Progress Made on Tax Levy Promises, More Work to Do

By Warren Copeland
Mayor, City of Springfield

SPRINGFIELD (Dec. 17, 2019) ─ At this time three years ago, city officials went to the people of Springfield with a proposal for the future. It was a time of deep concern for city leaders and area stakeholders, and the solution would mean that we would all have to come together as a community and work collaboratively toward our common interests.

The City of Springfield had been weathering the storm of a budget crisis that wasn’t of its own making. Since 2007, the State of Ohio had cut Springfield’s funding by over $21.5 million, and we were not alone. The reductions in state revenue sharing placed many cities throughout the state in fiscal stress. The loss of this funding was the single largest reason for Springfield’s fiscal crisis. Springfield responded to the cuts with proactive fiscal responsibility by cutting expenses and keeping spending flat for more than 10 years.

That brand of fiscal responsibility meant more than tightening our belts; it required a reduction of services to the people of Springfield. We closed the Springfield Fire Rescue Division Station #5 at 1707 Commerce Road, eliminating one fire and one EMS unit. We shuttered Springfield Police Division’s substation at 17 W. Johnny Lytle Ave., losing our presence in the neighborhood and impacting our efforts in community policing. Community police and fire programs were canceled, including Bike Camp and Citizen’s Police Academy. We reduced funding to National Trail Parks and Recreation District. At least 145 city staff positions have been eliminated since 2007, for an overall reduction of more than 20 percent.

As public servants, we hold ourselves accountable every day to the responsible management of taxpayer dollars and public services. Cuts like these have a negative impact in that they result in the reduction of critical services to the community. Eliminating a fire and EMS unit impacted response times, and fewer public safety resources compromised our efforts to deal with violent crime and the heroin epidemic. Approximately 78 percent of the City’s General Fund operations are funded by a local income tax. About 80 percent of the city’s general fund expenditures go to fund police, fire/EMS, 911 dispatch and municipal court operations, with very limited ability to adjust costs due to minimum staffing levels set by the charter.

Our Proposal

With so little assistance from the state, we pulled together as a community and went to the people of Springfield with a proposed tax levy. We asked their approval to raise the income tax rate .4 percent, from 2 percent to 2.4 percent, over a 5 ½ year period. The tax levy would generate an estimated additional $6.7 million a year for the city, and get us closer to providing the vital services that our community so relies on us to deliver.

Our appeal to voters was twofold: first, we submitted a straightforward forecast of what would have to be done in the future if the measure didn’t pass; and made some very specific promises of how the funds would be invested if the measure did pass.

Without the tax levy, the road ahead looked bleak. We could only anticipate more cuts and more reduction of services to the community.

Police operations are critical to the viability of our community. On average, the Police Division is able to respond to calls for service within five minutes. Failure of the levy meant that up to ten civilian positions would be eliminated and officers would be pulled off the streets to cover those duties. The result would be an increase in response times. The Division wouldn’t be able to respond to certain calls for service such as barking dog/animal nuisance complaints, non-injury motor vehicle crashes, and business and residential alarm calls. Community outreach and community relations activities would also be severely reduced. Neighborhood relations and community/relationship building among citizens and police officers are fundamental to Springfield’s success.

Fire and EMS operations are critical and greatly valued services that would be significantly impacted without passage of the levy. The closure of Fire Station #5 would increase response times within the district it served by an average of two to four minutes per response. Also, community fire and EMS outreach and community relations activities would be severely reduced. This programming is vital to the community in terms of fire and EMS education and prevention.

Our streets would continue to deteriorate, as the Neighborhood Street Paving Program would have been shut down for lack of funding.

Passage of the levy would not only stave off this threat, but it would help our community progress. Our promises were pointed; if the levy passed, our community could expect:

  • Police, Fire, and EMS would have the critical funding needed to keep our neighborhoods safe.
  • The Safe Streets Task Force would be reinstated, with an additional six police officer positions added to counter violence and the heroin epidemic in our community.
  • Johnny Lytle Avenue Community Police Substation would reopen and its community policing programs would continue to operate and serve neighbors and community organizations.
  • Fire Station #5 would reopen to respond to individual, family, and business fire and medical emergencies.
  • Investments would be made in much-needed equipment for Police, Fire, and EMS.
  • The Neighborhood Streets Improvement Program would be re-established, targeting priority residential streets.
  • A minimum of $2 million per year would be dedicated to street restoration.
  • Streets would improve, making Springfield a better place for our residents and more appealing to new businesses.

