MACEDONIA — At a special work session last Thursday, City Council members favored placing a 0.25 percent income tax increase on the fall ballot to fund the police, fire and service departments.
It is essentially the same issue that failed by 174 votes at the May 8 primary election. The boost would generate an estimated $1.2 million to $1.4 million per year. It would raise the current income tax rate of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent.
Legislation to place the 0.25 percent tax hike on the Nov. 6 ballot may be introduced at Council’s Thursday, June 14 meeting. The deadline to submit issues to the Summit County Board of Elections is Aug. 8.
Council reps also discussed the possibility of eliminating some city programs and events at least until the end of the year. Finance Director Rhonda Hall said eliminating a long list of those amenities could save the city between $126,900 and $139,500 per year.
Some of the amenities on the list are the Fun Fest, holiday tree lighting, Safety Night, city newsletter, rain barrel program, branch chipping, fishing derby and senior citizen programs such as snow plowing, gutter cleaning and trash pickup.
"Many communities our size have yearly cash carryovers of $3 million to $3.5 million in their general funds," said Mayor Joseph Migliorini. Hall said the city has had minimal carryovers in recent years and could have a $1.4 million carryover into 2019, but $3 million is a more favorable figure.
"We’ve been really challenged financially in recent years," said Migliorini. "Things were going pretty well for a while, then the economy had a setback and problems began."
Councilman Nick Molnar said if all city officials get out and work hard to pass the income tax increase. he is confident voters will respond positively. "We need to stress the seriousness of the situation," he said.
"We don’t want to threaten voters, but we have to get the point across that with rising costs and the loss of a lot of state money in recent years, the city needs additional money to operate."
Migliorini said wages paid to city workers are not comparable with many surrounding communities, and the city hasn’t granted raises recently. "People come here to work and then leave after a while because they can get more money elsewhere," he said.
Prior to the May 8 primary, city officials had said 40 percent of the new money would go to the fire department and 30 percent each to the police and service departments. Molnar suggested not assigning percentages to each department when promoting the Nov. 6 issue.
The city will have a 1-mill levy for the fire department expiring at the end of the year, and Council reps favored not trying to renew it in the fall, hoping passage of the income tax hike will provide money to replace the 1-mill levy.
Hall said the fire levy brings in $400,000 a year, and that money will be lost if the income tax issue fails in the fall. Some Councilmen said if the income tax fails, a fire levy could be tried next May or November, but Hall noted that would mean residents would lose the property tax rollback.
Under the rollback program, the state pays the first 10 percent of the tax bill for all property owners, plus 2.5 percent for owner-occupied homes. The state will still pay the tab on existing levies and their renewals, but will no longer subsidize new levies.
"With the schools having a levy on the fall ballot, too, if we put two city issues on I’m afraid both would fail," said Councilwoman Jan Tilley, who added she is in favor of making some cuts in amenities. "I don’t like to cut anything, but we really have to."
Most of the Council reps did not favor eliminating or reducing the tax credit for residents who work out of town, which was one option cited by Migliorini. The mayor said if that is done, the credit could be restored if the income tax hike passes in November.
"Cutting the income tax credit would be the last resort for me," said Councilman Kevin Bilkie. "I don’t think that’s a good way to garner people’s trust," added Councilman Vini Ventura.
One worry that city officials have is where funds for a state-mandated new 911 system will come from. The system will cost an estimated $110,000, plus $70,000 for the salary and benefits of a required new dispatcher.
Officials will look into the possibility of leasing the 911 equipment instead of buying it to see if that could save money. They also will look into renegotiating the dispatch contract with Sagamore Hills Township and Northfield Village.
Another option would be joining a regional dispatch center, but Council reps were concerned about losing local control and having dispatch service deteriorate. Ventura said response times are lengthened in some areas where a regional system operates.
Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400 ext. 4189 or firstname.lastname@example.org