Oberlin to seek income tax renewal in November

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com

A 0.2 percent income tax renewal will go before voters in November as Oberlin looks to keep $600,000 per year on the books.

The cash pays for street improvements and equipment for the police, fire, and utilities departments, said city finance director Sal Talarico.

He told city council Monday that the 10-year levy is set to expire at the end of 2018, leaving three chances for voters to re-up it: November 2017, May 2018, and November 2018.

The lion’s share of the money goes toward street paving. “Not having that additional $600,000 would make significant negative impact on our ability to improve streets in town,” Talarico said.

The levy does not cover water, sewer, electric, and garbage collection expenses.

Council president Ronnie Rimbert, with backing from other elected officials, suggested placing the issue on the next ballot in November.

“For some reason, if it fails, I’d rather have two bites at the apple than one,” he said.

The filing deadline is in August. Talarico promised to have a resolution back before council this summer.

Several factors make renewing the income tax levy a necessity for Oberlin, he said.

In 2014, the city opted to put forward another 0.6 percent income tax — which passed — to make up for deep state funding cuts to local governments. The city also lost the personal property tax and continues to struggle with low interest rates.

The Ohio legislature also voted to eliminate the inheritance tax, which generated $500,000 to $600,000 per year for Oberlin, Talarico said. It was repealed without any replacement revenue from the state.

“There is no way this administration or the legislature in Columbus is going to restore the local government funds and the estate tax is gone forever,” he said.

That leaves Oberlin with slim options. The only way to forego one of the levies is to cut expenses and eliminate $600,000 from the capital improvement plan over the next several years, said Talarico.

“Essentially, that’s going to mean a lot fewer streets (get paved) and a lot older safety equipment,” he said.

There is another possible tax collection issue lurking on the horizon.

In 2016, collections rose due to buyouts offered by Oberlin College to longtime staff members. The result could be an income tax reduction in 2018, though Talarico said it’s unclear how much it might amount to.

Oberlin has been fortunate for many years that voters have supported levies. That support exists, he said, because residents can see exactly where the money is going.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk