By Sue Botos
The people have spoken, and Mayor Pam Bobst has heard their message.
“We are not going back to the ballot,” she stated the day after an income tax increase from 1.5 to 2 percent was turned down by voters, 2,752 to 2,681. Bobst said the city must now find a way to trim more than $2 million from the 2014 budget, the amount the measure was supposed to raise annually.
Had the levy passed, a resident making $50,000 would have had $250 added to his or her annual bill. The city has not had an income tax increase since 1977.
“We knew it would be close, but through the process of meeting with residents, we were not hearing negatives,” Bobst stated, adding that she received only two contrary responses to information sent to residents detailing the issue and its impact.
While disappointed in the result, Bobst said city officials understand residents’ reluctance to support a tax increase. “Every family has been through a challenging economic time. Today, we are prepared to do what the voters indicated we should,” she stated.
Although Bobst felt that it was too early to identify specific belt-tightening measures, she said that initial drafts of the 2014 budget reflected the loss of $2 million, the average annual amount received from the now-defunct estate tax. The city also lost $418,000 from the Ohio local government fund, plus about $118,000 when the tangible personal property tax and kilowatt hour tax reimbursement were eliminated by the state last year.
“There’s not much more left to cut,” Bobst commented, referring to the fact that since 2008, the city’s general fund has been sliced by $6 million, shrinking from about $25 million to $19 million in 2013. In addition, the city is faced with about $70 million in mandated work from the federal and state environmental protection agencies.
However, Bobst did say that the trimming would affect personnel, the cost of which makes up 72 to 79 percent of the city’s budget. While services that directly affect residents will be preserved as much as possible, Bobst guaranteed that there will be “dramatic cuts” as well as no purchasing of new vehicles or equipment. She added that city officials hope economic improvement will help lessen the blow.
Although Bobst said that she wanted to keep refuse collection a separate matter, she stated that the controversial issue is “on the radar screen.”
“This is a very expensive service. It’s a tough situation,” she stated. In previous presentations to citizens, Bobst has explained the current trash pickup method, using scooters to collect refuse from backyards, costs about $2 million annually. Approximately $680,000 of that amount is covered by inside millage provided by the city refuse fund.
While the city ran a low-key campaign without yard signs or fliers, Bobst said that she and other city administrators spoke to numerous community groups to explain the need for an income tax increase. “We have been honest and transparent through this whole thing. We have been good stewards of the residents’ tax dollars,” she stated.
Bobst added that the city will be looking for input from the community as to where the necessary cost cutting should take place. “We are up to that challenge. We will manage in partnership with our residents,” she stated.