Tax critic: Sell golf course

WARREN – A vocal critic of the effort to convince voters to increase the city’s income tax suggested to City Council that it sell the city-owned Old Avalon Golf Course in Howland.

Greg Greathouse, during council’s public speaking portion of Wednesday’s meeting, said he was told by several area Realtors the city could get between $4,000 and $5,000 per acre for the golf course.

“At $5,000 per acre and you have $560,000 for the 112 acres,” Greathouse said.

The city is projecting an annual budget deficit of at least $1.7 million in 2016 and beyond if nothing is done to either increase revenues or reduce spending.

Greathouse believes the city should significantly reduce its spending, instead of increasing city taxes.

“Sell the golf course and save five police jobs,” Greathouse said. “This administration is spending too much money and they intend to spend every last nickel of the new money they are asking for.”

The city is working to convince voters to increase its income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent for five years. The increase is projected to raise between $3.5 million to $4 million in its first year.

Although Mayor Doug Franklin and Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa chose not to respond to Greathouse’s statements, Council Finance Committee Chairman Eddie Colbert, D-at large, would not allow the statement to pass unanswered.

While stating he believes Greathouse is trying to be helpful and is sincere in his opposition to the tax, Colbert was emotional in his criticism of his fellow council members for allowing what he perceives to be misinformation to be given out.

“Yes, $500,000 would help,” Colbert said. “But 2018 will come and we would have nothing.”

Earlier in the meeting, Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, begged Franklin and Cantalamessa to increase police patrols in her ward because of the increased number of shootings happening in her neighborhoods, including shots fired into the home of the council clerk in the last week.

Colbert, in his response to Greathouse, asked what would happen if the city has to lay off 10, 12, or 15 police officers because the tax fails.

“There would not be the officers to send,” Colbert said. “We need $1.8 million in operating costs. It cannot be a one time thing. We cannot continue to allow misinformation. It will not solve our problem.”

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said she spoke to council members from Girard, which came out of state fiscal watch a couple years ago, and Niles, which is currently being monitored by the state, about being under state control.

Rucker said state auditors told leaders in these communities that the last thing they want to do is to sell city assets, because they are one time fixes.

“It is not a good practice,” Rucker said.

Rucker reminded council members that over the next month, they will talk to a lot of city residents about the tax and the most important thing they can do is to give them good information and to be honest with them.

“If you don’t know something, tell them you don’t know and get back to them,” Rucker said.

Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, agreed with Rucker, but added council members cannot browbeat residents just because they disagree.

“We may not like some of their answers,” Brown said. “They are just looking for answers. You cannot expect them to blindly listen to what we are saying.”

rsmith@tribtoday.com