Sandusky officials, some area activists and those representing Cedar Point all support a packaged tax hike.
More importantly: Will a majority of community members also back this proposal at the polls in November?
Sandusky city commissioners unanimously voted 7-0 to proceed with legislation in placing an income tax issue on the fall ballot. The hour-long discussion and resulting vote occurred during a special meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
The income tax issue, however, comes as a bundled deal.
If a majority of residents approve the income tax issue, then this would trigger a separate, automatic increase for the admissions tax.
So, if a majority of voters approve the income tax measure, then the following scenario would occur come January 2015 and beyond:
• The income tax rate would increase from 1 percent to 1.25 percent, generating an extra $1.5 million each year for city operations.
The income tax is a fee taken out of paychecks for anyone who works within city limits and might impact some residents working outside of Sandusky, officials said. The income tax only applies to earned income and not, for instance, Social Security payments.
• The admissions tax rate would increase from 3 percent to 4 percent, generating an extra $800,000 each year for city operations.
The admissions tax is a fee tacked onto ticket sales at Sandusky-based entertainment venues, largely dependent upon Cedar Point — the undisputed giant in the region’s tourism industry.
If a majority of voters reject the proposal, the income and admissions tax rates wouldn’t change.
Despite what happens at the polls, executives at Cedar Fair, Cedar Point’s parent company, vowed to pledge an additional $500,000 a year through private investment toward city operations.
In total, accounting for a issue approval and Cedar Fair’s new revenue source, this would create an additional $2.8 million a year for city services.
Sandusky officials lobbied for a tax increase because of their dismal financial outlook.
Case in point: Finance employees project a $500,000 shortfall in the city’s $16 million everyday operating budget come March 2015.
An estimated shortfall stems from soaring expenses, including health insurance costs union-approved raises, along with less money coming from state coffers earmarked for city services.
The city’s already made substantial cuts in recent times.
Insufficient funding over the years has resulted in deep staffing cuts — slashing full-time staffing levels about 25 percent, from about 280 workers in 2004 to about 210 today — neglect toward road repairs and, more recently, frequent fire station closures.
Raising taxes, then, signifies a last resort for city officials to preserve and enhance local public services, such as police and fire operations, economic development and road reconstruction. Some of the new tax money also would go toward keeping Sandusky Fire Station No. 7 on Venice Road open at all times.
The proposed plan came together after negotiations and compromises between members of three keys groups:
• Sandusky administrators and all seven commissioners.
• Cedar Fair representatives.
• Members from Rebuild Sandusky, a grassroots organization previously campaigning to raise the admissions tax rate from 3 percent to 6 percent. With this new proposal, Rebuild Sandusky has dropped its plan and will support the proposal commissioners adopted.
At Tuesday’s meeting, many people spoke about the packaged tax deal.
Among those who expressed their opinions and what they had to say:
“We hope this proposal will put us on a path to rebuilding Sandusky and to move this city forward. I believe this is the most fair bargain that could have been reached on this issue.”
— city manager Eric Wobser
“I am a no-tax-increase kind of guy, (but) when (city manager) Eric (Wobser) called me about this agreement, I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to get started.”
— commissioner Jeff Smith
“I just like the fact that Cedar Fair is willing to start working with the city of Sandusky, and I hope this is the future for even more good things to come. I am going to totally back (this plan).”
— Sandusky resident Jennifer Brindley
“When you can get people at the table negotiating and coming to an agreement, I think that says a lot about what we can do. I am very encouraged about that and look forward to what we can do in the future.”
— commissioner Naomi Twine
“Could the city get by without any tax increases? Sure. We could close (Sandusky Fire) Station No. 7. We could have more potholes. We could have fewer police. We could eliminate the flowers in our downtown parks. We could stop having Christmas lights. There are all kinds of things we can do without. But I don’t think anyone wants to live in that town. For Sandusky to thrive, the cuts need to stop, and the city needs to start investing.”
— Sandusky resident Jim Timmerberg
“We are presenting to the public something that they participated in. We also saw everyone at the table work through problems and come up with a potential solution that is an opportunity for the citizens of Sandusky to invest in themselves. The ultimate goal is to build a city that people want to move into. To do that, we have to do the things all of you have talked about and asked us to try to do that we haven’t had the funds for. Now you have the opportunity, with assistance from our parents at Cedar Fair, to do that.”
— commissioner Wes Poole
“We recognize we play a key role in the vitality of our local economy, and we are proud to do our part to advance an optimistic vision for the future of Sandusky. A successful Sandusky plays a big role for the success of Cedar Point, and we are happy to support the proposal.”
— Cedar Point general manager and vice president Jason McClure
“I see it as an investment, and I’m willing to invest a quarter (25 cents) of every $100. I am excited on how everything worked out. This is an investment in our future, in our children’s future, in our grandchildren’s future.”
— commissioner Julie Farrar
“Our committee will be diligent in overseeing whatever money is given to us. We will make sure everything is spent properly, accounted for properly, looked at properly and done in a good, prudent matter.”
— city finance committee chairman Allen Nickles
“It’s never easy bringing a wide variety of ideas together, and I think as quickly as you folks were able to do that really shows the level of caring from everyone involved for this city. It’s an opportunity to turn a corner, and I think we can get a community to rally behind us."
— commissioner Scott Schell
“We are at a turning point now. The community can turn to a (better) standard. It will take a few years. It will take some diligence. If this is the way it will get done, I will try to help you get it passed.”
— Sandusky resident Dennis Timple
“We are celebrating today because this is a good day for Sandusky, but the work starts right now. This will almost be meaningless if we fall short of convincing our residents that a one-quarter percent tax rate is doable.”
— commissioner Dick Brady
“For the first time in many years, I see in the collective eyes of Sandusky something I have not seen in a long time: hope and confidence. We will now have a full debate about the direction of our city, and with the open support of our citizens, business leaders and this commission, I believe the voters will pass this issue. I am well aware of the risks, too. This may be our last, best opportunity to rebuild Sandusky. It will be neither quick nor easy. But I believe we can make our city great again.”
— ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr.
Watch the meeting in the player below