Munroe Falls -- In a little more than two weeks, voters will decide whether the city is to receive nearly $800,000 in additional tax revenue.
City voters are asked to consider approving three separate local tax issues on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, including:
Issue 20, an increase in the city's income tax rate from 2 percent to 2.25 percent that city officials say would raise an estimated $276,000 annually for general operating expenses. Residents who pay local income taxes in another community would receive a 100 percent tax credit from Munroe Falls. This means that Munroe Falls residents who work in Akron, for example, where the local income tax rate is 2.25 percent, would not pay any tax in Munroe Falls while residents who work in a community where they are paying a 2 percent rate, such as Stow or Cuyahoga Falls, would pay 0.25 percent in Munroe Falls.
Issue 21, a five-year, 2.8-mill police levy that would raise about $300,000 annually and cost homeowners just under $100 annually per $100,000 in market value.
Issue 22, a 10-year, 2-mill capital improvement levy, to pay for such needs as road work and stormwater infrastructure, that would raise $214,000 annually and cost homeowners about $70 annually per $100,000 in market value.
Currently, the only city property tax levies are a 1.5-mill fire levy and a 1.7-mill EMS levy that annually raise about $160,000 and $182,000 respectively to fund the fire department's operating costs. According to the Summit County Fiscal Office, together they cost homeowners about $100 annually per $100,000 in market value.
Mayor James Armstrong told the Stow Sentry Oct. 18 that uncertainty over the ballot issues is complicating budgeting for 2017.
"We're essentially putting together two budgets -- what do we do if the levies pass and what do we do if they don't pass," he said.
City officials say the city is losing about $125,000 annually after the state cut municipal share of sales taxes in 2010 and about $50,000 annually after the elimination by the state of the inheritance tax in 2012.
In addition, say city officials, the two proposed property tax levies together are not much more than the 20-year, 4.25-mill capital improvement levy -- which provided about $455,000 annually to pay off a bond issue for improvements to city buildings -- that expired in 2014. They add that the income tax increase would nearly plug a deficit hole chipping away at general fund cash reserves to the tune of about $300,000 annually. Those cash reserves were at about $1.63 million at the beginning of the year.
The city tried to replace the bond issue levy with a 4-mill police levy that would have raised about $430,000 annually, but voters narrowly rejected it in November 2014.
But Armstrong said requesting a tax increase is not just about plugging holes, but about improving services. He said the city relies too much on part-time employees, which tends to result in a higher turnover rate. The fire department staff is nearly entirely part time, while the police department has seven full-time officers, up from five when he took office at the beginning of 2016, but down from eight in 2005, and the service department has six full-time employees, up from four at the beginning of the year, but down from seven 10 years ago.
The police department's budget is around $1 million, of which about $815,000 is for personnel.
When asked what could be cut if the tax issues do not pass, Armstrong said, "This is the reason for the sleepless nights. There really isn't anywhere to cut."
In addition, he said, the city has road work and stormwater mitigation needs that it cannot currently afford. Residents in the city's south west and northeast quadrants in particular have complained of flooding in their neighborhoods, with some complaints coming from residents in the city's northwest quadrant, in recent years and Service Director Jim Bowery said repaving of residential streets this year, including Cathy Drive, Hunter Street and Luden Avenue, was not done because of funding issues.
"We didn't do any paving this year," said Bowery.
Even the city's $15,000 annual sidewalk inspection program has been eliminated, said Bowery. Bowery said sidewalk repairs or replacements, which residents pay for, are now being handled as "nuisance abatement" issues, with sidewalks only examined when the city receives complaints of problems in a specific location.
One need in particular that Armstrong said worries him is one of two water lines under the Cuyahoga River no longer functions, leaving just a single line to provide water to areas north of the river.
"What's the adage? Bad news doesn't get better over time. Projects don't get less expensive over time," he said.
Armstrong said Munroe Falls Citizens for Issues 20, 21, 22, a political action committee registered with the Summit County Board of Elections, is raising money and campaigning for the issues. Armstrong said residents may get visits from volunteers campaigning for the issues.
"We're trying to get people together to canvass the neighborhoods," he said.
Armstrong said he has spoken to residents about the tax issues.
"When I go to talk to people and say 'this is where we are,' they seem to understand," he said, adding he recognizes that this does not necessarily mean they will vote for it.
"They're pretty educated people. You can't operate a city without money," said Armstrong.
Facebook: Jeff Saunders Record