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Candidates pledge: No tax increase

Andy Ouriel • Oct 25, 2013 at 4:00 PM

That’s if they’re elected, of course.

 

Three commission seats are up for grabs on Nov. 5.

 

At a Register-sponsored political debate Thursday evening at the Sandusky State Theatre, the candidates all provided different reasons for their stances on the tax issue.

 

Watch the entire debate in the player below

 

They were asked if they would support an increase in Sandusky’s two main income streams:

• A 1 percent income tax tacked onto people working within city boundaries. At 42 percent of total annual revenues, income taxes should generate about $6.7 million in 2013.

• A 3 percent admissions tax assessed on ticket sales at Sandusky’s entertainment venues, including Cedar Point. At 17 percent of total annual revenues, admissions taxes should total about $2.65 million in 2013.

Candidate Dick Brady sympathized with financially burdened residents.

“We have an obligation, as elected officials, to not try to balance the budget on the backs of residents who just suffered through the worst economy in the last 100 years,” Brady said. “You have to understand, every time Cedar Point raises their parking rates or admission rates, we get a raise. Our admission tax is tied to their success.”

City commissioner Diedre Cole, seeking re-election as a write-in candidate, is also opposed to raising taxes. It echoed a stance she and a majority of city voters took in 2009, when they overwhelmingly rejected an income tax hike.

“The city has not demonstrated, at least in my mind, that it could effectively handle the money it had, and I think the same thing is true again today,” Cole said. “I think the voters would support whatever is necessary to keep our city running efficiently and effectively if they believe the resources they have entrusted us with are used to the best of their abilities, but I don’t think that is the case.”    

Candidate Dennis Murray Jr. said, as a resident, he would support voting for an income tax increase. Murray is a former Sandusky city commissioner who most recently served as a state representative for the Sandusky area.

If elected once again as a commissioner, however, Murray said he would need to diligently vet the process with community members to determine if a tax increase is ethical and necessary.

“We need to go through a process that starts out with graphs and charts, having town hall meetings, of which we have not done in quite a number of years,” Murray said. “We need to talk to people and see what they want.”

Candidate Naomi Twine echoed Murray.

“We have to have conversations with our citizens and business stakeholders,” Twine said. “Increasing taxes is, of course, a hard thing to do. But we have to get people involved in the process, gain their understanding and hear their concerns.”

Candidate Scott Schell said any additional income tax money, if approved by voters, should be reserved for specific purposes rather than dumping it into the general fund.

“If the commission decides to put that on the table again, it has to be tied specifically to what that additional revenue would be used for, whether it’s for streets or safety services,” Schell said.

Ex officio mayor John Hamilton said he’d like to increase Sandusky’s water plant capacity in hopes of selling more water to other communities, which would generate more revenue.

Murray said that’s simply not realistic, given that certain services — such as police and fire — cannot take money from a water fund.

Candidate Patricia Ferguson said she’d stop giving employees “3 percent or 5 percent raises.” City records show the only employees receiving annual raises are union workers, including police officers and firefighters. The union’s contract stipulates these employees receive pay increases of 1.5 percent annually.

The city’s annual operating budget is about $16 million, but the finance department is projecting a $1 million deficit next year. Dwindling state funds are largely to blame, as well as the expiration of a grant that covers the salaries of six full-time firefighters.

The seven candidates are vying for three open seats, each carrying four-year terms. A city commissioner makes about $5,200 a year, while the ex officio mayor earns $6,400.

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