TALLMADGE – Voters will decide on Nov. 5 if the city income tax rate should be increased by one-quarter percent to maintain the city’s safety forces.
Issue 45 is for a Proposed Municipal Income Tax for an additional 0.25% levy on income.
If approved by voters, the income tax would increase from 2% to 2.25% for the purpose of funding fire/EMS and police protection and related safety services for a continuing period of time.
The 0.25% increase, if approved, would raise an additional $1.4 million for the needs of the safety forces. The money would come from taxable income from those who work in the city. Retired seniors would not be affected.
The increase in income tax dollars would go strictly to the safety forces of police and fire, capital and manpower, Mayor David Kline said. Presently the police department is funded from the general fund. The fire department receives funding from three sources: a fixed levy approved in 2007 for fire and EMS; the general fund; and billing for services. Fire Chief Mike Passarelli explains the latter comes from billing for when an individual is transported to a hospital. In the case of residents, what their insurance pays is accepted and no other reimbursement is required, he said.
With anticipated loss of income tax revenue from Waltco and the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities moving out of Tallmadge, the mayor said he has already reduced the 2020 budget by $200,000. "I’m always going to fund the police and fire departments," he stressed.
Personnel and equipment costs and training mandates have impacted the department’s budget, the chief noted. "This is an expensive operation but a necessity."
One step taken to reduce expenses is the switch from diesel fuel to gas, which "drastically" cut fuel costs as well as purchasing prices and maintenance charges, such as oil changes.
Contractual services have increased, Passarelli said, going from $70,000 four years ago to $110,000 this year.
The funds could also be used to acquire land for a new Fire Station 2 and constructing the facility, estimated at $6 million to $6.5 million. However, with the anticipated decrease in the revenue and upcoming budget, that project could be delayed.
Kline said with bond issue notes coming off the debt, things "will open up in about one year," which could put the fire station project back on track.
"The Fire Study Group said fire stations 1 and 2 have equal call times," Kline said. "They recommended a new station built near the proximity of the existing station."
Fire Station 2 would be near the existing facility located at 735 Eastwood Ave. Fire Station 1 is at 85 Overdale Drive.
In addition, the money would also be used to buy a new ladder truck — which would cost $1.1 million and replace one that is 25 years old. Additional funds would be used to make improvements to the two existing fire stations and police department needs.
Kline said they are "absolutely committed" to purchasing the new truck. While they could rely on mutual aid when the truck is or become inoperable, that’s not always a guaranteed scenario at the time of an emergency.
"It’s never easy going to the taxpayers and asking for money," Kline said. "In this case, asking for an increase of 0.25% in the income tax, we have to ask for their approval."
The police and fire departments have had a 10-year history of cost increases, said Director of Finance Mollie Gilbride.
The overall budget has seen a 40 percent increase in calls and staffing with 3,000 calls this year and rising, Kline said. Each year the city has to transfer more money from its general fund to cover an operating deficit in the fire department. The fire department’s 2019 operating budget is $3.5 million with $1.46 million from the city’s General Fund.
Council members would need to vote on a city ordinance to enact the tax increase after the election. Based on the results of the election, council could adopt the ordinance and put it in place or reject it if residents vote against an increase, according to Kline. They cannot override the voters' decision.
Editor Marsha McKenna contributed to this report. She can be reached at 330-541-9430 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or email@example.com