Twinsburg voters will decide on Issue 24 on Nov. 3

Charter change would lower amount of property tax city can approve without going to voters

Staff Report
Marti Franks, right, helps Tyler Hoffman, 18, a recent high school graduate, with the voter registration process. Tyler came with his mother Karen. This will be Tyler's first election where he is eligible to vote.  The Hoffmans live in Solon.

TWINSBURG – The decision on whether to lower the amount of property tax the city can approve without going to voters will be decided by the municipality’s voters Nov. 3.

Issue 24, If passed, would, according to the ballot language, amend the city’s charter “to place a further restriction on the 10-mill limitation set forth [by] the Ohio Constitution by limiting City Council’s ability to generate revenue for all purposes of the municipality from the current 7 mills to 2 mills.”

State law allows communities to impose 10 mills of property taxes before they have to ask voters for approval. Some communities, including Twinsburg, have restricted their own power even further by putting additional limitations in their city charters. Twinsburg has limited its own ability to 7 mills. Issue 24 would further restrict it to 2 mills.

City Council had approved a phased-in 4.9-mill property tax levy increase in July; however, Council repealed the full increase, leaving the first 2.4 mill increase in place at its Oct. 13 meeting. With the 0.6 mills of charter millage, the total inside millage would be 3 mills – one mill more than Issue 24 would allow.

Issue 24 was the result of a citizen petition led by Sue Clark who, with other volunteers, collected 1,065 signatures to get the charter amendment on the ballot. The effort needed 830 valid signatures. The charter change proposal was spurred by City Council’s approval of a charter millage increase this summer.

Clark said that Issue 24 was a matter of allowing voters a greater say in tax increases.

“Issue 24 is so important,” Clark said. “It gives voters a right to [have a] say about our property taxes. Fire and police are protected, their pensions are protected. This is about our right to vote. We should always have the right to vote.”

Michael Turle, who also helped with the signature collection, said that “Issue 24 was borne out of our council's inability to control their spending.”

“Had they been responsible with our finances, the police and fire pensions that we have been paying for well over 50 years would not be any problem,” Turle said. “I have heard of no property tax increases anywhere in the greater Cleveland area, and all of those communities have police and fire departments and COVID-19 related setbacks. Our only distinction is our failed experiment of the clubhouse, which continues to cost taxpayers $31,000 each month. Council put their wants before our needs. If there are inadequate finances available for our safety services, council can simply come to the voters and I am absolutely confident that it will be overwhelmingly approved. I will walk the streets personally to see that happen.”

Mayor Ted Yates said that in past decades, unvoted charter millage was used for general operations, to partner with the school district to support the construction of the new high school and to weather difficult times. Yates said the year 2014 was "the first time in over 40 years that the city had neither charter millage, Chrysler anchoring the income tax or the extra quarter percent of income tax providing much needed revenue."

Yates said the city's general fund expenditures have stayed relatively stable in recent years, going from around $27.8 million in 2014 to just over $27.9 million in 2019.

"During those five years we have maintained cost of living increases for all our employees, expanded our safety forces, seen significant increases in health insurance/benefits, and experienced an overall increase in operating expenses in every department," he said.

However, Yates said the city can't continue to cut expenses without cutting services and workers to make ends meet.

"That is the reason council approved the use of charter millage to help fund our safety forces," he said. "The authorized millage supporting police/fire pensions and capital (fleet, equipment, station improvements) would provide an indirect benefit to all of our city services and operations. A 'no' vote on Issue 24 would guarantee needed revenue to our police and fire departments, but it would also provide needed relief to the General Fund that contributes to city-wide services and amenities."

Councilman Scott Barr (at-large), explained the city's financial situation at a September meeting, saying the city's expected revenues were “down roughly $1.57 million to date, which is about an 8.5% loss” as the economy contracted following pandemic shutdowns.

The city has received some relief connected with the COVID-19 pandemic, he noted.

“We've received two rounds of state funding,” Barr said. “We've received approximately $400,000 and we're kind of determining how to spend it. It looks like those funds are going to continue to be allocated towards police and fire salaries and expenses.

He further said the restriction on inside millage would affect the city's ability to borrow money.

“Should Issue 24 pass, it will likely without question hurt the city's bond rating as well," Barr said. "It's very clear that Issue 24 is not good for the city of Twinsburg and its bond rating.”