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Warren wrong to consider permanent tax

It’s been said there is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax.

If Warren leaders have their way, it seems that cliche could come to fruition.

The ink was barely dry on last month’s city-wide elections when freshly elected officials began broaching their intentions to make permanent the five-year, 0.5 percent income tax increase first passed by voters in 2016.

That idea is wrong and should be wholly rejected before it goes any further.

City council’s finance committee is pursuing the idea that could lead to placing a permanent tax on the 2020 primary ballot. City Auditor Vince Flask led a recent discussion about the tax that generates about $3 million per year.

We do not deny that the city has faced budgeting challenges based in large part on area job loss both within the city limits and nearby. City officials used that in their reasoning for initially seeking passage of the five-year tax in 2016. Employment loss included Delphi’s 2005 bankruptcy; closure of the GE Lamp Plant in early 2014, losing about 200 jobs; and RG Steel’s closure in 2012 that lost more than 1,000 jobs, they pointed out. Of course, this year we also lost General Motors and all the tax revenue generated in income tax on payroll of workers living in Warren.

While campaigning for the 2016 levy, Mayor Doug Franklin noted that the city also had lost more than $1 million per year in combined local government funds and inheritance tax from the state.

With reluctance, we used this space to support the tax, but only with conditions that the city must be serious about continuing to explore new ways of conserving funds and consolidating services. We urged officials to think outside the box and consider ways to merge or even outsource departments in attempts to cut expenses. Of course, we knew those ideas would be unpopular among city workers, but elected leaders’ jobs often require hard decisions. We also urged city officials to think about selling the city’s sanitation department’s garbage collection routes to private trash haulers and the city-owned golf course, saying each could generate significant one-time windfalls while eliminating future financial risks.

And we urged them to keep their pencil sharp, because no one ever knows what the future could hold.

In fact, here is the exact wording we used in our Oct. 16, 2016, editorial on this topic:

“We feel strongly that city leaders have continued to operate as status quo for too long. There is no chance of keeping this tax increase temporary without significant changes in operations and philosophy. Without embracing new ideas like these or others, the city has no hope of becoming fiscally sound.”

Here we are, three years later. Rather than accomplishing or even, by the looks of things, seriously considering any of the suggestions we urged, the city still operates the status quo with its newfound income tax revenue. It’s true the city has spent the money as promised, hiring police officers and repairing roads. But it doesn’t appear that our leaders have pursued any new means of cutting costs.

And now, rather than remaining responsive and answerable to constituents every five years by offering an explanation of how the funds have been spent and how they intend to spend them going forward, city leaders instead have decided it just would be easier to ask voters to make the tax permanent. That way, they can spend as they see fit, without ever having to explain their decisions to taxpayers who foot the bill. This way, they can operate without fear that voter discontent could lead to failure of a levy renewal in the future.

We are sorely disappointed that our elected leaders even are considering this idea, and frankly, that Franklin wasn’t open and forthcoming about this plan to ask voters to make the levy permanent when he sat down with our editorial board while seeking his Nov. 5 re-election.

City leaders must rethink this plan of asking voters to make this 0.5 percent income tax levy permanent. And if they proceed with the plan, then voters should vote no.

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