ELYRIA — The elephant in the room Monday night when Mayor Holly Brinda presented four possible ways the city could handle the loss of two safety grants was the possibility that voters will see an income tax increase on the ballot this year.
Council members were mum on the subject during the meeting and instead elected to discuss it Tuesday during a Strategic Planning meeting.
But Brinda said it’s time to seriously consider such an issue, especially as the Elyria Public Library System will be on the May ballot under the taxing authority of the city. That would leave November open for the city to try to garner the revenue needed to keep 23 firefighters and four police officers employed past 2014 when federal grants paying for them expire.
Layoffs, paying unemployment to affected employees and overtime to those who are left to fill the gap also is an option. But that, too, would cost the city more than $1 million.
So with a possibility of needing between $1.34 million and $4.2 million for the safety forces, Brinda said a 0.25 percent income tax increase could close that gap.
“There is no way we can make up the difference of what we need without additional revenue,” Brinda said.
If Council members agree to place an issue on the ballot, it would raise the city’s income tax rate from 1.75 percent to 2 percent and generate an additional $3 million a year
“We appear to be moving the conversation in that area considering the scenarios the mayor put out there,” said Councilman Jack Baird, R-at large. “But I can’t say for sure what we should do right now. We’ve been good at showing taxpayers we can work with what we have, have shown cutbacks and the mayor has reined in matters like sick time, which I think people really appreciate.”
But Council members with a little time under their belts know a tax will be a tough sell.
“If we choose to put some type of income tax on, we have to seriously think about our chances of passing it,” said Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large. “It’s not always a given that taxpayers will support it. We are just coming out of an election where we were pressing our temporary income tax’s renewal and people spoke loudly with their votes and passed that levy. Can we really say to them now we have to go back to the ballot?”
Not counting the temporary tax that goes on the ballot every five years, attempts to increase the city’s income tax rate under Brinda’s predecessor, Bill Grace, met with failure. In 2010, voters rejected a plan to increase the city’s income tax rate from 1.75 percent to 2 percent with more than half of the money earmarked for the Police Department.
On Monday, Council members focused on the needs of the Elyria library, spending the Strategic Planning meeting discussing the library’s tax issue, which unanimously received Council support after Director Lyn Crouse articulated how the levy’s loss would devastate the library.
The next meeting will be all about the city’s needs.
“Are we are ready for a tax? I would say no,” said Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward. “The stimulus money we are losing was there because we hit rock bottom during the economic downturn. It was supposed to bridge the gap between recession and recovery. If we are saying we have not recovered, we are saying the city has changed, and if we are saying the city has changed, the need for city services has to change as well.”
Instead of a discussion about new tax dollars, Craig, the lone independent on Council and one of two minority members, said he would like the mayor to discuss ways she is trying to boost the tax base.
“She won the election on a promise to come up with a master plan for the city — which she hasn’t — and focus on economic development — which she hasn’t,” he said. “So are we really ready to say two years into this mayor’s first term in office we have exhausted everything we can and have the credibility to suggest a tax increase is the only way? I say it’s the easy way out to just go to the residents and spend all the time convincing them to give us more money instead of turning the city around, filling up those empty buildings and making the city thrive again.”
Stewart said it should come as no surprise to anyone that the end of the Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant will put the jobs of 23 firefighters at jeopardy.
“This has been coming down the pike for a while,” he said. “But we can’t just say, ‘Let’s go for a tax.’ We’re going to have to do some fact-finding and have some good, hearty discussion about what we want from our city. That being said, we are also going through a stormwater management study that we have to contend with. Every decision we make in the next few months will have to take everything into consideration.”