Mar 19, 2014

Do Sandusky commissioners favor tax hike? (Updated 6:40 p.m.)

It seems as if city commissioners would raise the admissions tax, then they could solve their financial woes. Have or are they considering increasing the 3 percent rate? Jim from West Adams Street
6:40 p.m. — Story updated and includes responses from all seven commissioners.
 
12 p.m. — Original story:
 
Let's offer some background before providing answers from commissioners:
 
The tax: The admissions tax, which is a 3 percent fee tacked onto ticket sales at Sandusky-based entertainment venues, largely depends upon attendance at Cedar Point — the undisputed giant in the region’s entertainment industry.
 
The amount: City officials collected about $2.81 million in admissions tax in 2013, the most in recent times. Cedar Point's new roller coaster, GateKeeper, surely propelled this amount.
 
The proposed raise: In Jim's questions, he referenced a past Register story, indicating an 8 percent admissions tax rate would've generated about $7.5 million — virtually solving all of Sandusky's budget problems, underscored by commissioners eliminating four full-time firefighter positions.
 
If commissioners were to raise a tax, many residents favor hiking the admissions fee — as opposed to the 1 percent income tax or upping property taxes —  since it largely targets tourists.
 
The decision: For the past few weeks, commissioners have discussed whether or not residents would support a tax increase of some kind.
 
Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. started the conversation by organizing town hall-style meeting, informing people about Sandusky's budget challenges and seeking input for how to improve the city's financial standing.
 
But Murray, who's firm Murray & Murray represents Cedar Fair, has recused himself from answering the question.
 
So the Register asked every other commissioner via email about whether they favor increasing the admissions tax or not.
 
Any tax increase would likely have to be approved by a majority of voters.
 
Here are their responses:
 
• Jeff Smith: I would much rather work with Cedar Point as a corporate citizen than force a tax on (its) customers. I feel it is much more important for Sandusky to begin an aggressive economic development campaign focusing on our strengths. We need to build partnerships with local businesses focusing on creating more jobs within the city limits 
 
• Naomi Twine: I am not in favor of supporting an increase in the admissions tax. I believe that if we are going to move this city forward, we, the commissioners, should take the lead and collaborate with city staff, citizens and business stakeholders. If this commission, after exercising responsible, measured and strategic assessment of where we are, what we need to do in order to get to where we want to go, make the appropriate adjustments when and where needed, and if all parties involved believe an admissions tax increase is something that they would be willing to support, I would consider it. 
 
• Wes Poole: :The Dog and (its Reflection)", An Aesop's Fable: It happened that a Dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home he had to cross a plank lying across a running brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also. So he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen more.
 
• Scott Schell: We can not hope to meet these challenges by cuts to staff and services alone. Part of that game plan has to be a strategy to increase revenues. We will need to look at every aspect of our current revenue stream and assess what can be improved or revised to help the city provide the necessary services to our citizens. The admissions tax is just one piece of this equation.  I would be in favor of beginning the dialogue with our community partners who contribute annually to the admissions tax. Share with them the state of the city today and our analysis of where we are headed in the next two years. Investigate how the current levels of tax impact their business today and how any potential increase might impact their operations in the future.
 
• Dick Brady: The admission tax issue creates a potential conflict of interest for myself. I own Brady Sign Company and Brady Electric Inc. Over the last 34 years, both of these companies have been a vendor to the largest contributor to the admission tax collected by Sandusky, Cedar Fair. Due to this potential conflict of interest I will be required to refrain from discussing or voting on the admissions tax issue. 

• Julie Farrar: Yes, I am in favor of raising the admissions tax. The admission tax has been the same amount since its inception. Cedar Point and the city are in this together in my opinion. I would use an admission tax increase for streets and other infrastructure improvements and also ask the citizens to get behind a safety levy to fund our police and fire departments.

The Mailbag is a daily feature on sanduskyregister.com. Each weekday at noon, we will post one question from a reader and answer it. To ask a question, send a letter to The Mailbag at 314 W. Market St., or email mailbag@sanduskyregister.com. Please include your first name and a location in the email, e.g. “John from Decatur Street."

Comments

DGMutley

Isn't it a shame that we have to put together a citizens committee to do the job that the city commission is supposed to be doing?

