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Government and Politics

Levies on Ohio's August ballot were the lowest number in a decade
But the requests are bound to rebound in November

Kevin Niedermier
This August election had a decade low number of money issues on the ballot statewide.
Courtesy of State of Ohio
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In The Region:

Residents in several Ohio communities will be paying more taxes after last week’s election. And other cities are putting levies on November’s ballot. But while many of Ohio’s municipal governments and schools are reeling from state funding cuts and population loses, there have been tax fewer issues than normal on ballots so far this year. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on some of them.

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Of the nine new money issues on August’s ballot, Lyndhurst’s was the only one that passed. Long-time resident Joseph Sweeney voted yes on the half-percent income tax hike, primarily for police and fire services.  On his way out of the polling place, he said he thinks the city has made the effort to avoid raising taxes.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on how the administration works, and they’ve been doing everything I think they can to collaborate with other communities and work to save money.”

Collaboration is one key
Lyndhurst City Council Finance Committee Chairman Patrick Ward says Lyndhurst does work with nearby cities on specialized emergency services like fire investigations and water and rope rescues. And he says the city has done other things to keep the budget in check. 

“We closed a pool and reopened it as a spray park which cut over $100,000 in yearly expense but maintained a great community amenity. We did an early retirement incentive program several years ago while allowed us to cut staff without layoffs, and that cut over $500,000 a year in budget expense.”

Ward says the city’s $14 million budget is $2 million less than it was in 2007. But, he says the tax increase was still needed because a projected deficit would have meant cuts to police and fire services.

Lyndhurst was the exception last week. Statewide, eight other new money issues failed. Five tax renewals passed, extending the existing pool of tax money.

Altogether, there were 14 money issues on ballots statewide. That’s a 10-year low for August elections. Randy Cole of Ohio’s Office of Budget and Management, says last year there were 26, and 56 the year before that. Cole says levy issues are generally cyclical because of their expiration dates. But other factors can lead to fluctuations.

Local issues, local variables
“Changes in the local economy, changes in the budget, population shift all drive a need, potentially, for a levy or an increase. Local leaders take the decision to the voters; do they want their local leaders to look at ways of being more efficient or make budget cuts, or do they want to raise more revenue?”

Many local governments will have money issues on November’s ballot. It’s unclear how many because they haven’t all been certified yet. But officials in Summit County say voters there will see 10 new money issues and 18 renewal requests. In Cuyahoga County, voters will decide 26 issues in all, renewals, increases and a combination of both.

Seven Hills is one of those that whill be on the ballot. Voters will be asked to approve a 3-mill levy to support the city’s police.  Seven Hills Finance Director Jack Johnson says since 2012 the city has cut nearly half of its employees to keep its budget in line. And the city restructured its debt.

Cuts can only go so far
But, Johnson says the levy will still be needed.
“The situation right now, we’re stable, we’ve managed to bring out general fund balance up to a comfortable level. However we are planning for 2015, the restructuring of our debts, the debt payments will increase in 2015, so we have to accommodate that.”

Johnson says the tax increase would generate about $900,000, roughly half of the city’s police budget. But right now, Seven Hills resident Donald Simms isn’t ready to pay more taxes.

“I’m still thinking about and I’m an undecided voter. Why? Because I certainly want strong police, but by the same token, my taxes are high enough now, they’re $4,000 a year, so any tax increase I have to think of very seriously.”

Besides the possible tax increase, debt restructuring and massive layoffs, Finance Director Johnson says Seven Hills is also saving money by working with neighboring Broadview Heights.

“Particularly when it comes to dispatch and the housing of our prisoners, that’s done by the city of Broadview Heights. We’re looking a sharing engineering department services with them right now, haven’t finalized it but we’re absolutely looking at that.”

Despite those efforts, Johnson says police layoffs are possible if the levy fails.

Statewide, the average number of money issues in a November election is about 900. Officials say they won’t know until the end of the month how this year’s ballots will stack up.




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