ballot.

City Council heard a brief update Tuesday from City Manager Sheryl Long about the Futures Commission report. Mayor Aftab Pureval created the commission over a year ago to recommend ways to stabilize the city budget.

The report recommends two income tax increases: 0.1% for economic development and 0.05% for public safety, both limited to 10 years.

Council member Jeff Cramerding says officials need to make public engagement a top priority, adding engagement on the sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway fell short.

"We learned a lot from the railroad issue," Cramerding told WVXU. "I think in retrospect, we did not do enough community engagement or coalition-building. Is there time to do it for November? I think that's possible. But if we're not ready, we won't be ready."

RELATED: Cincinnati's budget is in trouble. A commission recommends income tax increase, trash fee and more

Council is now on summer recess until September, except for a regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 7. That's the last day Council could vote to put an income tax increase on the ballot.

The Futures Commission also recommended Council redirect some income tax revenue away from maintaining infrastructure. The report says Council could do this by passing an ordinance, but City Solicitor Emily Smart Woerner told Council that action would also require voter approval.

The revenue in question stems from the Smale Commission in the 1980s, which recommended a 0.1% tax increase dedicated to infrastructure-related spending. The Futures Commission report says now that the city has a growing $1.6 billion investment fund for the same purpose, the revenue from the earnings tax should go into the General Fund.

Members of the Cincinnati Southern Railway Board of Trustees expressed their disapproval of that recommendation at a meeting in May.

"I was surprised and disappointed that the Futures Commission report suggested that the Smale Commission can be repealed by an ordinance of City Council," said trustee and former Mayor Charlie Luken. "I can tell you as a founder of the Smale Commission, that that was not our intent."

RELATED: The $1.6B fund from selling the Cincinnati Southern Railway has grown about $14M in 2 months

The Futures Commission report says investment returns from the railway sale will eliminate the city's deferred maintenance deficit over the next decade, and recommends "redeploying a portion of these funds because some of the dollars will still be necessary to invest in new infrastructure across the City."

Luken says that's not how the CSR Board presented the railway sale to Cincinnatians.

"And such a result, I think, would be an insult to what the voters were trying to do, which was Smale, plus the additional money from the railroad, not additional money from the railroad minus Smale," Luken said.

Council member Cramerding says he's open to considering all recommendations in the Futures Commission report, but: "anytime you're talking about switching a capital revenue stream to operating is of grave concern. A number of the recommendations have received early pushback, and certainly that has been one of the most controversial."

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.