Warren tax increase on ballot gets backing from citizens committee

WARREN – The Citizens Committee formed to review the city’s budget to determine whether a 0.5-percent income tax increase is needed gave its unanimous support for the five-year proposal.

“Although many political arguments can be made for or against the levy regarding its timing, the truth this bipartisan committee revealed is the need for an increase in tax was inevitable,” Paul Clouser said in the committee’s endorsement letter. “When you cast your vote regarding the levy, you are not casting a vote for or against an individual politician or the administration. You are actually casting a vote for or against your neighbor, your community and yourself, as well as the future of Warren.”

The committee was created as a result of a discussion between Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa and Clouser that led to a five-member group of citizens receiving access to the city’s budget to review and analyze. The group included two members selected by Cantalamessa and two members selected by Clouser. Clouser also worked with the committee and has been its chief spokesperson.

After reviewing the budget, the committee on Sept. 15 reported to the administration that it could support the idea of a tax increase, provided nine recommendations it wanted to see either was accomplished or was in process.

Two of the nine recommendations included the creation of a $200,000 reserve fund and the passage of an ordinance to use 0.75 percent of the general fund for five years for the purpose of economic development.

“City Hall agrees with nearly every point as presented by this committee,” Clouser wrote. “The only area of contention was in defining dollar amounts for to both the reasonable reserve and for economic development.”

In its response, the administration argued that it previously had a reserve fund, but it was eliminated when Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration reduced the amount of local government funds coming back to the city by $1.2 million per year.

“While we agree that the establishment of reasonable reserves constitutes prudent financial management, the establishment of reasonable reserves must be created out of non-tax increase related revenues,” Cantalamessa wrote in a response from the mayor’s office. “Every effort will be made, as they are currently, to replenish and maintain reasonable reserves upon the passage of the tax and after all the operational obligations have been met.”

As to the group’s request to set aside 0.75 percent of the overall general fund to promote economic development, administration officials noted the income tax money, if approved by voters, can only be used for the specific purposes of police, fire and the establishment of a road maintenance program.

“We are pleased with the support,” Cantalamessa said. “We knew the conclusion would ultimately be to support the increase once the committee did the work to examine the finances.”

Now that the committee has given its support for the tax, Clouser said he plans to go to any community forum to talk about the issues that he and other committee members felt were important in making their decision.

“Going through the numbers, a person can argue what had been done and what led us to this point, but inevitably we would have gotten to this point,” Clouser said. “My biggest concern is we not get into the position where we repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Clouser said the decision by the committee to support the tax proposal has resulted in some blow back from people he has worked with in the past and hopes to continue working with in the future.

“I’m trying to give an honest appraisal,” Clouser said. “If some residents want to vote against these guys in the next election three years from now that’s fine. However, this is not the time.”

If the tax passes, Clouser said he will remain on the committee to “keep the administration’s feet to the fire in keeping its promises.”