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.

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.

Where the Tax Increase Stands After First Reading

Last Thursday, May 19th, City Council held its first reading on sending a 0.5% tax increase to the ballot. As I have written before, I believe that this increase is necessary to ensure that vital services in the city continue and are improved. I will try not to belabor this point, but instead want to focus on the tactics taken by certain council members during last weeks meeting.

The lone no vote on the first reading was Lonnie Stuckert. This vote came as somewhat of a surprise to me, as well as to some other observers, but was not altogether shocking. Mr. Stuckert has spoken against tax increases since his campaign, as did his father (who he replaced as 2nd Ward representative). Unfortunately, Mr. Stuckert has failed to provide any concrete plans for cuts. He has said multiple times that there are alternatives, but has yet to present them. This is what is most frustrating to me. When somebody makes the decision to run for council, they must be prepared to present solutions to problems, and not just be a naysayer. For Mr. Stuckert to come to the last meeting unprepared for the criticisms that he has fairly received about his lack of plans is not acceptable. This conversation has been ongoing since the first council meeting of the year, and there was a special council meeting the previous week. I hope that he does present some of his ideas soon, because I believe that it is important for council to continue to discuss fiscal responsibility and the future of the city. Until then, Mr. Stuckert cannot lead members of the community to believe that this problem can be fixed without a revenue increase and not be willing to lead that charge with concrete ideas. It is too late in the process for nebulous proposals.

Councilwoman Randi Milburn has also been on the fence about putting a tax increase on the ballot, but she did end up voting yes on the first reading. My hope is the Mrs. Milburn will work with the other members of the finance committee to work on a long-term plan that focuses on responsible spending for the city. It is easy to talk about budgeting responsibility, but as a member of finance committee, she can be an integral part in leading that charge. As to a bully campaign, however, it is important to separate presenting facts and bullying voters. It is necessary to let voters know what will be cut if the tax increase does not pass, even if that does include police. There needs to be a campaign about the reality of the dire situation we are in. However, I believe this can be done tactfully and in a non-threatening way.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for second and third reading. I hope that the council members who have been skeptical will either present alternatives or throw their support behind the plan. The tax increase can succeed at the ballot behind the full support of council, and with plans to control spending in the future. Mrs. Milburn and Mr. Stuckert are right in that we must be prudent. However, the reality is clear-the City of Wilmington is in financial trouble due to a wide variety of factors, and the cuts that would have to be made to get to even in the budget would be extremely painful to those working for the city and for residents of the city. Fiscal responsibility and tax increases are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be. Everyone’s voices should be heard as council moves forward, and it is vital for citizens to know that the tax increase is needed and that the money coming in will be spent in a manner that is responsible and desirable for members of the community.

An Open Letter to Council about a Potential Tax Increase

To all of the members of Wilmington City Council and Mayor Stanforth:

Thank you for hosting the public meeting on Thursday about Wilmington’s current financial situation. I believe that for many in Wilmington, the information presented by Service Director Brian Shidaker and Council President Randy Riley was valuable and informational. Finance Committee Chairman Mark McKay did an admirable job of allowing conversation between council members to flow without much interruption. Although the meeting was long, the discussion between council and among the members of the public who attended was good, and there were several issues brought to the table.

As it seems right now, Finance Committee seems to be leaning towards a recommendation to put a 0.5% earnings tax increase (likely temporary for five years). I believe that this is the best course of action in order to get something passed in fall election, and I hope that Finance Committee and Council work to bring this to the voters in this fall’s general election.

