From new taxes to virtual meetings, here are the 10 issues on the May 3 ballot

Voters in Brimfield cast their ballots in the Nov. 2, 2021 election. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

Across Portage County, voters will decide on tax questions for schools, funding for police and emergency services, public meeting policies and more. Below we explain what each of these ballot issues is about. You can skim the headings to find issues that pertain to your community and may appear on your ballot May 3.

Rootstown

Issue 1: Shall a levy renewing 2 existing levies be imposed by the Rootstown Local School District for the purpose of providing for emergency requirements of the school district in the sum of $1,145,056 and a levy of taxes to be made outside of the ten-mill limitation estimated by the county auditor to average 4.5 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 45 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 10 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023. If approved, any remaining tax years on any of the two existing levies will not be collected after 2022.

Rootstown Local Schools is combining two existing emergency levies into one. The new 10-year, 4.5-mill levy will not raise taxes as it is a renewal levy. Combined, the levy is intended to garner $1,145,056 annually for the district.

Since Rootstown schools float four levies, voters face one every year, Superintendent Andrew Hawkins said.

“The rationale is to relieve some levy fatigue and not have a tax increase,” he said.

Levy proceeds go toward general operations, which translates to classroom supplies, implementing curriculum, paying for utilities, fuel, transportation, special education costs, extracurricular programs, unfunded state and federal mandates, and salaries, Hawkins said.

If the levy bid fails in May, district board of education members will have no choice but to try again on the November ballot, Hawkins said.

One of the two levies expires at the end of this year, which would be an annual $180,000 loss.

“It’s not a great deal of money, but it could certainly pay for a lot of these items. That would definitely create a void to continue that quality of education,” Hawkins said.

Suffield

Issue 2: An additional tax for the benefit of the Springfield Local School District for the purpose of current expenses at a rate not exceeding 3.9 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 39 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 5 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.

Springfield Local Schools is seeking a five-year, 3.9-mill additional tax levy to fund current expenses.

The levy is expected to generate $1.7 million annually, and will cost the owner of a property valued at $100,000 an estimated additional $11.38 a month, Springfield schools treasurer Chris Adams said.

Springfield school district serves mostly Summit County but does include about 50 students who live at the southwest tip of Portage County.

Given the close vote tallies of many local elections, Interim Superintendent Bill Stauffer urges those few families to support the levy.

The district is already in “fiscal watch,” which means the state is keeping a close eye on finances, Stauffer said. Fiscal watch can easily devolve to “fiscal emergency,” when state officials swing a financial ax, mandating the steps necessary to return to fiscal health.

Springfield schools families know what that means: The district was placed in fiscal emergency in 2007, Stauffer said.

“You lose local control. It puts a black mark on the school. We don’t want that to happen,” Adams said.

To avoid fiscal emergency, the district recently cut 13 teachers, resulting in a $1.2 million savings, and developed a required positive five-year forecast plan. Busing has been reduced to state minimum, and classified employee positions have also been cut, Adams said.

It may not be enough.

Springfield has been paying teacher and substitute teacher salaries with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, but those will expire in 2023.

“If ESER funds aren’t extended, we’ll have to continue to make cuts in the future. We’re not basing our future financial funds on the hope that the federal government will continue to give us more money,” Adams said.

Springfield voters haven’t approved a levy for new operating money in 22 years. Though voters approved a 2010 bond issue to build a new high school, essentially the district is operating on the same budget it had in 2000, Stauffer said.

Stauffer pointed to increased class sizes at the elementary school, and “a very, very bare bones curriculum” at the high school, where electives have already been slashed.

“It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know how you could reduce more than we’ve already reduced,” he said.

In a worst case scenario, the Springfield district could dissolve altogether, and would merge into Akron, Mogadore, Field and Coventry districts. If that happens, affected property owners would see their taxes increase without a vote, “and the crazy thing is Springfield is one of the lowest in the county for school taxes,” Adams said.

Before such a “highly unlikely” merge could happen, Adams said the district would continue making cuts, slashing its curriculum and extracurricular programs even further. Electives, AP classes and sports could disappear altogether.

