The Presidential race has been receiving the bulk of attention, but there are several important local levies on the ballot this year that will have a large effect on the future of these communities. Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo all have vital ballot measures before their citizens. In fact, Ohioans across the state will vote on 27 proposed municipal income tax increases and 150 tax levies regarding public schools this election. Other communities, like Toledo, are facing income tax renewal levies essential to maintaining the current level of provided services.
Cincinnati Public Schools alongside the Pre-School Promise program has placed a levy on the ballot to expand public schools. It would raise $15 million a year for preschools and $33 million a year for Cincinnati’s K-12 public schools. The levy has the support of the United Way who is tasked with managing the pre-school program should it pass.
The proposal would greatly expand preschool in Cincinnati allowing an estimated 80% more children access. It would also allow Cincinnati’s public schools to maintain current levels of service as well as expand the district’s use of technology, college readiness efforts, and overall curriculum.
Cleveland residents will consider two very important levies this November via a proposed income tax increase and a renewal of the city’s public school levy.
The proposed income tax increase would be Cleveland’s first since 1981. Changes in state policy such as cuts to the Local Government Fund, tangible personal property tax, kwh rates, and the elimination of the estate tax have left cities all across Ohio struggling to make up the lost funding. The city of Cleveland has been especially hard hit having lost $42.1 million annually as a result of these changes. In order to close the budget gap, Cleveland has proposed a 0.5% increase to the current 2% income tax rate. Passage of the increase would the allow city to maintain current services and conduct needed road repairs. Should the measure fail, Mayor Jackson has warned that the city would be forced to make $40 million in cuts – mostly to safety services which make up 60% of the budget.
Cleveland Public Schools’ levy is up for renewal. This levy was initially passed in 2012. The increased funding resulting from this levy has led to improved performance in the district. Enrollment is up, graduation rates are up, as well as test scores. Steve Dyer, Innovation Ohio’s Education Policy Fellow recently took an in depth look at the success of Cleveland’s public schools since the passage of the levy. You can read his findings here.
The city of Dayton is also considering an income tax increase. This would raise the income tax by .25% to 2.5% and would be the city’s first such increase since 1984. Dayton is also dealing with the same budgetary challenges as Cleveland and other Ohio cities having lost out on $11.1 million annually due to state policy changes. According to the city, increasing the income tax rate would close the city’s budget gap for next year, fund police and fire services, and allow for universal pre-K for four-year olds citywide.
Nearly a third of the estimated $11 million to be generated as a result of the increase would be earmarked to improve and expand upon the existing pre-school structure in Dayton. According to the organization Learn to Earn, just 14.5% of Dayton kindergarten students tested “ready for kindergarten.” This is significantly below the state average – highlighting the need for more effective pre-K opportunities.
Voters in Columbus will consider a levy for Columbus City Schools. It is a proposed increase of 18% in school taxes for Columbus property owners. This is off the heels of a similar levy that was voted down three years ago. Passage of the levy would allow the district to hire more staff across the board, conduct maintenance and repairs, and increase funds for general operations. Many buildings in the district are in need of repair with reports of 28 buildings having leaky roofs, 15 have electrical issues, and 21 have heating and cooling issues.
The defeat of an income tax increase in this year’s primary has placed Toledo in a precarious position. The defeated proposal would have permanently raised the city’s income tax by 0.25% for the first time since 1982. The increase was slated to pay for much needed infrastructure work in Toledo. This was in part due to Toledo also being affected by the previously mentioned state policy changes. The changes have caused the city to lose $15.8 million annually.
Now instead of trying again for the income tax increase, Toledo voters will vote on renewing 0.75% of its existing income tax rate of 2.25%. Should the increase fail, it would decrease Toledo’s income tax rate by 1/3 starting in 2017. Such a result would place a considerable strain on the city’s budget and result in widespread cutbacks in services.