Twinsburg officials stress need for tax levy on May 4 ballot

Ken Lahmers
Special to MyTownNEO

TWINSBURG – Mayor Ted Yates and some City Council members took considerable time to tout the 2.4-mill real estate tax levy on the May 4 ballot – and respond to levy opponents – during Council’s April 13 meeting.

The officials said a lot of misinformation has been circulating, and they encourage all residents who have questions about the levy and city finances to contact city officials rather than relying on hearsay.

They stressed the $1.7 million coming from the levy would be dedicated solely to police/fire pensions and police/fire capital improvements. Councilman Greg Bellan emphasized it would not be used to pay for Gleneagles Golf Course clubhouse debt as some people seem to think.

At the meeting, Council adopted a resolution in support of the school district’s 5.12-mill renewal levy, which generates about $5.2 million, and district officials spoke in support of the city’s levy. Both sides touted the partnership they have forged.

Of the 2.4 mills, 0.7 each would provide funds for police and fire pensions, while 1 mill would go for police and fire capital improvements. If passed, the levy would cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 about $84 a year.

On social media, some residents have questioned the need for the additional revenue, and resident Mike Turle raised that issue at Council’s session.

Turle noted the city stands to gain $3.7 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act over the next two years, which he said would be a big boost if the city is having trouble with its finances.

“The $3.7 million would enable the city to replace some already budgeted funds, and thus free up money to cover police and fire needs,” he said. “That would not burden people with a tax levy at a very inopportune time [the COVID-19 panedemic]. There are a lot of people still trying to get back on their feet.”

He added President Joe Biden’s $2.2 trillion infrastructure assistance plan, if it becomes reality, also would help the city get some important projects completed.

“Has the city’s budget been re-evaluated taking into account this influx of money?” Turle asked. “What’s the city’s plan for this sudden financial windfall? Everyone wants to know. I want to know.”

But Yates and Councilman Scott Barr said they do not consider the federal money a “windfall.” And they noted the proposed $3.7 million is not guaranteed, because Congress may reconsider the distribution to give townships a cut of the funds, thus reducing the share for cities.

Yates explained the American Rescue Plan Act funds can only be used for certain things, such as business grants, water and sewer infrastructure, hazard pay for essential workers and to offset income loss.

He said finding additional revenue has been talked about for a long time under several finance directors and Councils. “We need to look at ways to have more revenue come into the city on a long-term basis,” he said. “And it can’t all be income tax-based.”

Yates said from 2013 to 2015, the city lost $6 million from its general fund, partly because 0.25 percent was taken off the books. Income tax revenue has inched back up to about $22 million annually, but is down about $800,000 in the last year.

“Meanwhile, expenses and labor costs have gone up significantly, including a hike in health care costs from $2.1 million in 2012 to $3.7 million today,” he said. “Police and fire operations alone have gone up 30 percent in the last 10 years. We’ve supported those departments at the expense of others.

“We’ve managed to compensate employees with raises, but can’t continue to do that without additional revenue. The CARES Act money in 2020 allowed us to increase our general fund balance by $3 million, but we also were able to do that with a 10 percent cut in spending and by putting off projects.”

“Putting off those projects doesn’t mean they are unnecessary,” added Barr. “They have to be done sometime.”

“We’ve done our due diligence,” said Councilman Bill Furey. “Our second state performance audit determined that the city is operating extremely lean, and the auditors recommended we charge for services such as trash collection and rely less on income tax revenue.

“Raising the property tax millage would be less of a burden than residents paying for trash pickup. And residents should realize that Twinsburg has the lowest property tax millage of all cities in Summit County.”

In December, a survey conducted by the city and responded to by more than 1,000 residents showed nearly 62 percent would be “very supportive” or “supportive” of the 2.4-mill levy for police and fire, with 17 percent being “neutral” and 22 percent being “unsupportive” or “very unsupportive.”

If the levy fails, “the city will be forced to make some difficult decisions,” including cutting services and charging for trash and recycling, according to information on the city's website.

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