TWINSBURG – To ease the financial burden brought on by COVID-19 and to boost revenue, City Council is considering increasing real estate inside millage, postponing some capital projects and reducing the workforce.
Councilman-Finance Committee Chairman Scott Barr said May 12 the panel favors increasing property owners’ tax obligations by 4.9 mills to raise an additional $3.2 million annually. Council can hike the inside millage without voter approval.
Law Director David Maistros said legislation to increase the inside millage could be introduced at Council’s May 27 meeting. Barr said the city would be restoring the 4.9 inside mills which were removed from property owners’ tax duplicates in 1997.
"This is not an easy decision, and it was one that the mayor, finance and law directors and finance committee toiled over," said Barr.
Mayor Ted Yates added, "The last few weeks have been some of the most challenging for me as mayor, and it’s tough to have to make adjustments to our inside millage.
"We’ve worked hard over the last four to five years to lean up our budget while seeing costs for salaries and health care rise significantly. We looked into increasing revenue even before COVID-19, and now it’s even more of a necessity to do so."
"The city faces a big loss of income tax revenue because of COVID-19-related unemployment," said Barr. "Income tax accounts for about 85 percent of our general fund revenue, one of the highest percentages in the state. We need to reduce our reliance on income tax revenue."
Finance Director Sarah Buccigross said the city could lose as much as $2 million in income tax revenue this year, and another $3.5 million in income tax receipts could be delayed. She added the owner of a residential property valued at $240,000, the average in Twinsburg, would pay an additional $411.60 a year if the 4.9-mill increase is enacted.
"This millage increase shouldn’t surprise anyone," said Councilman Bill Furey. "It’s not the most popular thing to do, but it’s the right thing. We’ve been underfunded in our safety services and pension funds since 1997."
Buccigross said Twinsburg’s current inside millage is 0.3 for the police pension fund, 0.3 for the fire pension fund and 1.31 for a parks bond issue. Twinsburg’s city charter allows the government to levy up to 7 inside mills without voter approval.
Furey noted Twinsburg still would have the lowest inside millage and sewer rates among Summit County cities, and would continue to provide garbage/recyclables collection at no cost to residents.
Barr said 2.5 mills of the tax increase would go into the general fund for public safety and public works salaries, 1 mill would go for public safety capital expenditures, 0.7 mill for the police pension fund and 0.7 for the fire pension fund.
"The millage would make the pension funds solvent," he said. "Since 2014, we’ve had to meet $5.2 million of those pension obligations from the general fund. Those obligations were committed to years ago."
Barr added Council plans to reduce capital spending this year by about $1.11 million, and hopes to save $1.6 million annually through staff reductions. He added about half of the 36 employees who have been furloughed during the COVID-19 shutdown either will not return, may only return part-time or will not be replaced if they retire.
Employment in the police, fire and wastewater treatment departments would be maintained at current levels. In fact, the city proposes to add three firefighters and some dispatchers in the next year or two.
Major capital projects to be postponed this year include Darrow Road stormwater improvements (savings of $550,000), new recreation center roof ($200,000), golf course maintenance ($98,000), Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades and bridge at Perici Amphitheater ($95,000) and road striping ($85,000).
An ordinance to reduce the 2020 capital improvement appropriations will be on second reading at Council’s May 27 meeting.
"These are unprecedented times, and very difficult decisions have to be made," said Barr. "There are no areas of city operations which have not been affected. We’re all in this together, and everybody has to give a little right now."
In other matters May 13, Council OK’d a three-year contract with dispatchers and clerks represented by the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. They will receive 2.5 percent pay hikes in each of the three years, the same amount other union employees already have been granted. The contract is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020.
Meanwhile, Yates announced branch chipping will resume June 1, and residents can place branches on the curb just prior to that. He added the city hasn’t decided when to fully open City Hall to the public, and a few community garden plots are still available.
"The city also is looking to turn over Aaron & Moses restaurant operations at the Gleneagles clubhouse to a private entity," he said, adding deadline for proposals from interested businesses is May 25 at 4:30 p.m.
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