A meeting isn't really necessary. I think everyone would like to preserve their anonymity.

There are only few problems: 1) Deciding on the percentage amount. 2) Putting together the ballot language. (3) Costs. (4) Following the proper procedures to get it on the ballot.

There probably is someone that is in favor of an admissions hike that is familiar with the necessary steps.

A suggestion to determine the percent is that we have 3 petitions for the percentage amount. One for 4%, one for 6%, and one for 8%. The one with the most signatures is the one that goes on the ballot. Voter is only permitted to sign one.

Putting conditions for the use of funds is not necessary it just complicates this issue. The commission can do their jobs and allocate the funds.

Here is the complete 2013 Ohio Ballot Questions and Issues Handbook:
http://www.sos.state.oh.us/SOS/U...

footnote: To continue to preserve our anonymity we can work through someone online that is known online. i.e. Tim or Sharon if they are willing.

Nemesis

"There probably is someone that is in favor of an admissions hike that is familiar with the necessary steps."

I've organized a referendum petition, including drafting the language, but I wouldn't support more than 4%.

In any event, you have no idea what you're getting into. My issue was opposed by the legislative body involved, and I can tell you, they will do everything in their power to stop you. It's an uphill battle that is ultimately doomed. You can't organize enough circulators who are smart enough not to be tricked into saying or doing something that will sink the entire thing on a technicality. We had people who would team up, one to distract the circulator while the other signed their own name and forged their spouse's, and then they'd get every sheet from that circulator disqualified by claiming the circulator told them to do it. They challenged hundreds of signatures because people's handwriting had changed in the 20 years since they registered to vote.

DGMutley

Thanks for your reply and your willingness to support a 4 % tax. I'm sure you are right in the probable opposition.

Bogtrotter

@Nemesis

donutsh0pguy

They have already started with NEMESIS. PEOPLE DO NOT LISTEN TO NEMESIS he works for CEDAR FAIR!

APRIL 5th 11am Mr. Smiths
Make a difference join the fight!

"Save City Services Tax the Tourist"

DGMutley

Bogtrotter,

The language shouldn't be a problem if the language used just copies the ordinance already on the books. I don't expect a smear campaign from Cedar Point.

By my calculations 281 signatures are needed out of a pool of 16,327 eligible voters.

A prepared presentation is necessary when asking for a signature. Written and read. No deviations.

Bogtrotter

?

DGMutley

Stepping up and supporting an increase and volunteering to get signatures on the petitions doesn't require giving up a person's online anonymity. If it does then I would question your motives.

It would be my guess that there are commissioners, police officers, firemen, people in the court system, etc. who are posting online, anonymously with their views. Even folks from Cedar Point -- wow, did I say that?

Bogtrotter

.

SamAdams

Yes, you need to use your real name when you're organizing something like this. Yes, OBVIOUSLY you need to use your real name when you sign the petition. But really, Bogtrotter, how does that compromise online anonymity? Are you going to sign everything "John Smith, aka Bogtrotter?" Yeah, me, neither.

Bogtrotter

What's this aka stuff? I'm signing it B. Trotter, just like it says on my driver's license.

Nemesis

"The dependent class? You mean the people in this city who depend on it for fire and police services? The city budget for the police department is $5 million. The city budget for the fire department is $5 million. The city budget for parks and recreation is $126,000."

That's a total of $10 million for essential services, but the city spends $17 million/year, and a lot of it is on things that are none of the government's business. The city's financial woes are largely the result of decades of governing to the favor of those who reject the social contract. There are cities out there that don't have a Cedar Point, and they manage. I've already stated my support for an increase to 4.1 percent, which perfectly adequate for funding legitimate government activity.

"A ballot initiative, by law, requires a committee"

No, it doesn't. That's how it's usually done, but an individual could prepare, circulate, and submit a petition, and subsequently be the only one campaigning on behalf of the initiative.

The objection people have is probably to making a commitment here, under their commenter ID's, to show up in person to a meeting and be counted as present based on those personas. Perhaps you might be better off simply announcing the meeting time and seeing who shows up. Try pointing out that people can show up and just say they read about it here, rather than asking for commitments. Better yet, set up a gmail account and ask people to contact it on their own to say when they are available. Loss of anonymity in this venue only becomes an issue because you're trying to plan the meeting here.

