By Jeff Gallatin
A group of Westshore mayors believe their concerns about the economic
impact of the Kasich administration’s policies on their cities make sense to its chief executive – but added they are still watching potential actions in Columbus closely.
“It went well; I think he understood where we’re coming from,” Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland said. “He seems to understand that the policies are having an impact on our cities and their financial situations.”
Sutherland, North Olmsted Mayor Kevin Kennedy, Rocky River Mayor Pam Bobst and Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough met with Kasich for about an hour March 21. Also present was state Rep. Nan Baker, who represents the cities in the legislature, and several members of Kasich’s staff.
Prior to going to Columbus, members of the Westshore group noted that cuts in the local government fund to municipalities, as well as the upcoming elimination of the estate tax and discussion of possibly having the state take over control of local income tax collection, were all areas of concern.
Sutherland said Kasich understands that cities are going through tough times due to the recent recession, decreased local revenue streams and the impact of the state cuts.
“He said the estate tax is not coming back, but he understands our concerns about losing any additional funding,” Sutherland said.
“I related to him how we used the estate tax for projects and capital work, and the stories seemed to resonate with him and he understood that we’re having rough times,” Bobst said. “At the same time, he made it clear that the estate tax is gone. But he indicated a willingness to work with the cities. He involved his staff in the discussion several times.”
Sutherland said Kasich indicated he is not planning on having the city lose any additional income via the state taking over control of local income tax collections.
“He’s said he’s against the city losing additional money as a result of anything like that,” she said. “We made it clear that RITA (Regional Income Tax Agency) does a fine job for us.”
Bobst said she appreciates the governor’s willingness to sit down with the mayors and the possibility of other assistance from Columbus. She cited as one example her upcoming meeting with the state development director, which Baker helped set up.
“We’re meeting next week,” she said Friday. “It’s a great opportunity to work on development issues.”
Sutherland said she was encouraged by Kasich’s openness with the mayors, despite the tough budget situations for the state and its municipalities.
“He’s committed to making the state better, and he knows it’s a lot of work for all of us coping with financial issues,” she said.
Westlake Mayor Dennis Clough said he concurred with the other mayors that the meeting went well.
“I think the governor was surprised at the level of cooperation already going on between our cities,” Clough said. “He seemed to appreciate that and think that it should be recognized.”
Clough said Kasich indicated his chief focus would be development.
“He noted the cuts have been made, but he doesn’t want more taken from the cities,” Clough said. “He’s focusing his attention on creating jobs.”
Shortly after their meeting with the governor, Sutherland said, members of the group attended a press conference where Hilliard/ Grove City (western Franklin County in central Ohio) Rep. Cheryl Grossman went over a proposal dealing with tax collection and its possible centralization.
“We’re watching that very closely, not only in the Westshore, but in Cuyahoga County as a whole,” she said, noting that she expects to have something to say about it as both the mayor of Bay Village and the legislative liaison for the Cuyahoga County Mayors and Managers Association.
Bobst said she understands one part of the proposal to streamline tax forms and regulations for businesses, but added she and the other mayors are dead set against having the cities lose any control of local tax collection and any income as a result.
“Making it easier for businesses is a good thing, we know that,” she said. “But we need to have enough resources to be able to take care of our cities.”
Clough said Kasich seems focused on making the process easier.
“He said he’s not interested in having the state collect income taxes for the cities,” Clough said. “But he is interested in having a standard form or method of collection.”
Bay Village Finance Director Steve Presley, who also is on the RITA board, said it’s watching actions in Columbus closely.
“It really wouldn’t be possible for the state to handle the tax collections as efficiently for local governments,” he said. “They don’t have the personnel or policies in place to do that.”
Presley said the loss of potential income in that area would be another tough blow for many cities.
“It’s not something we need to cope with,” he said.
Representatives for Kasich did not return a request for comment.