New Sandusky city manager Eric Wobser, who attended his first official city commission meeting Monday night, has begun discussions with Cedar Fair officials on how to raise city revenues without putting all of the burden on raising the admissions tax on Cedar Point tickets.
It's an approach that's being urged by Sandusky's ex-officio mayor, Dennis Murray Jr., who warns that a proposal to double the admissions tax from 3 percent to 6 percent might alienate Cedar Fair and cause the amusement park giant to consider moving its headquarters from Sandusky.
Two women who spoke during the audience participation portion of the meeting said they still strongly favor doubling the admissions tax and alleged that the main alternative would be to raise everyone's income taxes.
Toward the end of Monday's meeting, Murray began the discussion on the contentious issue by saying that after chopping nearly a third of the city's workforce in the last 10 years and cutting spending by 25 percent, it's not possible to make further cuts and maintain city services at current levels.
"What next?" Murray asked. "Do we close Station 7? Do we brown out Station 3 as well with its dramatically higher call volume? Do we cut the police force? Do we sell off the parks because we can no longer maintain them? How will we address the 800-plus dead and dying trees in tree lawns?"
Murray said he's quit representing Cedar Fair in his law practice so he can address the revenue issue, adding that a push to hike the admissions tax from 3 percent to 6 percent means a solution must be found quickly. Doubling the tax is a bad idea, Murray argued.
"It is too much and places the entire burden of replacing lost revenue on our largest corporate citizen, at the risk of alienating them and even causing them to move their headquarters," he said. "They would not put it that way, but it is no secret, either. Nor will Cedar Fair say this, but it is also reasonable to expect that they will actively oppose a 3 percent increase."
Murray said Wobser has been approached by Cedar Fair representatives, who understand that Sandusky needs money but who want to arrive at a fair solution. At Murray's urging, the commission voted unanimously Monday night to authorize Wobser to continue those talks, so that the city can meet an August 6 deadline to put a proposal on the November ballot.
City commissioner Julie Farrar said she agrees with Murray.
"We cannot cut anymore," she said.
Cedar Point spokesman Bryan Edwards said Monday afternoon that his company is opposed to a tax that will fall disproportionately on one company.
"We're a successful company that has its headquarters here. We want to keep our headquarters here," he said.
Sandusky resident Jennifer Brindley, speaking during audience participation, said she's working to put an issue on the ballot to double the admissions tax.
"Residents are asking for that," she said. "They want their Fire Station No. 7 kept open. They want their roads fixed. They want hundreds of dead trees removed."
Brindley asked commissioners if the alternative to hiking the admission tax is to raise income taxes.
She was followed at the podium by Vicki Byrd, another city resident, who said she also favors hiking the admissions tax.
"Evidently, I'm standing up against a corporation," she said. "Cedar Point does not pay that admissions tax. I pay it. We pay it."
"I will not vote to raise my income tax," Byrd said.
Wobser did not jump into the debate but said earlier that he's excited to come home and serve the city.
"It's just an incredible honor to be here," he said.