Four years ago, I came across the first tax levy I had ever seen with no expiration date. This seemed very audacious so I re-read it several times and finally realized it was a clever attempt to slip an endless money grab which had no accountability. It was the 2011 Cincinnati Public Schools tax levy. Even its title had a gentle, euphemistic slant to it: “CPS Seeks a Little ‘Stability.’”1 In response to skeptics, the article added that “Levy supporters, however, counter that the district has and will continue to be responsible and this type of levy is needed to make sure the district stays fiscally stable.” Right. Fortunately, the majority voted against this. It was not a case of being against schools, but against the unending, non-reviewable nature of the proposal.
But ever since, my radar has been tuned for similar attempts at unaccountable money grabbing. This year, there are at least two such issues in southwestern Ohio and a few school issues elsewhere in the state which are asking for funding without time limits.
Cincinnati Parks, Issue 22
Let’s start with Cincinnati again. Ballot Issue 22 provides for a 1-mill increase in real estate taxes to be used for the numerous parks in the city. The mayor would submit a list of capital projects to the Park Board who are not permitted to delete any of them without the mayor’s approval.2 Fine.
How could anyone vote against city parks? Easy, when it becomes permanent with no oversight and as part of the city charter. As Marian A. Spencer wrote: “A property tax levy should not be in the city charter. Voters should have an opportunity to renew )or deny) any tax levy in future years.”3
Charters/constitutions are outlines of how a jurisdiction will govern itself. It lists the non-negotiable philosophies by which a group of people ranging from a small community to a country shall operate. It is not a place for specific strategies. For example, freedom of religion is a non-negotiable and is in the Constitution. How it shall be protected is not specified as times and the means to carry this out will change. (Same goes for a balanced federal budget, desirable but not necessarily appropriate for all future situations. See OCR article: “We Need a Balanced Budget, But NOT a Balanced Budget Amendment.”)
Pierce Township Continuing Fire and Life Squad Levy
In November, 2014 a levy combining both capital needs and on-going expenses was defeated, not so much because the millage was a 47% increase, but because it was “for a “continuing period of time.” The township board of trustees regrouped and originally submitted a plan for a ten-year levy. Unfortunately, it was discovered that a change in state law prohibited ten-year levies for fire levies.4
Faced with the choice between a 5-year levy or a fifth continuing levy to go with the four currently in place (1986, 1990, 2000, 2006) or a fixed term. The choice was for another continuing levy. The voters are being reassured that “Continuing levies are often used to fund civic services, including finding for schools, or health and human services, including emergency response services.” In addition, it is reminded that the trustees can always terminate a continuing levy.5
The question for voters in this part of Clermont County is: Will you accept yet another continuing levy, because the existing ones cannot be adjusted for inflation? This levy would be the first in nine years and represents a 37% increase over the effective rate of the existing ones.
[This also raises two questions for future consideration whether or not this levy passes: 1) Is regrouping all continuing levies into one too risky because many voters might be confused into thinking it would be a mammoth increase when instead it’s just a consolidation? 2) Millage is a percentage based on property values. When continuing levies are said to be inadequate because of inflation, the logical conclusion is that the cost of civic services has increased faster than property evaluations!]
“Continuing” School Issues
There are likely to be others, so please check your local ballot.
1) Ashland County –West Holmes Joint Vocational SD: “The ACWHCC Board of Education has voted to put a 1 mil levy renewal on the Nov. 3, 2015ballot. This represents no new taxes for the community. The levy has been consistantly [sic] renewed every three years since it was first passed fifteen years ago and, therefore, the Board of Education has opted to present it on this ballot as a continuing levy… The money generated from this levy represents 20% of the district’s total budget. It is used for everything from salaries to equipment used in our educational labs as well as whatever is needed to keep the doors open such as utilities, security, etc.”6
2) Chippewa Local SD, item 2 of a combined bond issue and tax levy: “Levy an additional property tax to provide funds for the acquisition, construction, enlargement, renovation, and financing of general permanent improvements at a rate not exceeding 0.5 mill for each one dollar of tax valuation, which amounts to five cents for each one hundred dollars of tax valuation, for a continuing period of time?”7
3) Oregon City SD tax levy: “Current operating expenses; 3.95 mills, additional, continuing period of time.”8
4) Ottawa Hills SD Bond Issue and Tax Levy: “Renovating & improving school facilities; 30-year $13,070,000 bond, 5 mills; Acquisition, construction, enlargement of permanent improvement; 5.35 mills, additional, continuing period of time.”8
5) Upper Sandusky Exempted Village School District (Wyandot, Crawford and Marion counties): “An additional tax for the benefit of Upper Sandusky Exempted Village School District for the purpose of permanent improvements [ballot’s emphasis] at a rate not exceeding 2 mils for each one dollar evaluation, which amounts to twenty cents ($0.20) for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for a continuing period of time, commencing in 2015, first due in calendar year 2016.”9
Continuing funding may have its place. The informed voter will know when it’s appropriate.
Oscar A. (Tony) Rubio is a writer who merges the lessons of history with current events to suggest a better path. He resides in Cincinnati, Ohio and believes that our national mood would be improved if we listened to more Big Band and Jazz as we look forward to the White House changing occupants on January 20, 2017. Tony blogs at www.cartaremi.wordpress.com and www.sportuoso.wordpress.com.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.
1 – article by Amanda Amsel, http://citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-24212-cps_seeks_a_little_%E2%80%98stability%E2%80%99.html, 10/19/2011.
2 – “Soapdish: Cincinnati parks deserve better than Issue 22,” by Casey Coston, http://www.soapboxmedia.com/features/102715-our-parks-deserve-better-than-issue-22.aspx, 10/27/2015.
3 – “Parks levy not good government,” opinion by Marian A. Spencer, Cincinnati Enquirer, 9/8/2015.
4 – “Pierce Twp. Must rethink fire levy due to state statute,” by Sheila Vilvens, http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/local/clermontcounty/2015/04/16/pierce-twp-must-rethink-fire-levy-due-state-statute/25872245/, 4/16/2015.
Image: Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons – cc-by-sa-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons