Ohio Cities Caught in Difficult Climate Look to Their Citizens for Support

Next week, voters in cities across Ohio will be asked to consider how much taxes they pay to sustain vital public services in their communities.  In total, 33 cities are on Tuesday’s ballot asking voters to approve property and/or income tax measures for public safety (police, fire, and EMS), parks & recreation, or capital improvements (roads, water, and sewage systems).

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As a result of state policy shifts, the difficult reality over the past five years, even as the Recession loosened its grip, was that many cities were forced to trim their budgets to the bare bones. And, in many cases, belt-tightening was not enough. Local taxpayers are now being asked to pick up the slack. Of the 33 issues on Tuesday’s ballot, thirteen (40%) call for an increase in taxes.

Below are snapshots of some of the communities explaining how state policies have forced their hands on tax hikes:

Trenton: 5.25 mill levy for police funding

Journal News – City Manager John Jones said state budget cuts have decimated the city’s general fund by almost $200,000 per year.  There are 13 people on the police force serving the city’s population of 12,500, including the chief, he said. That’s down from 17 people a decade ago when there were about 4,500 fewer people to protect.

Gallipolis1 percent income tax increase for public safety expenses

Gallipolis Daily Tribune – Members of the public have asked why the city has seemingly lost so much money over the years. According to the three city officials, much of the funding has been loss due to cuts in state funding and tax law changes. According to budget records, in 2011, the city had access to $3.97 million to operate departments. Funding dropped to roughly $3.93 million in 2012. It fell further to about $3.55 million in 2013.

Elyria: ½ percent income tax increase for multiple expenses

Newsnet5 – [Councilman] Jessie blamed an economic downturn and cuts to the state’s local government fund and the estate tax — cuts that have cost Elyria about $2 million a year.  “Our governor can say he’s balanced the state’s budget and he’s done it on the backs of every city and municipality in the state,” Jessie said.

Toledo: ¼ percent income tax increase for road repair

Toledo Blade – …state government has cut its aid to Toledo — often a matter of returning tax dollars Toledoans send to Columbus — by more than $83 million since 2008. Toledoans have benefited less than richer Ohioans from the state tax cuts these spending reductions helped pay for.  Two-thirds of Toledo’s general-fund budget goes to personnel costs. Seven out of eight jobs funded by the budget are in public safety — police and fire protection and courts. Few Toledoans would suggest that the city should have fewer police officers and firefighters, or that their pay should be cut.

Cities across Ohio are dealing with difficult budget constraints as a result of policy changes at the state level. Starting in 2011, Governor Kasich and the Ohio legislature enacted cuts in revenue shared with local communities, eliminated the estate tax, and phased out reimbursements revenue lost in the last round of state tax cuts in 2005. Distributions from the Local Government Fund were cut in half, dropping from $647 million in 2004 to $347 million in 2014. Overall, cities are estimated to lose a total of $495 million per year thanks to the collective changes in policy.

While cuts have been made to our cities, state lawmakers have elected to deposit over $2 billion into the state’s rainy day fund. Maintaining a cushion for a rainy day, while prudent, should not come at the expense of adequate local police & fire protection, parks and a safe and well-maintained infrastructure.

The sound bite of tax cuts and creating a $2-billion-dollar rainy day fund may sound good on the campaign trail, but the real world consequences, including higher taxes at the local level, must be considered as well.