Candidates pledge: No tax increase

All seven Sandusky city commission candidates dismissed any notion of immediately increasing local tax rates to offset a looming $1 million deficit.
Andy Ouriel
Oct 25, 2013
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.

 

Comments

Larry

This was a great opportunity for the voters to see the candidates. Thanks to the Sandusky Schools, State Theatre and the Register for putting this together. I had no problem deciding which three candidates I will support.

Sam

Nice to see all 7 candidates against raising taxes unlike the county commissioners who are increasing the sales tax without taking the issue before the voters.

Julie R.

Gee Sam, I never thought I would ever agree with you but I sure do on this one!

Dr. Information

Amazing you will agree that not raising taxes on the local level is good thing, yet you continue to support a party and vote in a president who has done everything but that. Amazing.

SamAdams

Ah, but you're wrong there! At least two of the Commission candidates are perfectly okay with raising the income tax as long as it's "studied" first. And another (who coincidentally doesn't even PAY taxes) would be okay with it if we could ensure the City would spend the money properly/responsibly.

Mr. Murray, do you want to know what the residents WANT? You said you'd hold meetings to find out, but there's no real need for that: We want a break from the constant raises government gives itself on OUR BACKS! We want accountability in expenditures, and we want RESPONSIBILITY for those dollars that are spent. We want the City to stop WASTING money on studies and surveys (and entirely avoidable lawsuits). We want City employees to actually EARN what they make (Nicole Ard, hello?). Try THOSE things on for starters, and see if maybe you don't need a study OR an income tax hike after all!

T. A. Schwanger

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@SamAdams

It's not often I agree with you but your comments on tax dollar accountability and responsibility issue are spot on.
The "it's only money" mentality at City Hall needs to cease.

As a bit of a local historian, especially when it comes to Sandusky's waterfront development, each time in history when a proposed income tax increase raises its ugly head, there is talk of relocating City Hall in the same breath. Commissioners will make claims the increase would be for safety services or streets, but what it comes down to is for every million dollars or so of new money coming to the City, the more money the City can borrow to go further into debt.

And don't dare touch the Golden Goose Cedar Point even though it's the tourist that pays the Amusement Admissions Tax. Did you hear candidate Brady speak of "every time CP raises their admission price Sandusky gets more admissions tax". Well every time you or I get a raise we pay more income tax. So what's his point? Here's the numbers from 2012---$6 million plus generated in income tax----$2 million plus from Amusement Admissions. That means the median household paid $349 dollars in income tax (single wage earner) while each tourist entering Cedar Point paid approx. $1.50 in admissions tax for the use of our safety services and infrastructure.

Candidate Twine compares relocating City Hall with the in progress demolition of cottages at OVH (her employer)built in 1909. Taking a page out of current Commissioner Farrar's playbook, she states City Hall has "outlived its usefulness" when not too far in the past thousands in City tax dollars were spent on City Hall upgrades including security.

pavedparadise

T. A.---Didn't Cedar Point donate $50,000(?) a couple of years ago to upgrade the police department facility?

Is Commissioner Brown resting his head in the one photo or is he sleeping?

Huron_1969

Sam, I hope none of the commissioners read your post. They will interpret it as needing a study about conducting studies.
Seriously though... great post and I'm certain you said what many in the community are thinking.

Darkhorse

They say that now, but they have plans to raise taxes;they just aren't telling anybody just yet.

T. A. Schwanger

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It would have been nice if candidates would have had more time to express their ideas. One minute was not enough.

It's easy to point at the Unions, the State of Ohio and the Feds as the cause of budget shortfalls but in reality the reason Sandusky is maintaining and can't spend a "end of the year carryover" of $3 million plus is because of $67 million in long term debt and approx. $5 million in short term debt.

We taxpayers are still paying for a fire station built years ago even after voters said no to a ballot tax increase to pay for construction.

We tax payers are still paying for the multi million dollar City Service Complex on Cement Avenue built years ago with cost overruns of nearly double.

We taxpayers are still paying for past City Hall improvements and 6 out of the seven candidates discussed relocating City Hall back downtown as one of their top priorities. Talk about beating a dead horse.

Commissioner Cole has it right. It's time Sandusky gets back to what cities do---streets, safety, water/sewer and recreation and get out of the way of business

Dr. Information

This is a prime example of something I posted the other day that on the federal level people vote for their party out of hate or whatever it is that causes them to do so.

Here you have a bunch of people running, saying "no new taxes" and the hardcore Democratic posters say "thing is a good thing, I like this person". Yet they will continue to vote in Dems on the federal and state level who have done just the opposite. Amazing.