Where does Wilmington go from here?

I have taken the last few months off from writing to work on the Campaign for Wilmington’s Future, which was a committee that was working towards the passage of the Wilmington Municipal Income Tax increase that I have written about many times on this site. After a successful campaign, I am glad to be back writing about local issues. Working on the campaign, learning from city government officials about the budget, having conversations with a variety of residents of Wilmington about the city and its government has been an education and enlightening experience for me.

The current budget situation

One of the biggest questions that we got during the campaign was “where is the money going?” Well, part of this answer was easy-the majority would go towards covering the deficit, while much of the remainder would be used to help build the city’s carryover (aka rainy day fund). This would leave an estimated $500,000 per year for the City to spend, ostensibly on infrastructure projects–with streets taking a top priority. Throughout the campaign, this is what the City had emphasized as its spending plan. While not as specific as many would have liked, the administration felt that it would be potentially irresponsible to give more specifics and have unforeseen circumstances change plans.

How should the city proceed?

Now is not the time for city officials to rest on their laurels. Passing the tax was a very important step in the right direction to help the City work towards a more secure financial future while increasing investments in infrastructure projects. During the campaign, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents worked together for the future of the City, showing support across the political spectrum. However, the City cannot ignore the nearly 2000 people who voted against the tax. This could be partially seen as a referendum on how the City communicates and pursues active transparency. While the City had open forums and a special Council meeting to discuss the tax, many still felt like information was not as readily available as it could have been.

I have written about the importance of citizens to be engaged in their local government’s activities. Additionally, I have written about transparency being an issue in local government (although I did praise the City for its efforts at publicizing Council meetings). This is a time for the City to have be aggressively transparent. Those people who were skeptical about the tax (many of whom still voted for it because they understood its importance) need to feel that their voices are being heard. The City should proceed quickly with public discussions on the budget, with Finance Committee leading the way with meetings being held in Council chambers to show residents of Wilmington exactly how they are planning on spending the money that has been entrusted to them.

It is time for Wilmington to begin the process of moving forward into the future, know that its short-term fiscal future looks brighter. However, the City must be prepared to listen to Wilmington residents and work together to invest in Wilmington. I encourage residents of Wilmington to go to Council meetings related to the 2017 budget to learn more about how their money will be spent, and I encourage Council to welcome these engaged citizens into these incredibly important discussions.

Issues and races I will be watching this fall

We are officially one hundred days from the November 8th election, one which carries massive consequences both locally and nationally. Here are four races that I am watching closely, from a local tax issue to the Presidential election:

The Proposed Municipal Tax Increase for the City of Wilmington

City Council has decided to put a 0.5% temporary income tax increase on the ballot in November. This is probably the issue that I have written the most about in this space (here and here and here), so I think my thoughts are well-documented on the issue. I have taken a role in the campaign to pass the tax increase, so most of my efforts on communicating the need for the tax will be made through the campaign. Bottom line-I have had conversations with people at the City Building, and there is no doubt in my mind that we must pass this tax. It is imperative. Whatever your beliefs on taxes, if you want our safety services (police and fire) to stay close to where they are, I believe it is in our best interest as a community to emphatically pass this tax.

Clinton County Commissioner

The election to replace Mike Curry, who is retiring from his post at the end of this term, took place in the spring Republican Primary. Brenda Woods, who has significant administrative experience in city, township, and county government, won the five person race.

The other race is still ongoing, as incumbent County Commissioner Kerry Steed has a Democratic challenger in Dean Feldmeyer. Democrats in county-wide races have faced an uphill battle, and Feldmeyer will probably be no different. Feldmeyer, whose involvement in several local organizations including Community Action spurred his entrance into the race, is running an unabashedly progressive campaign focused on what he calls a “caring economy campaign.” Mr. Steed focused his rhetoric of his campaign in the spring on his experience as County Commissioner and his focus on fiscal responsibility. Feldmeyer’s goal will likely be to continue to push for more local control of money from the Clinton County Senior Levy and continue his conversation on the “caring economy” model.

United States Senator

Not only is Ohio one of the most important states in the presidential election, but the election for Rob Portman’s Senate seat is arguably the most important senatorial race in the 2016 election. Challenging Portman for his seat is former Congressman and Governor Ted Strickland, who has spent the last few days campaigning with Hillary Clinton on the trail in Ohio. Portman, on the other hand, has endorsed Donald Trump, despite being openly critical of him.

Portman has opened up a 4-point lead in the polls, although they were taken before Strickland went on the road with Secretary Clinton. Recently, Portman has picked up a few union endorsements, including from the Teamsters organization that endorsed Strickland in his gubernatorial runs. Strickland does have several other big endorsements, including President Obama and several other unions. This race will likely come down to the wire, with Strickland touting his progressive agenda while Portman hits him hard on the job loss during Strickland’s time as Governor of Ohio. It also may be affected by rhetoric of the candidates for President, as Trump has already shown Portman’s early endorsement of him to be a questionable decision.

Presidential Race

I have written about Donald Trump before, and even gave my prediction for the contest at the state and county levels. Mr. Trump, of course, is running as the Republican nominee against former Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was officially named the Democratic Party nominee last week. This is a race of historic proportions. On one side, Hillary Clinton has been involved in politics and government for thirty years, while Mr. Trump has often discussed entering politics but finally decided to pull the trigger last summer. There is not much more that I can say on this race that I haven’t said before. A Trump presidency would be a true disaster, and his comments about minorities and women, as well as his complete lack of understanding of foreign affairs, make him unelectable. If one of the candidates decides to swing through any small towns in southwest Ohio, I will cover it, but there are many out there who can do a much better job than me of covering this particular race.

