Two tax issues are on the ballot next Tuesday that have a direct impact upon the Village of Windham. While there are important tax levies concerning mental health and PARTA, we will lay those aside for the moment and consider the Income Tax increase (Issue 34) and the Fire District 1 Mill Replacement Levy.
The problem is that there are so many tangenial issues to both of these levies that its hard to make any kind of decision about one without taking the other into consideration at times. There is no question that the Village and Township are inexorably tied together in many ways, the most important being Fire and EMS service. The Village is dependent upon the Township’s service, and the Township is dependent upon the Village’s tax funds. So where to begin?
Let’s start with the Income Tax increase. Perhaps you’ve seen the “Please Vote ‘YES’ for Issue 34” papers that have been passed out around the Village recently. If you’ve not, track a copy down or let me know and I’ll post a copy here. Its a good thing to take the time to inform the electorate about the issues that they are voting upon, and these papers attempt to do just that. In my estimation though, it raises more questions than it answers.
To its credit, the handout states that the “add’l tax will either be voided as of January 1, 2011 or will again have to appear on the ballot for a renewal vote.” It also points out that the Village intends to continue the 0.5% credit for those people who work in another town and pay taxes in that town along with paying tax in Windham. The Village is in terrible financial condition, even to the point that vendors with which the Village did business with “were reluctant to do business with the Village due to unpaid invoices.” Council has tried to clean up the mess and are now current with regular monthly payments, but there is still much debt outstanding (though we never quite find out exactly what that debt entails). No matter what happens with the tax levy, the Village “will continue to struggle with short funds” but that could be alleviated by passing this increase on April 15, 2007 when the tax increase will actually be paid on 2006 income. The paper states:
Why should I vote for Issue 34?
1. The most critical reason is to protect your children and property by funding adequate police protection (see Police Dept fact sheet)
2. To avoid the State of Ohio declaring the village in a state of “fiscal emergency”! (The State comes in and forces cuts to be made regardless of the impace on our residents.)
Two other pages include a very basic financial reckoning of Village finances for 2004, though no records for 2005 are revealed. The State’s ability to declare fiscal emergency is briefly discussed, pointing to a website for the State Auditor about Fiscal Emergency. The third page discusses the ability for seniors who “feel guilty voting for a tax they will not pay” to pay into the Police Department’s “Crime Prevention Fund”.
There are some distinct questions that are raised that aren’t discussed. The Village “became aware” of the vendors’ issues in 2004. Where was all our money going before that point? Surely such a thing could be noticed in a Financial Report presented to the Village Council. Even if it wasn’t though, there seemed to be plenty of money before the revelation of the bad financial state of the Village. Remember, these things were discovered in 2004 while 2003 taxes were being collected. At that point, we were three years into the economic recession. We were not dealing with the late 1990’s economy with large income tax revenues, the bottom had already fallen out of the revenue at that point. Where was all that money being spent before this?
The paper also directly states that the revenue collected from this increase will not show up until April of 2007. It also states that we have to deal with short funds until that point. What will we do until then? The issue has been raised by the Mayor and Council that we should be considering pulling out of our deal with the Township for fire service if they don’t look into a Joint Fire District. Is that money just going to magically appear for the Village? I do believe that the situation is dire, but certainly the Mayor and Council realize that there is simply no way to jump into some other huge expenditure before resolving our normal everyday problems. Why have they sought to use this tactic against the Township knowing that the Village is in terrible financial shape? Do we have the full picture of what’s going on?
I’m also disappointed that there is no record of our financial state in 2005. The 2004 numbers are bad, without a doubt, but the most recent numbers should have been presented to give the Village a full picture of the state of the Village. Again, all this does is leave another question as to what exactly is going on.
On the third page, and yes, I realize that this is being picky, the income tax issue is stated to be a .05% tax increase. That’s just flat out wrong. The number is .5% or 0.5%. If you’re going to put literature in the people’s hands, at the very least proofread the document.
On top of all this, there is the issue of trust. Has the current Council demonstrated that the electorate can trust them to make wise decisions concerning the finances of the Village? Is there the hope that the future elected Council will make good decisions and lead the Village in the right direction?
So now it comes down to it. Should we vote for or against the proposed 0.5% Income Tax increase that will appear on the ballot. For now, there are too many unanswered questions concerning the increase.
We cannot endorse Issue 34.
Concerning the Fire Department’s Levy, it continues in the same vein in many regards. Have the Township Trustees demonstrated that they are trustworthy concerning the finances that the Village is entrusting to them for lifesaving use? To a degree, the answer to that question is yes. The fire department and EMS service are doing very well in servicing the community as a whole.
Questions have been raised though over the recent court cases brought by the Township against some who’ve not been able to pay their service bill because of lack of insurance. This issue remains open for many people, while resolved for others.
There is a continued reluctance to actively look into forming a Joint Fire District, for no obvious good reason. The statements of one Trustee has been trumpeted throughout the community, but there are three members of the Trustee board, and the issue remains unresolved.
The Fire Department is an excellent group of people who are willing to give of themselves for the betterment of the community, and the preservation of life and property. For this reason alone, we should seriously consider the levy itself.
It is the opinion of many in the Village that a Joint Fire District should at least be considered by the Village Council and Township Trustees combined. We as the Village electorate have no choice in whom is voted as a Township Trustee. Our power lies in the passing or failing of Fire District levies.
It is because of the reluctance of the Township Trustees to seriously consider the forming of a Joint Fire District that we cannot at this time endorse the Levy for the Fire Department.
Our hope is that the Council and Trustees will seriously consider the Joint District and take steps to resolve the issues between the two bodies. It is also our hope that the Trustees will put another levy on the ballot in the next year to take the place of this levy. If these two qualifications are met, we will happily endorse the levy proposed by the Trustees for these services in the next year.