Sunday, February 05, 2006

But I voted for it, before I voted against it

Or something.

Well, if you haven’t had a chance to peruse the flyer prepared by Mr. Donham supporting the upcoming Income Tax increase, I’d suggest you get your mitts on a copy. Email me at and I can send one to you rather speedily. After reading it, this should make more sense.

Everyone who is against supporting the Police Department raise your hands. Hmm, no hands are going up. We all want to support the PD here in Windham, there’s no question. They certainly need to be lauded for the work that they do, as they are definitely understaffed. But when it comes to discussing the Income Tax, the Police Department is not necessarily the main issue.

Let’s go back a few months to when the School District had a levy on the ballot that they were fighting tooth and nail to get passed. You couldn’t turn around without getting hit by some kind of information about why we should be supporting the levy. Certainly there were influential voices both for and against the levy and the debate was rather lively. The main issue, though, came down to whether we as taxpayers trusted the School Board to improve the system. Many pointed out shortcomings in the past as reasoning why the levy should have failed. Others pointed to the specific points made as to how the receipts were to be used. In the end the latter point won the day. We now watch the School Board very closely (though perhaps not publicly stating it) as to the job that they’re doing. If the promised plan of action isn’t followed, there will be a price paid in the future.

The issue of raising the Income Tax in some ways falls into the same pattern. People on both sides of the issue arguing back and forth about the need and the use of any raised revenue. I would like to commend Mr. Donham on his prepared circulator as it is definitely the most professional looking document to come out of the Village Government outside of prepared minutes. Efforts in the past to defend and support the Income Tax increase have on the surface not been as professional in appearance. It may seem trifling, but it does matter, as anyone in the business would will tell you.

The flyer is correct in identifying two points as to why people are voting no on the Income Tax. The first issue raised is “You need to be more creative”. The solution produced by the Village Council is to raise the tax of all people who work in the Village by .5 % and also for those who work outside the Village, but don’t pay tax wherever they work (generally referred to as “middle of nowhere”). That is creative certainly, but is in my opinion missing the point of creativity.

The creativity being discussed by those against a tax increase is necessarily in who would be paying the tax, but more in its use. Personally, I believe that if the Council could guarantee that every penny of the Income Tax increase would go directly to the Police Department, it would pass. The problem is that as it is now, the increase would go directly into the General Fund which is used for every other program in the Village save Water/Sewer business (unless there’s a shortfall there, which is another story entirely). Some in the Village have a mistrust in the Council, and consequently refuse to hand over their money to the General Fund without any kind of definite direction as to the use of the increased revenue. Each time that the issue has arisen, the drumbeat from Council’s direction is “It will go to the Police Department, trust us.” Even in Mr. Donham’s flyer we have “Make no mistake about it, the vast majority of the new revenue from the income tax change would go directly to the Windham Police Department.” Folks in Windham have long memories, predating even my own habitation of the Village. The sentiment that continues to be stated is that there is a deep mistrust between the voter and the Village Government because of past actions. This is an extremely high hurdle to overcome and will not be overcome by producing one flyer four days before an election.

The second point raised is that “We are over taxed”. Let’s first look at the rates of all municipalities in Portage County:

  • Aurora – 2.0%
  • Kent – 2.0%
  • Tallmadge – 2.0%
  • Ravenna – 2.0%
  • Hiram – 2.0%
  • Windham – 1.5%
  • Garrettsville – 1.5%
  • Mantua – 1.5%
  • Brady Lake – 1.0%
  • Streetsboro – 1.0%

Again, the point seems to be slightly missed in the flyer. I don’t know a single voter who thinks that they should be paying more tax. Very few people will step up to the plate and say, “Sure, have more money from my wallet.” The case that is brought up when one makes a comparison such as in the above example is that a Village as small as Windham surely doesn’t need to collect the same tax rate as municipalities the size of Aurora and Kent. But then lowly (in size not stature!) Hiram stands there with a two percent tax rate, which fouls the argument a bit.

Stated simply, we’re not over taxed. Sure we like to think so, but most of us sit in homes that are relatively warm, ordering pizza while watching the Super Bowl on televisions that have a nifty $50.00 cable bill cord running into the back of them. Nearly always we find time and money to do the things that we want to do.

In truth though, we just don’t want to give our money away. As we stated before, there is a deep seated mistrust in the community and that mistrust leads to tighter pursestrings when it comes to Village Government. People are perturbed when the Village receives a one million dollar grant for beautification of the community and see the money being used on things that don’t directly seem to improve the image of the Village. Tens of thousands of dollars are being found to pay for a Worker’s Compensation oversight in a budget that was touted as being extremely tight, possibly running short. Water and Sewer billing is incomprehensible at times thanks to years of mismanagement (pity the people trying to clean up the mess). The amount of water meters that are known or suspected of being non-working is over 100. To top it all off, the Village has to deal with a vindictive citizen suing to the tune of more money than I’ll ever see at one time. Maybe we’re not over taxed, but we are over burdened with all of these things that should have been taken care of long ago.

How hard would it be to split off the Police Department from the General Fund? What would be involved in setting it up after the same fashion as the Water/Sewer Department? Would that open up new avenues of increasing the revenue? That’s the type of creative thinking we’re looking for. Explain why that won’t work. Perhaps the law doesn’t allow it. Perhaps there is a financial obligation involved that we don’t know about. Tell us why you “truly believe this is our last alternative for the time being.”

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