Adams said he’s already seen a lot of “for sale” signs in the district. Those signs may reflect economic choice, or may be indicative of voters’ dissatisfaction with district schools, Adams said.

“A strong community has to have strong schools,” Stauffer said. “Without the proper funding for the schools we just can’t be strong. There have been lots of cuts that have gone on here in the last couple years, and it has really weakened the curricular options that we can offer kids.”

Garrettsville, Freedom and Nelson

Issue 3: A renewal of a tax for the benefit of Community Emergency Medical Services District for the purpose of providing ambulance service, emergency medical service, or both at a rate not exceeding 3.5 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 35 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 5 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.

Community EMS is seeking a five-year, 3.5-mill renewal tax levy to fund ambulance and EMS. (Community EMS District covers Garrettsville, Freedom and Nelson. It is staffed with three full-time paramedics and 32 part-time EMTs and paramedics. 

Voters last approved a five-year EMS levy in November 2017. This one is a renewal levy intended to raise $583,010 annually for five years. Renewal levies do not raise taxes.

All 50 states classify police and fire departments as essential services, paving the way for them to receive funding such as CARES Act money. Only 11 states classify EMS as an essential service, and Ohio is not one of them.

That leaves Community EMS to beg the county, Garrettsville, and Freedom and Nelson townships for assistance. The agency gets most of its money from property tax levies and EMS billing, with a small amount from grants and donations, Community EMS Chief Chris Sanchez said.

When Community EMS needed items to help its employees cope with Covid, Freedom Township came through with two ultraviolet lights to disinfect surfaces, and the county contributed some PPE, but otherwise the agency was on its own, he said.

“Last year we ran 1,126 calls. [Before that] we have never hit 1,100, and we only hit 1,000 one time, so our call volume has drastically increased,” Sanchez said.

If voters approve the levy, Sanchez says the additional $583,010 annual infusion will be used for daily operations such as salaries and vehicle maintenance. Community EMS operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With only two employees on station at any given time, the board of trustees is also exploring the feasibility of adding to that number.

Now, if the station gets additional calls when the two are already out, employees must respond from their homes. That increases response time, which could cost lives, Sanchez said.

If voters reject the levy, Sanchez said it will appear on future ballots. It must be approved by November 2023 or Community EMS will have no alternative but to decrease staffing, which would increase response times, he said. Additionally, calls would be routed to other departments, which would also increase response times.

Aurora

Issue 4: Shall the proposed new Section 21.07 “Virtually and/or electronically conducted meetings” of the Charter of Aurora City allowing all public bodies of Aurora City to conduct meetings by teleconference, video conference, or using other similar technology in compliance with all legal requirements and pursuant to executive order and/or legislative action, subject to rules implemented by legislative action, be adopted?

Aurora City is seeking a charter amendment to allow city officials to hold virtual meetings.

The measure “would generally allow the city to hold virtual meetings,” Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said. If approved, she and council will craft legislation outlining the circumstances and requirements for virtual meetings to be held.

“The pandemic caused us to realize that unforeseen circumstances could arise when a virtual meeting might be the only way for council to act on needed matters,” Womer Benjamin said, pointing to state law that permitted virtual meetings on a temporary basis.

Concerned that other situations could require virtual meetings, Womer Benjamin said she hoped Aurora’s voters will approve the charter change.

“The Attorney General has indicated that charter cities, of which Aurora is one, can permit virtual meetings without state legislative action if the charter permits them. Our charter currently does not, so we are hoping voters will support this change. State law regarding public participation and notice requirements would still apply,” she said.

Issue 4 does not affect government bodies livestreaming their meetings, Law Director Dean DePiero said. It would only allow city council members to participate, including casting votes, virtually.

Issue 5: A renewal of a tax for the benefit of Aurora City for the purpose of the purchase of ambulance equipment, or the provision of ambulance, paramedic or other emergency medical services operated by a fire department or firefighting company at a rate not exceeding 1.5 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 15 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 5 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.