 

This election is important and historic on a local and national level. If you are reading this, and you are eligible but not registered to vote, please click here to see more information on registering. Do it today! If you have questions or comments about the article, feel free to comment below or email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com.

0.5% Municipal Income Tax Increase Goes to Voters

Last Thursday, July 7th, City Council voted unanimously to place a 0.5% municipal income tax increase on the ballot in November (Councilperson Joe Spicer was absent, but had previously voiced support for allowing the voters to decide). As per Ohio law, if a City wants to increase its municipal income tax beyond 1% (where Wilmington currently stands), it must go to the voters.

This has been several months, if not years, in the making. A Blue Ribbon Committee that consisted of local residents and politicians supported a municipal income tax increase after digging into the City’s budget, but at that time, the City had enough in reserves to push the matter into the future.

With the City’s budget at a breaking point, Council was finally forced to act this year. The City cut in certain places, but realistically, there is no way to cover a $1.5 million deficit. The City has lost so much money over the last decade, from the massive job loss at the airpark to the cuts to funds given to local governments by Governor Kasich and company from the state.

I have already voiced my support for this tax increase, and I have volunteered to help get it passed. I hope that this is the beginning of a dialogue about how the City spends its money and invests in infrastructure. We have streets that need to be paved and fire and police departments that need to be funded. The citizens of Wilmington should vote for this tax and continue to make sure their elected officials follow through with their promises on how they will spend additional funds coming into the general fund.

On an important week of City Council

Finance Committee

Finance Committee has done much of the legwork for the Municipal Income Tax increase proposal, which will have its third reading on Thursday (this, of course, is just to put it on the ballot in November). The next step for Finance is to continue to work with Mayor John Stanforth and his administration on spending and budget plans for next year. The administration will likely take the lead on this, but Finance Committee should be prepared to work on this with the administration, as there will need to be two spending plans created for the next year. Planning for the tax increase passing and failing in November is vital. It is important for voters to see what they will get out of the .5% income tax increase as we move towards November.

Judiciary Committee

On the Judiciary Committee agenda is the hotel lodging tax ordinance review and the employee pay scale review (as well as the feral cat issue-for more info on that, see the News Journal coverage). Both of these items are important as potential cost-saving measures for the General fund. The hotel lodging tax issue is in regards to funding towards the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. As it stands right now, there is a push from many council members for the CVB to defend their budget and expenditures, something they have not done in the past to City Council. This movement may make them more like a division of the City Government, where their budget will be reviewed with all other departments. Judiciary is currently looking at the ordinance that is on the books for how this money is to be used, but my guess is that this will end up being a call made by Finance Committee.

In regards to the employee pay scale, this is an issue that focuses on so-called “step raises,” a system where employees are given raises based on service time. This is a complicated issue that was brought up by Council Member Lonnie Stuckert as a potential cost saving measure. Judiciary will need to review how much this will actually save in the long run if the choose to eliminate or significantly alter these increases. Moving to a performance-based system can create HR issues due to performance reviews, etc., but an advantage of having Randi Milburn as the head of Judiciary is that this is where her expertise lies. Council should not move quickly on this without looking at the impact of all of the issues surrounding raises is investigated.

Solid Waste Committee

I have not written about Solid Waste Committee in this space yet, but there is one specific item that has piqued my interest. In their meeting this Thursday (June 16th), the Solid Waste Committee will discuss the final plans for automation of the garbage trucks. This will be a change that Wilmington residents will notice, because automated garbage trucks normally require special trash bins. Part of the rollout is going to include citizen education. This is something that may point to the city pursuing more innovative and progressive solutions to productivity. I look forward to hearing the Committee’s plans on how this will work.

City Council Meeting

As I said previously, the main item on Council’s agenda will be the 3rd reading on the resolution to place the .5% municipal income tax increase on the ballot in November. This will trigger the beginning of a campaign to pass the tax, as well as some potential campaigning against. The most important point for Council, as well as Law Director Brett Rudduck, is that they come better prepared for this meeting than the 2nd reading. At this point, Council can afford zero hiccups in their efforts to move this forward.
I will recap this week in City Council on Friday, including an update on the campaign to pass the tax moving forward. Until then, attend one of these meetings if you have time! If you have questions or have an idea for a story, email me at thewilmingtonbulletin@gmail.com.

 

Let’s Chat About Two Important Points on Local Taxes

During the regular Wilmington City Council meeting on June 2nd, it became clear very quickly that we have a problem. No, I am not referring to feral cats. I am referring to the dearth of understanding of the Municipal Income Tax for the State of Ohio by our local leaders. Here are some very important points…

Let’s stop calling it an earnings tax…

I get it. I have been guilty of it (see my last podcast). But we have to stop this. The language in the resolution and ordinance provided for a great deal of confusion last night, and it unfortunately it was never cleared up by our Law Director or any other city officials. In the resolution to place the tax on the ballot, it is called an Earnings Tax. Everywhere else, including in our current ordinance, it is called an income tax. This is what the State of Ohio calls it, specifying that municipalities can only tax earned income. The confusion comes from wanting to specify that cities only tax earnings. It is important for Council and other local leaders to understand and communicate this fully to the public, lest there be more confusion.

Residents are taxed!

Residents of the city and non-residents are currently taxed at 1%. If you live in Wilmington and work in Cincinnati, for example, you will have to pay the income tax in Cincinnati because it is higher (2.1%). The City of Wilmington will give you a 1% credit, so you will not owe any taxes to the city. However, you must file with the City of Wilmington, as well as Cincinnati. Otherwise, you might get to pay some penalties. Additionally, if you live in the city but work in a place without a local income tax, you will have to pay that 1% to Wilmington.

I hope this clears up a few confusing points that I believe hindered the discussion last night.