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August Tax Vote Ripples Through Columbus Council Race

The race for Columbus city council next Tuesday features three democratic incumbents seeking their first full terms, three republican challengers and a write-in independent candidate. The top three finishers will win new four year terms. The race occurs against the backdrop of voter passage of a city income tax increase in early August.

Workers in Columbus began paying the higher income tax this month. Here at Fire Station number 1 at the corner of North 4th Street and Naghten and at other police and fire stations across the city the additional tax revenues saved jobs ..Other cuts made earlier this year .cuts to rec centers and yard waste pick-ups remain on the books. But, the August approval of the income tax increase has rippled through this fall's council race.

"I think it really got things kicked off sooner than normal"

Matt Ferris is one of three republicans in the council race. He says the August vote to boost the city income tax from 2 percent to two and a half percent denied candidates the chance to line up either opposed or in favor of the tax increase. And he says that changed the tone of the fall campaign.

"During the summer the argument was: Do we need this tax? Now that its passed, how do we make sure that we hold their feet to the flames so that they spend this money wisely. We've given them between 90 to 100 million dollars more of our tax money. So somebody has to go in there and hold them accountable. So I think that's the focus." Says Ferris.

Republicans Roseann Hicks and Alicia Healy also acknowledge they've fine-tuned their campaign messages in the wake of a voter-approved tax increase . At campaign appearances and in interviews Hicks says council needs some republican members to serve a watchdog role.

"So for me, in our campaign we've definitely shifted to fiscal responsibility, making sure we're taking steps to insure that these problems and issues don't arise again." Says Hicks.

Alicia Healy says the income tax increase presents what she calls an "opportunity" for republican candidates. She says votes can be gleaned by focusing on what she says it still a need for spending controls at city hall.

"So I think it really will have an effect on this upcoming election in a way that could be negative for the incumbents. To say we do have an alternative and that it to control spending, to reign in the spending." Says Healy.

Independent candidate Joe Motil says he thinks the council field is crowded mostly because of the tax vote.

"I believe that a lot of people decided to run for office due to the fact of the increase."

But, incumbent democrats Troy Miller, Priscilla Tyson, and Eileen Paley hold an alternate view. All supported the income tax increase. Miller and Paley were appointed last January to fill vacancies. Tyson was elected to an unexpired term in 2007. All are seeking their first full terms on council. Miller says voters approved the august tax hike in part, because they are forward-looking and wanted to avoid looming budget cuts.

"I believe the opponents kind of used that as their particular stance on exactly how they want to get the council seat. I think that wisdom kind of would have told them that they need to really look at the particular issue with issue one with the tax increase with the future of Columbus." Says Miller

Priscilla Tyson also counts her support of the tax hike as a campaign plus. She says candidate positions on the tax increase give voters a sharp contrast. And she says those who supported the tax in August will likely support her and other democrats next week.

"The residents of our city decided that it was important that we have this tax increase to maintain our services and so I think that played favorably for me as a council member who was also in support of it." Says Tyson.

But, candidate Eileen Paley is less sanguine about possible links between the tax vote and the race for council.

"I don't know that it has any effect on the council race itself."

Paley reads the August vote as an endorsement for what she calls a "better Columbus."

"It's a matter of what you want out of your city, whether you want basic needs which is what our opponents are saying or whether you want more than basic needs. And I think most people, including myself, wants more than basic needs out of the city because its just a better city than that." Says Paley.

Next Tuesday, City voters will sort out the seven way race. The Franklin County Board of elections predicts between a 20 and 25 percent turn-out.