In my opinion, Council must consider the following issues:

  • How does Council assure the people of Wilmington that this money will be spent appropriately and prudently? In my opinion, Council must create a specific spending plan that shows how the money will be spent if the voters approve the tax increase. This plan should focus on the future of Wilmington, and how Council plans to make it a brighter one. I believe that it should include street repairs and property maintenance/building code enforcement specifically, as these are two items that many in Wilmington have expressed interest in.
  • Is a temporary tax the best way to go? I believe that it will be easier to pass, but I am not sure whether it is totally honest. Would the city be prepared to lose roughly $2 million from one year to the next in 5 years? It seems like we need significant monies to work to improve the city, and I am not sure if we can accomplish it all in 5 years. If the city can propose a spending plan that gets itself back to a level of services that people in Wilmington can agree with, I hope that Council will move forward with some considerations of putting a permanent tax on the ballot, but if you choose to pursue a temporary tax, that is an understandable move.
  • All Council members should be prepared to answer difficult questions about the city budget. If there are still Council members who believe that the city can cut itself out of this after Thursday night, I encourage you to present these plans. If not, I encourage you to admit you were wrong to publicly say this to get elected, and that we must move forward to provide a desirable level of services to the citizens of Wilmington.

As members of Council have pointed out, once Council moves the issue to a ballot, it must stay out of the campaigning. Ohio law prohibits government/public monies to be spent on most campaigns. Therefore, there will have to be work to create such a committee. As I have been a close and sometimes critical observer of this process, I would like to volunteer to head such a citizen’s committee, which would recruit volunteers and provide information for the passage of the tax increase. There is little doubt in my mind that with a good outreach campaign with Wilmington citizens from across the political spectrum, we can accomplish the goal of passing this tax increase and working to provide the residents of this incredible city the services they need for a city they can be proud of.

Respectfully,
Tyler Williams

EDITORIAL: The Time for Action is Now in Wilmington City Council

As I wrote last Monday, Wilmington is experiencing serious issues with it’s budget situation. The city budget for 2016 showed a deficit of $1.3 million, and the agreement between council seemed to be that they needed to act soon. This, after a November city council meeting where council said that they would continue the discussion and that they recognized how quickly it needed to happen.

We are now at the beginning of March. Today, March 2nd, the Finance Committee of council had just their second meeting of the year from my understanding. I decided to go, to see if the members of the Finance Committee were going to follow through with their promise to consider options.

The budget discussion started out with Mayor John Stanforth saying that he would be putting a plan for cuts to balance the budget. He then asked for permission from Auditor David Hollingsworth to work with Deputy Auditor Mary Kay Vance on budget issues. I am not sure why this conversation hasn’t happened yet, but Hollingsworth said that was fine, as he would not be available much until after tax season. Stanforth went on to say that the city was broke, and Hollingsworth agreed.

Councilwoman Kelsey Swindler subsequently brought the issue of putting a tax on the ballot–the same discussion that council was having last year, but that nobody has discussed this year. Finance Committee Chair Mark McKay said that he wanted to give the mayor time to show how the cuts would look before they moved on the tax issue. Swindler responded that these needed to be in motion at the same time. McKay subsequently said that he needs more info, like a public forum where the public could decide whether council should put forth a property tax levy or an earnings tax on the ballot. I immediately posed the question, “Isn’t the tax the public forum?” Councilwoman Milburn then said she wanted to learn more about the numbers for each tax. Swindler and McKay both said that they were leaning towards an earnings tax, partially because they believe it to be more fair. Mr. McKay eventually added that he has heard some people saying it is time to put it on the ballot. The committee asked Clerk of Council Marian Miller to provide them with estimated revenue from the potential taxes for discussion at their next meeting.

During the meeting, Councilman McKay continued to show that he is not willing to make the tough decisions when it counts. He was perfectly willing to allow the tax to be debated in public before the committee and/or council moved forward on it. As the meeting went on, he backed off several times as soon as he was challenged. Mrs. Milburn ran on a no tax increase platform, so it is difficult to tell how she truly feels about the tax increase. She seems to have decided it is acceptable to put the tax to voters.

I left the meeting wondering-if Mr. McKay and Mrs. Milburn had not been questioned on their reluctance to put a tax increase on the ballot, what would have been accomplished? Would we all be waiting for the mayor’s office to come up with potential budget cuts so the committee can pour over them? Time is of the essence on an issue like this. It would be a great disappointment if council missed a chance to get it on the November ballot because of feet-dragging. At the end of the meeting, Mr. McKay said that “we’ll try to keep Kelsey happy.” Hopefully, this is not the only impetus for action in the future.