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Police and Firefighters Back Mayor's Request for Tax Hike

Columbus Firefighters and Police unions said Thursday they support the mayor's request for an income tax increase. Union representatives say safety is at the forefront of the decision.

Columbus Police and Firefighters Unions came together in support of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman's call for a 25 percent income tax increase. Firefighters union president Jack Reall said the choice comes down to one thing: safety.

"I know that if our budget decreases significantly the only option for us is service cuts. We can lay off as many people as we want and not save money until we close stations. When we close stations that's when it gets dangerous for the citizens and our members and that's primarily what we're trying to avoid," Reall said.

Columbus Fraternal Order of Police president Jim Gilbert said the department can not afford to lose police officers. He said that would put the public and officers in danger.

"If cuts are made I'm concerned with the back up our officers, will have to wait for back up. Waiting or back up means the difference between life and death when you're that person who's a victim of a robbery or a shooting. So it's, safety's very important here. Our number one focus with this is it's for the safety of the public and the safety of police officers," he said.

Coleman said the proposed income tax increase - from two percent to two-and-a-half percent - is necessary to maintain basic city services.

But economic down turns are temporary. And some governments ask for temporary levies to get them through tough times. For instance, South-Western City Schools recently called for a four year levy.

But the proposed tax hike Coleman wants is permanent. He said the city considered something short-term, but the mayor said an increase has been needed for years. It's been almost three decades since Columbus's income tax has been raised.

Coleman said even if the measure passes it will not be enough close the city's budget gap. The proposed increase is projected to bring in about $97 million additional revenue each year. He said the city needs $105 million.

"The truth is we gotta continue to tighten our belts. And if we desperately need these resources now, and we've needed it in the past, we're definitely going to need it in the future as well. So I think it would be disingenuous to the public to tell them that in the future that we won't need these resources," Coleman said.

Voters will go to the polls to decide in an August special election.