AST PALESTINE — A .5 percent income tax increase for East Palestine is officially on its way to being on the May primary election ballot .

Village Council took the final steps during this week’s meeting to get the tax on the ballot, but it still needs to be certified with the county auditor’s office. Council approved by a 4-1 vote amending the tax code to include the increase, if passed, and separate legislation actually placing the matter on the election ballot.

The matters were passed without discussion or comment, although Councilman Doug Simpson pointed out additional discussion and information will be provided to the public in the coming weeks and months at the election approaches.

If voters approve, the tax would be assessed on earned income only, with revenue to begin being collected in 2020. The village already has a 1 percent permanent income tax.

The only council member who opposed was DJ Yokley, who has expressed his concerns in past meetings about asking residents for an increase. He feels it is only a temporary solution to the village’s financial problems and that it would keep people from choosing to live or work in the village.

He has also said that it wouldn’t be fair if the majority of people voting on the increase are on pensions and would not pay while the remainder would be paying the additional taxes.

Yokley feels that the village needs to be transparent with voters about how the money will be spent.

Finance Director Traci Thompson has said the additional tax would generate $436,532 a year in revenue.

Council already passed legislation that would split the revenue among the general fund, police and fire departments, with the general fund to receive a minimum of 50 percent and the police and fire departments a minimum of 25 percent each.

Village officials in favor of the tax have said it is needed to help the departments already working on skeleton crews. They said the police department is understaffed for the village’s population and compared to other comparable communities.

Specifically, Police Chief Jim Brown III has said there is only one patrolman on duty 18 out of 24 hours. The department currently has five full-time officers and two full-time dispatchers.

Some residents who turned out to speak during a public meeting earlier this month said they were worried about the lack of ambulance and EMS availability in town.

The EMS department has no full-time EMTs, and fire Chief Josh Brown has said that one out of every four EMS calls have to be dropped due to lack of manpower.

Brown has also said that while an income tax increase won’t fund establishing full-time EMTs, it will pave the way for permanent part-time employees.

Fire levy money is generally put toward more higher priced items like fire engines and other equipment, not wages, he has said.

kwhite@mojonews.com December 2018