I will be voting “yes” on the Warren city income tax increase in November. I realize this will surprise and disappoint some of you. There are many reasons to vote “no” and I am confident that I have heard them all. Many of them have merit, but in my mind, they are outweighed by two more important reasons to support the increase.
The first reason relates to scale and speed. Opponents of the tax often site examples of waste or mismanagement in the city budget. Their examples are often accurate, however, most of these fixes lack the scale to solve the problem at hand.
For example, some people would like to reduce City Council by two positions and eliminate the position of Council President — a do-nothing job. That would save about $35,000 per year, however, the gap in the city budget is approaching $2 million; it would require nearly 60 fixes of a similar scale to bring the budget into balance.
Lead time is important also. The city might save hundreds of thousands of dollars by changing our street lights to LED bulbs, however doing so will require the permission and cooperation of Ohio Edison. Legal action could be necessary and a resolution could take months or years. This is time we do not have as the situation is urgent.
This is not to say that these ideas should not be pursued — they should. We should be looking for savings wherever they can be found, but that search does not replace the immediate need for the income tax increase.
The most important reason I will be voting yes, is that however unpleasant the tax increase may be, the consequences will be much less unpleasant than those I fear from the failure to pass it. The citizens committee, which examined the proposal, determined that the tax is needed, despite the fact that the city has cut approximately $5 million from its spending in recent years. However, the cuts did not keep up with the steady drop in city revenues over the past 15 years.
As Warren continues to shrink (we lose about 10 people per week) so do our tax receipts and other fees collected by city government. The biggest loss has been in the reduction in funding the city receives from the State of Ohio, which is down over $1 million per year in the past five years.
In 2017, Warren’s general fund revenue is expected to be approximately $23 million — about the same amount it was in the year 2000. The citizen’s committee concluded, and I agree, that we have a serious revenue problem which only the tax increase can correct now. If you are concerned that the citizens committee is just a political tool of the administration, I can assure you that they are not. They asked tough questions and they are independent, knowledgable and non-partisan.
I know many of you blame the administration for this predicament and do not want to “reward” them with additional tax money. I certainly understand this emotion, but, as the committee report stated, failure to pass the tax increase will not punish any politician. They will still have their jobs and their paychecks. Failure to pass the tax will punish the city, you, and your neighbors, and it is for the good of the city that I urge you to vote for passage.
We all have our opinions on what should happen if the tax fails, but that is out of our hands; what will happen is this: 10 or more police will be laid off. The city will possibly reject the SAFER grant, which would have added 15 firemen, and instead will lay off 10. If they keep the SAFER grant they may then have to cut 20 police. The operations department, which has shrunk from nearly 100 people 15 years ago to 20 people, will also take a hit. Our city will be dirtier and more dangerous.
We can survive the effects of the tax increase if we are smart about the future, but I’m not sure that we will survive if our police and fire departments are cut by 20% or more.
It isn’t just the cuts themselves, it’s the public relations disaster that will result if those cuts lead to more gang violence, more drug activity, a deadly fire or two, and the word-of-mouth cancer spread throughout Trumbull County saying that Warren is too dangerous a place to risk a visit for a summer concert, a hot dog or a slice of pizza, let alone to consider buying a home and making a life here.
Warren already teeters near the tipping point. Let’s not weigh down the wrong end of the equation in anger, because once we tip the balance towards extinction we may never be able to tip it back again.
For the good of Warren’s future, vote yes for the income tax increase on November 8th.
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