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Falls voters must make good on opportunity

It took Newton Falls resident Werner Lange three appeals and more than $1,000 of his own money to win an Ohio Supreme Court case last week against Newton Falls village clerk Kathleen King.

The win – all in the name of democracy – means residents in the village will get the opportunity Nov. 3 to decide whether a “forgiveness tax” should be granted to residents who live in the village but work and pay income tax outside the village.

King apparently had decided she – not the voters – should be the one to decide this important question, and had been dragging her feet in sending a certified initiative and signed petition to the board of elections to be placed on the ballot.

It is the third time Lange has attempted to get the issue before voters after village council in 2012 and 2014 repealed forgiveness taxes, taking away credits granted to residents who paid income tax to another municipality. Each of Lange’s attempts was blocked by delays and legal maneuverings. Lange, however, felt strongly that this issue – like many tax issues – should be decided by the residents, not village council, and maintained his fight. So, in July he circulated petitions and collected 286 signatures, well above the required 114 he needed to place the issue on the ballot.

He took the petitions and a $10 filing fee to King on July 7, but she delayed sending the petitions to the Trumbull County Board of Elections for more than 20 days and only after she had returned from a week’s vacation. Eventually, the board determined 220 of the signatures were valid. The next step in the process is for the clerk to determine the sufficiency and validity of the petition, and, if the petition passes muster, to send a certified copy of the text for the proposed ballot initiative, along with the petitions, back to the board of elections for placement on the ballot. King refused to do this, and Lange sued.

King, under advice of the village law director, has argued that this issue is “nonreferendable administrative action,” Lange said in his legal documents.

In defending her actions, King said Lange filed his proposed measure with the wrong municipal official, that the ballot issue would illegally affect two separate laws and that the tax credit would cost the city too much money and impair its ability to meet its contractual obligations. The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling last week that none of these arguments have merit and ordered King to forward the certified information and petitions to the board of elections to be placed on the ballot.

We wonder why officials in Newton Falls believe they know better than the taxpayers and why they believe they – not the residents – should be the ones to decide tax issues like this. America is a democracy, and in Ohio, tax issues like this may be decided by majority vote.

The delays and maneuverings by King and village officials were nothing but an attempt to maintain the $225,000 this tax generates, and were a clear abuse of power. We believe Newton Falls officials should step up, acknowledge their mistake and reimburse Lange the more than $1,000 he invested in this endeavor.

Lange, who is not an attorney yet represented himself in this case, described his actions like this: Democracy is no spectator sport, and its defense requires sacrifice as well as commitment.

We encourage all Newton Falls voters to head to the polls on Nov. 3. What’s most important is not how you vote on this issue, but that you take advantage of the opportunity to cast your ballot on it.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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