Our Progress

In May 2017, Springfield voters approved the tax levy by a 2-to-1 margin. We couldn’t have been more pleased by the support our community showed with their voices at the polls. And, we wasted no time in rolling up our sleeves to fulfill the promises we made. Now, 2 ½ years into that work, we’re proud to report the progress our community has made.

  • Our promise, police: To reopen Johnny Lytle Avenue community police station and reinstate community programs such as Bike Camp and Citizen’s Police Academy.
    • Substation reopened in July 2017 and is currently the location of the Springfield Police Division Community Response Team
    • Officers active in community and neighborhood events
    • Citizen’s Police Academy resumed with 60+ graduates
    • Three Bike Camps held with 100+ child participants
  • Our promise, safe streets: Add six police officers to combat violent crime and heroin epidemic and provide critical funding needed to keep our neighborhoods safe.
    • Open recruitment campaigns held in 2017, 2018 and 2019
    • Lateral hires (from other law enforcement agencies) made in 2017 through 2019
    • Safe Streets Task Force reinstated in 2018-2019
    • More than 490 arrests and seized firearms, methamphetamine, heroin and crack cocaine
    • Search warrants resulted in the capture of 120 grams of cocaine, 4 lbs. of marijuana, and $13,070 in cash
  • Our promise, fire & EMS: Reopen Fire Station #5 and reinstate a Fire/EMS Unit and invest in safety equipment, providing vital resources for our first responders.
    • Fire Station #5 reopened in July 2017 and remains in operation
    • Five new ambulances purchased and built at the local International Plant are currently in operation
    • Eight FLIR Systems thermal imagers that locate hotspots and improve safety purchased in January 2019
    • Carbon monoxide detectors purchased and credited for saving the lives of more than 100 people
    • Service improved with purchase of mechanical CPR devices and new handheld radios
  • Our promise, streets: Dedicate $2 million to improve neighborhood streets and improve streets making Springfield a better place.
    • Neighborhood Street Paving Program launched in 2018
    • More than $4 million spent on repaving neighborhood streets in 2018 and 2019
    • Total of 26 neighborhood streets repaved
      • Berger (Lagonda east to end)
      • Broadway Street, between Bechtle and Western avenues
      • Cedarview and Juniper drives, north of McCreight Avenue
      • College Avenue, between Fountain Avenue and Limestone Street
      • Harding (Fountain to Limestone)
      • Ward (Limestone to Fountain)
      • Edgewood Avenue
      • El Camino (Santa Monica to Vester)
      • Englewood Road, between Fountain Avenue and Limestone Street
      • Fairview Avenue
      • Farnham Street, between Dibert and Innisfallen avenues
      • Greenwood Avenue
      • Hilltop (Lagonda east to end)
      • Kensington Place, between Fountain Avenue and Limestone Street
      • Olympic (Home to Apollo)
      • Parker Street
      • Race Street, between North and Rubsam streets
      • Red Coach Drive
      • Roberts Avenue
      • Roscommon Drive, between Limestone Street and Prestwick Village
      • South Clairmont Avenue, between Sheridan and Lexington avenues
      • South Jackson Street, between State and Dibert streets
      • Springmont (Oakleaf to Driscoll)
      • Tecumseh Avenue
      • Vester (El Camino to Derr)
      • Perrin (Plum to Wittenberg)
    • Four public forums held to gather input on future paving program.

This type of progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum. I’m proud to be part of a community that achieves great things when we work together toward common goals. I’m most proud of my fellow Springfielders, for the faith they placed in us to help carry our community toward a better future. And, I’m grateful for the men and women who work in our organization, working hard every day to serve the people of Springfield, and making our city an even better place to work, live and play.

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