As cities across Ohio are starting to feel the hurt from budget cuts, local officials are asking for funding to keep their communities together. The Chillicothe Gazette has the story.
Officials from cities such as Chillicothe and organizations including the Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services said Wednesday they have been hit hard by diminished funding and fear further changes may impede their ability to perform their duties.
Those concerns were laid out during a three-and-a-half hour hearing at Ohio University-Chillicothe, where the Tax Reform Legislative Study Committee -- made up of nine state representatives -- heard from local officials and residents weighing in on tax policy. State Rep. Gary Scherer, R-Circleville, is leading the committee, and the stop in Chillicothe was the first of five across the state designed to get input from interested parties.
Issues involving casino tax revenue, budget cuts and corporate profit taxes all were raised, but for local agencies such as Paint Valley ADAMH, there were several other things to be concerned about. One involves a state budget plan that eliminates a 12.5 percent property tax subsidy for homeowners on all new and replacement levies approved starting in November.
Juni Johnson-Frey, executive director of Paint Valley ADAMH, told officials she thinks it will make passing such levies more difficult than it already is.
"We are concerned that homeowners will be less inclined to pass a levy once they understand they will now have to pay the full rate of 100 percent as opposed to the 87.5 percent they paid in the past," Johnson-Frey said. "Right now, for those communities already feeling negatively toward levies, this increase will make it harder to pass levies that fund essential programs in my community."
Johnson-Frey, whose agency serves a five-county region, said her budget currently stands at $8 million applied toward helping 8,000 people. In 2002, the budget was $18 million, she said, noting that its "local funding base is being severely impacted" as a result of factors such as the personal property tax being phased out, a downturn in property values and increased use of Tax Increment Financing districts by county, township and municipal government entities.
She also told the panel that she has "grave concerns" about eliminating the 12.5 percent rollback and requested the committee look into the matter further.
"We are willing to do our share and do more with less, but many boards just cannot cut anything else or essential services will be further impacted," she said.
State Rep. Terry Boose, R-Norwalk, called the elimination of the 12.5 percent property tax subsidy "good, transparent tax policy" and questioned whose responsibility it really is to fund agencies such as Paint Valley ADAMH.
"Where are we supposed to get that (extra money?)" Boose said. "Where's the money supposed to come (from) and what's the state's responsibility?
"From our perspective, what is enough? Is it $100 million? Is it $500 million?"
On another topic, Chillicothe City Councilwoman Beth Neal said that despite the state having a $397 million surplus, Chillicothe is "struggling right now." She added that as a result of layoffs taking place, officials have had problems collecting refuse, mowing grass and maintaining parks and city property, among other issues.
"There is no Ohio miracle. There is a Chillicothe disaster," Neal said. "The shift in taxes has created a financial disaster in every municipality and school district."
She also said she thinks the state "has gone too far in taking money" from cities across the state and asked that it be returned to the local municipalities. City Auditor Luke Feeney also weighed in and said cuts to the Local Government Fund also have affected the city's ability to operate.
"The reality is the loss of workforce is hurting the city," Feeney said.
Scherer said after the meeting that he doesn't expect any new legislation to be written directly as a result of the five meetings across the state but noted the panel wants to hear from residents, government entities and other organizations about whether any changes need to be made to existing tax policies. Hearings also are slated in Batavia, Bowling Green and North Ridgeville, while a fifth session at the Ohio Statehouse Sept. 17 will hear from people who want to comment on municipal income taxes.