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City seeks 20-year sunset on sales tax

Passage April 2 could generate $11 million for capital projects annually

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A city of Springfield quarter-cent capital improvement sales tax is set for a vote April 2 with a proposed 20-year sunset. The tax has generated around $250 million since its inception 30 years ago.

First approved by voters in 1989, the tax issue has been renewed nine times, most recently in 2016 when it passed with 86 percent of the vote.

Previously, the tax has had a three-year sunset, but City Council is seeking a longer period this time around, said Martin Gugel, associate director of Springfield Public Works. At council’s request in October 2018, Public Works provided a list of proposed road, bridge, stormwater and sidewalk projects with costs for cycles of three, five, 10 and 20 years.

The 20-year option ultimately was favored to allow for a longer window of planning, Gugel said.

“When you’re looking at extending that cycle length, there are some benefits to that. It gives us flexibility,” he said. “The longer term changes the way we’re able to handle the tax fund.”

Projects are regularly broken into design and construction phases – a necessity under a three-year cycle, he said.

“Because of the nature of the projects, it’s very typical for us to have to split up project phases,” he said, adding some aren’t able to be completed in three years or less. “By doing a longer time period, it really allows us to fully commit to completing all phases of the project from conceptual design through final construction and not have to have a renewal process enter in for us to continue the project.”

The tax currently generates around $10 million per year, but Gugel said the city is projecting the annual amount should increase to $11 million, based on economic trends.

Forging partnerships
Among projects completed by the quarter-cent sales tax funds are widening Republic Road, as well as intersection improvements at James River Freeway and Campbell Avenue, and at National Avenue and Primrose Street. The latter project, completed in 2008, was one of two private-public partnerships the city has forged with CoxHealth, Gugel said.

Partnerships have helped leverage funding, Gugel said. The projects would likely still have been completed without a partner or sales tax funding, he added, “but they would have been on a much longer timeline.”

CoxHealth donated all right of way and easements for the National and Primrose intersection improvement project, for which Gugel said the city spent $2.1 million. A second intersection improvement project, completed in 2015, widened Primrose to the west of Kings Avenue. The project cost was $1.8 million, with Cox again donating all right of way and easements, as well as $70,353 toward construction, he added.

Rod Schaffer, vice president of facilities with CoxHealth, said the projects were a result of good communication between the city and the health system. The Primrose and Kings project was timed with Cox’s $130 million West Tower expansion.

“We had traffic improvements that we needed to install at the corner of Kings and Primrose, which was the new [traffic] light and our new entry coming into the hospital,” Schaffer said. “I can tell you it would have been a lot more difficult without the tax funding. The city only has so many priorities and I know that. We try to partner to best utilize both our resources, particularly when we’re doing public-private partnerships.”

Whether it’s CoxHealth or Prime Inc., which was part of a 2016 partnership for an expansion of Packer Road north of Kearney Street, Gugel said getting feedback from businesses is always going to be key to developing and maintaining infrastructure.

“Transportation is part of that economic engine,” he said. “You have an infrastructure system for traffic to serve the businesses, and they benefit from a system that is well maintained and is something that meets their needs.”

Lining up
Should the tax renewal pass in April, several of Public Works’ proposed construction projects line up with results from a public survey conducted last summer. The city received over 1,500 responses from residents with widening and intersection upgrade projects identified as priorities, according to city documents. Among those is the Galloway Street widening, Division Street reconstruction and improving the intersection of Battlefield Road and Lone Pine Avenue – all of which are also part of the city’s five-year road and bridge construction plan.

Gugel said the city has conducted similar surveys three other times prior to a tax renewal request, and he doesn’t recall a time the city had identified a project needing attention that residents didn’t also note in the survey.

“Each year, the projects the citizens look at as being important to them are ones we identify as also having a need,” he said. “It’s reassuring to know we’re on the same page.”

Setting a five-year plan for projects allows for some future goal setting but also the ability to revisit and update the list as necessary, Gugel said, noting the city also studies the four council zones to ensure needs are being met as equitably as possible. The Citizens’ Tax Oversight Committee, which reviews all of the city taxes, also is a key to ensuring the public that city money is being spent as promised, he added.

“The accountability will still be there,” he said.

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