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The Athens City Council in committee session on Monday, January 14, 2019. (FILE)

City Council: Athens forced to comply with new centralized municipal income tax law

Athens City Council discussed state preemption over municipal income tax laws on Monday, as well as the disposal of an aging fire truck. 

City council introduced a bill that would put the city in compliance with the state’s new centralized municipal income tax laws, which will ultimately allow the state to keep a percentage of Athens’ income tax.

The law is intended to ease the burden on municipalities by lessening their administrative duties. The state, for the extra work they are doing, wanted by municipalities or not, allows itself to keep a cut of the city’s designated income tax, Councilman Jeff Risner, D-2nd Ward, said.

“Our choices are either do it or we are no longer in compliance with our taxes,“ Risner said. “Now, the state of Ohio can take that income tax form, figures it out, looks at it and says, ‘Okay, thank you very much. This is how much tax you owe, or here's your refund, or, guess what, you owe some more.’”

Risner said that the state made this move because it needs the money. 

“So, they're doing us a service that we don't even want,” he said. “What's happened is the state of Ohio has reduced their income tax to the point where their budget can't possibly balance anymore unless they come up with alternative revenue streams. And one of them is just (to) take it from the cities.”

Councilman Kent Butler, D-1st Ward, introduced an ordinance that would authorize the disposal of an outdated fire truck that is no longer needed for municipal purposes. The truck is no longer useful to the city due to the approximately 66,000 city miles it has traveled, which can be a deceivingly high number due to the fact that the truck regularly runs on city streets that cause wear and tear from constant starts and stops, Butler said.

“We all know that highway miles are a lot easier on a vehicle than city miles,” Butler said.

In 2018, the truck made about 1,000 different fire runs, which can range from cases of an alarm going off because of burnt popcorn to structure fires, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said. This includes 10 instances in which there was at least $4,000 worth of property damage. 

Butler said that regardless of what triggered the run, the wear on the vehicle is the same. Mileage does not discriminate between false alarms or real emergencies, he said.

The truck was recently appraised and given a current trade-in value of $13,000. According to Patterson, one of Athen’s more recent pumper truck disposals sold in a sealed bid for more than $30,000.

In addition, Risner introduced a related ordinance that would allow the city to purchase a new truck, authorizing the city’s service-safety director to spend up to $750,000 from the capital improvements fund to purchase the vehicle.

Butler expressed his gratitude to Ohio University for past support in assisting the city in purchasing two fire trucks. While the university accounts for many of the fire runs, it does not have its own fire department.

“That’s a big deal and a significant amount of money that they’ve assisted over the years,” Butler said. “We have a symbiotic relationship with this community.”

Chris Knisely, city council president, also announced that city council is set to meet with OU President Duane Nellis and other university administrators at the end of the month at the OU Inn to discuss various items, including affordable housing.


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