Twinsburg residents circulating petition to overturn tax hike

Second referendum would limit unvoted millage authority

APRIL HELMS Reporter
Kent Weeklies

TWINSBURG – As of July 27, more than 300 signatures have been collected on two petitions – one that calls for a 4.9-mill tax levy recently passed by Twinsburg City Council to be placed on the November ballot, and the second that would lower the millage that council could approve without voter approval from 7 mills to 2 mills.

The petitions stem from the 4.9-mill tax that was approved by council on July 14. The approved legislation calls for the millage to rise by 2.4 mills in 2021 and an additional 2.5 mills in 2022. Of the total, 1.4 mills 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.

The council vote was split 4-3, with Bill Furey, Scott Barr, Greg Bellan and Jo-Ann McFearin voting in favor of the increase, and Sam Scaffide, Maureen Stauffer and Daisy Walker voting against it.

Twinsburg resident Sue Clark, who is chairing the effort, said that at a minimum of 830 valid signatures for the petitions is needed by Aug. 13 to place the issues on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“I don’t think that will be hard to do,” Clark said Monday. “We will be out this week and this weekend. More than 100 people said they would sign tonight. We will be driving around getting signatures, because of COVID.”

This past weekend, Clark said that petitioners had set up a table near the Ravenna Road Gionino’s Pizzaria.

“We were really busy this weekend,” Clark said. “At times, there were 15 people deep, socially distanced, of course, waiting to sign. We also went to Sharonbrook [Drive], a resident told us we could use her driveway. We are planning to be in Ethan’s Green this weekend,” on Aug. 1.

Mayor Ted Yates said that a recent performance audit “highlights that we operate as lean, or leaner, than our peer cities.”

“In a world where expenses continue to increase, we cannot continue this path without addressing the revenue side of the equation,” Yates said. “In 2013, our income tax revenue peaked at 25 million. In 2015 it dropped to 19.5 million. Through economic development we have slowly fought our way back to 22 million. Most would understand that expenses to maintain our basic operations have increased and it is impossible to continue to offer the same level of service with stagnant or reduced revenue.”

Yates said that 86% of the city’s general fund came from income tax, “which is devastating in downturns in the economy.”

“The current plan adopted by Council provides a phased in approach of a 4.9 mill reinstatement of property taxes that we had prior to 1996,” Yates said. “The net effect of the increase is 3.6 mills due to 1.3 mills falling off during the next two years.”

Twinsburg resident Michael Turle said petitioners have not been canvasing the neighborhoods “because of COVID concerns.” But there have been opportunities to sign petitions while staying in their cars, and those passing out petitions have taken the step to make sure that the pens that are used get sterilized, “although a lot of people are using their pens, which we really appreciate.”

Turle said that the charter change allowing council to place up to a 7-mill property tax was placed on the charter in 1973, and it was intended to protect the city in case of an emergency.

“Say our residents were hit with a tornado and the water was knocked out, we would be screwed,” Turle said.

However, this is the first time in the city’s history that this rule has been used, Turle added.

Clark said that some residents had voiced their concern with the tax at the July 14 meeting, “especially with the pandemic, and they went and put the millage on anyway.”

“They have ignored safety forces for a while, and allowed spending that shouldn’t have happened until the police and fire pensions were taken care of,” Clark said. “We couldn’t vote on the Old School, we couldn’t vote on the [Gleneagles Golf Course] Clubhouse, we couldn’t vote on the roundabout. This is just a matter of giving Twinsburg residents back their voice. Any time someone wants to take my right to vote away, it gets personal to me. There are people who died, who laid down their lives, for this right.”

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.

Councilman Scott Barr said in a previous interview that 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.

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, according to information from the city.

The mayor said that both Police Chief  Christopher Noga and Fire Chief Tim Morgan “have publicly voiced their support.”

“Raising taxes is always difficult and there is never a good time to discuss it or take action,” Yates said. “If the petitioners are successful and the tax levy fails our immediate financial future is uncertain and would lead to charges for services and potentially more layoffs that could include our safety forces.”

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@recordpub.com