Twinsburg Council split over tax hike but approves it 4-3

Kent Weeklies

TWINSBURG — After more than two months of deliberations, City Council has agreed to raise the city’s charter/inside millage by 4.9 over the next two years, but the decision was far from unanimous.

Council approved the property tax hike by a 4-3 vote Tuesday. Bill Furey, Scott Barr, Greg Bellan and Jo-Ann McFearin favored the increase, while Sam Scaffide, Maureen Stauffer and Daisy Walker opposed it.

The approved legislation calls for the millage to rise by 2.4 in 2021 and an additional 2.5 in 2022. Of the total, 1.4 mill would go for police and fire pensions, 1 mill for police and fire capital improvements and 2.5 mills for general fund operations of the police, fire and service departments.

Twinsburg’s current charter/inside millage is 0.3 for the police pension fund and 0.3 for the fire pension fund, or 0.6 total, which is the city’s only charter/inside millage. There also is a citizen-approved 1.31 mills on the books for a parks bond issue.

The charter allows officials to levy up to 7 mills without voter approval, superseding Ohio law, which allows communities to levy up to 10 inside mills.

With 1 mill for parkland debt coming off the books in 2021 and another 0.3-mill in parkland debt coming off in 2022, the actual hike for property owners would be 1.4 mills in 2021 and 2.2 mills in 2022, or a total increase of 3.6 mills.

Finance Director Sarah Buccigross has said for a property valued at $250,000, a resident would pay about $122.50 more in real estate taxes in 2021 and another $192.50 more in 2022 for a total increase of $315.

Barr has said the 4.9 inside mills would restore taxation which was removed from property owners’ tax duplicates in 1997. The 4.9-mill hike would generate about $3.2 million a year.

Furey said the city’s inside millage rate is the lowest of 30 communities in Summit County and would rise to only 23rd with the increase. He noted income-eligible senior citizens can realize “significant savings” on their property tax bills by applying for the homestead exemption.

Mayor Ted Yates said there have been many “emotionally driven conversations” about the tax hike.

“It’s our job to make really tough decisions, and we’re trying our best to provide amenities to residents at the most reasonable cost,” he said.

He noted with an estimated $1.8 million drop expected in income tax revenue this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, it would be impossible to continue to offer some of the amenities without additional revenue.

“COVID-19 has impacted our operations, but it is not the only reason why more funds are needed,” he said. “I realize this was a difficult decision for Council, but an increase in the inside millage has been discussed for years.”

“We’ve been cutting costs as much as possible, and we’ve been told by the state auditor’s office [in a recent performance audit] that we’re performing well from a financial standpoint,” said Furey. “This millage increase will balance our taxation sources and will be a positive move for the future.”

Prior to the vote on the tax hike, Stauffer proposed an amendment which would have enacted only the first half of the total millage increase — 2.4 — for the time being. Scaffide and Walker supported the amendment, but it failed in a 4-3 vote.

Stauffer suggested taking another six months or so to discuss possible options and get more input from the public, and she also proposed allowing residents to vote on the tax boost.

“It’s never a good time to raise taxes,” said Scaffide. “And this global pandemic makes it even harder to consider now. I could possibly support raising the millage by half of the proposed total now, but not in good conscience can I support the entire 4.9 mills during these tough times.”

Stauffer’s motion to amend the legislation drew the ire of Furey, who said he was “outraged” that she didn’t propose the amendment sooner.

“We would have had plenty of time to discuss your proposal during tonight’s caucus meeting,” he said.

Three residents spoke about the tax hike prior to the vote. Sue Clark accused Council of “putting wants ahead of needs.” She urged members “to put the brakes on” and not move ahead with the tax hike until studying how other communities are dealing with their financial needs.

Kathy Turle Waldron accused Council of not engaging the public in conversations, saying there have been no public forums held or surveys taken.

“If you make decisions without collecting data, you’re not acting responsibly,” she said.

Walker refuted Turle Waldron’s comments by saying Council is making good decisions on behalf of the community, and some members have been involved with doing that for several years. “We’ve taken a lot of time on this matter,” she added.

Mike Turle said Council does not engage effectively with the community, and “just does what you want to do.” He said he’s proposed several initiatives over the years for betterment of the city, but officials have ignored them.

He said he’s now planning two new initiatives – “stop taxing our people” and the GOLF program (get off the land financially). The latter refers to his belief that officials should stop burdening the city with general fund bailouts of Gleneagles Golf Course.

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