Bogtrotter

Engineering department: $478,000.
Maintenance and utilities: $374,200.
Finance: $413,000.
Law: $270,000.
Bond Payments: $112,000.
Mechanics: $246,000.
Street lighting: $234,000.
Cemetery: $199,000.
Administrative: $174,000.
City Manager: $92,000.
Commission: $75,223.
Economic Development: $67,000.

What do you want to cut? The city spends peanuts on non-essential services. $253,000 on community development, $126,000 on parks and $787,000 on horticulture services.

reader

I will be there.

YouMustBeJoking

When we go to the store and purchase something, we are charged a 7.5% tax. You pay it, your friends and family pays it, and so do I. There is no reason what so ever someone, including myself should pay less tax on getting into Cedar Point, than we do shopping at the dollar store. 8% is what the admission tax needs to be. No more, no less. The tax paid on a ticket to Cedar Point should be comparable to the tax paid anywhere else, on anything else. I should not have to pay twice as much taxes on my daughters school clothes and supplies, than a person pays in taxes to get into Cedar Point. I'm sorry that's just not right

Bogtrotter

Saturday, April 5, 11 am, Mr. Smith's Coffeehouse. Let's start working on a ballot initiative.

Bogtrotter

Saturday, April 5, 11 am, Mr. Smith's Coffeehouse. Let's start working on a ballot initiative.

T. A. Schwanger

###

@Bogtrotter.

A suggestion.

For the first meeting you may want to contact the Sandusky Register and put a meeting notice in the Community Events section to generate a good turnout.

Bogtrotter

Excellent suggestion. Thanks. I hope you'll support our effort. The city would have NO excuse for selling waterfront property for ANY reason with the additional revenue available to it from an increase in the admissions tax. Hopefully, that revenue would also provide the impetus to address the future of Sandusky Bay Pavilion, possibly integrating it into an improved Battery Park, which is currently a large parking lot attached to a private swimming pool.

Babo

What prevents the City Manager from introducing an Admissions Tax on the Agenda and requiring Murray and Brady to abstain from discussions and votes on the matter in view of the their admitted conflicts of interest?

Bogtrotter

Only one commissioner actually supports raising the admissions tax. So it's a ballot initiative or bust. And, if only 3 or 4 people in this town are willing to work on circulating petitions, then it's going to be bust. Mr. Smith's. April 5. 11 am.

Babo

Actually if two commissioners are required to recuse themselves, you only need two out of the remaining three to pass it do you not?

The City Manager should at least float the idea and let the people hear from Twine and Schnell why they would oppose the idea.

donutsh0pguy

Don't worry I know quite a few people that will help circulate the petitions and a few of them have experience.

Rosa

The commissioners were voted in to make the best decisions for the city and it's citizens, not for Cedar Point. If they cannot do that, they should step down and allow others to do what is right. Raise the admissions tax and don't hide behind recusing yourself to keep Cedar Point happy.

Nemesis

Commissioners have a right to have a life and livelihood beyond the council chambers. It's inevitable, especially in a small town, that matters will come before the commission in which one or more commissioners have a vested interest, and in those cases, entirely appropriate for them to recuse themselves. They are not recusing themselves "to keep Cedar Point happy" but because it presents a conflict of interest which, under ethics laws, disqualifies them from voting on the matter.

Having sufficient training in economics and exposure to how business decisions are made, Murray is unlikely to be swayed by the childish class warfare agitprop driving calls for an admissions tax hike. Even if he had no relationship with CP his own education and experience would likely lead him to vote against it. Thus, his recusal removes one "no" vote from the mix, and increases the chances of the legislation you favor passing. Your failure to realize this leads you to advocate against your own goals - maybe you should stick to things you understand.

Fireside

BINGO

donutsh0pguy

Yes Stick to what you know serving ice cream.

Rosa

I think I hit a nerve....

Nemesis

Nope. Go back and read what I wrote, this time for comprehension. You lash out at something you do not understand, and end up calling for something that hurts your cause. When you speak out AGAINST the thing you want and don't even realize it, there can be no better indicator that you don't have a clue what you're talking about.

Bogtrotter

A

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