Marion Mayor Mike Absher

Marion Mayor Mike Absher talks during a City Council meeting Sept. 9.

MARION — Marion Mayor Mike Absher says when somebody sets goals, you have to make a plan to get there.

“Sometime in May, I had asked council to think about and be prepared to create a list of strategic goals. They came up with that list and we documented it on May 28,” Absher said.

They discussed those goals during the miscellaneous discussion portion of the May 28 city council meeting.

One by one, the commissioners gave their ideas:

Doug Patton said the code department needed some type of code reform to create standards by which everyone in town works to improve the community. John Barwick suggested using Tax Increment Financing Districts to improve residential areas in the city, as well as improving commercial areas. He also said the city should look into hiring a grant writer and find a way to keep residents informed.

Jim Webb wants to see Star Bonds come to life to generate interest. He also wants resource officers in all of Marion’s schools. John Stoecklin said the city needs better branding, such as a consistent logo and color scheme for all areas of the city.

The mayor took those ideas and created the city of Marion 2020 Vision proposal. The plan sets five goals that closely match the commissioners’ suggestions:

  • City-wide revitalization focusing on beautification of Marion, signage and branding to present the city better to visitors;
  • Economic development tools to replace TIF, which is set to expire soon;
  • Putting a uniformed, sworn police officer in the remaining schools in Marion;
  • Code enforcement reform; and
  • Position Marion for better marketing to those who seek to place a business or live in Marion.

To accomplish those goals, the city would need additional revenue of around $1.8 million, so they looked at passing an increase to the sales tax. Because the home rule tax rates can only be raised in increments of .25 percent, Absher figured out that a one-quarter percent increase would raise $1.2 million, which was not enough. If the city doubled the amount to half a percent, that would raise too much revenue — $2.4 million.

“Three-quarters of a percent would create enough revenue and give back $1.8 million in city property taxes,” Absher said.

Absher said 60 to 65 percent of sales taxes in the city of Marion are paid by people who do not have a zip code of 62959, or in other words, paid by people who do not live in Marion.

Absher looked at Census information and other sources to find the average value of a home in Marion and the average household income. An average home is worth $115,000, and average annual household income is $46,000. Residents spend about 10 percent of their annual income on items affected by a sales tax, which is about $4,600. Currently, the average Marion resident pays $646 in sales and property taxes. Under the proposed addition, they would pay $437 in sales taxes, and would no longer pay a share of property tax to the city.

The Marion plan would have no affect on other property tax levies, like from the county or school boards.

Absher stressed the goal of the proposal is not to make any winners and losers. It is to position Marion so city leaders can market the town uniquely.

“In reality, we fund almost all of our services through sales taxes already,” Absher said.

Marion property tax revenue pays only for police and fire pensions. The water and sewer departments generate their own revenue. Every other department is paid from sales tax revenue, including the library, Hub Recreation Center, the street department and code enforcement.

“This isn’t that novel or new an idea, we are already doing it,” Absher said. “The vast majority of things we need now are paid by sales tax, not property taxes.”

He added that Marion has 17,000 residents, but 50,000 people pass through Marion daily and use city resources like water, streets, police, fire and the library. They are not charged for that service.

"Doesn't that become a compelling reason to bring your family or your business here?" Absher asked. 

The sales tax would allow Marion to accomplish some very important things, like setting aside $1 million per year for economic development.

Absher believes TIF Districts have definitely grown Marion and says they were a useful tool. He just wants a plan so the town can offer incentives to draw new businesses. Because Marion was one of the first area towns to set up TIF, they will expire first in Marion. Other towns have recently set up TIF, so theirs will be in effect.

“I wasn’t elected to see the town atrophy. I was elected to see the town grow,” Absher said.

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