Aurora City is seeking a five-year, 1.5-mill renewal tax levy to fund fire and EMS.

Intended to raise $960,469 annually, levy proceeds would be used to pay Aurora Fire Department’s five full-time firefighter/paramedics, and to replace rescue squad and utility vehicles, firefighter turnout gear, hoses and equipment, and heart monitors, Chief David Barnes said.

Renewal levies do not raise taxes.

If voters reject the measure, “We’d have to look for alternative funding sources and we’d have to run it again,” he said. “We currently don’t bill any Aurora residents for ambulance services, so alternative funding means I may have to bill you for your ambulance ride.”

If the city could not find cash to fund firefighter salaries, “We’d be hurting at the end of the year. We run over 2,500 calls a year,” he said.

Streetsboro

Issue 6: Shall the sale of wine and mixed beverages and spirituous liquor be permitted for sale on Sunday by Wild Eagle Streetsboro LLC, a holder of a D-5 and D-6 liquor permit, who is engaged in the business of a restaurant at 9470 SR 14, Streetsboro, Ohio 44241 in this precinct?

Wild Eagle Streetsboro, LLC is asking Streetsboro City 1C voters to decide a liquor option to allow Sunday sales for wine and mixed beverages and “spiritous liquor.” Wild Eagle Steak & Saloon is located at 9470 State Route 14, across an access road from Arby’s.

Mantua

Issue 7: Shall the Ordinance providing for a 0.5% levy increase on income for law enforcement and public safety be passed?

Mantua Village voters will decide on a proposed income tax increase from 1.5% to 2% effective July 1. The purpose of the tax increase is to fund the police department.

Mantua voters already rejected the tax increase in November. (Read our previous reporting on the proposed tax increase.)

Village residents have not faced an income tax increase since 1988, Mantua Mayor Linda Clark said. If approved, the half-percent hike would generate about $200,000 a year, all of which would go toward the police department’s salary, equipment, and daily operations.

Clark added that the increase would only affect earned income, not Social Security benefits or pensions.

On Dec. 31, the village lost its $90,000 annual dispatching contract with Garrettsville, which was able to get a better dispatching deal from the county sheriff’s office.

“All communities need to watch their budgets, so that was a financial decision they made. They were not unhappy with our services,” Clark said.

If voters reject the tax hike, “services everywhere would have to be cut in order for us to have a balanced budget. I don’t know where council would decide to cut back. It’s their decision, not mine,” Clark said.

Mogadore

Issue 8: An additional tax for the benefit of the Village of Mogadore for the purpose of the payment of firefighting companies or permanent, part-time, or volunteer firefighting, emergency medical service, administrative, or communications personnel to operate the same, including the payment of any employer contributions required for such personnel under Section 145.48 or 742.34 of the Revised Code, or other emergency medical services operated by a fire department or firefighting company, or for the payment of other related costs at a rate not exceeding 3.5 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 35 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 5 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.

Mogadore voters who are served by Summit County fire services will decide on a five-year, 3.5-mill additional tax levy to fund fire protection.

If approved, funds totalling some $350,000 a year will be used to transform the department from entirely part-time employees to hiring up to five full-time firefighter/paramedics, Mogadore Fire Chief John Cain said.

The money would be just enough to cover their salaries, he said.

If voters reject the levy bid, the department will carry on with its part-time staff. That could be a problem.

“If we don’t have full-time employees, we take the chance of EMS not being covered and staffing being at a minimum. We’ve had days where we’ve had one person on duty and that’s not enough to cover an ambulance. Then we have to call for mutual aid from other fire departments and response times get delayed,” Cain said.

As with so many private and public employers, Cain said attracting and retaining part-time employees has been difficult.

MFD is a multi-jurisdictional department split between Summit County and Mogadore Village. It also provides mutual aid to Suffield, Brimfield, Tallmadge, Lakemore, Springfield and Akron.

Brimfield

Issue 9: A replacement of 2.7 mills of an existing levy and an increase of 0.32 mill to constitute a tax for the benefit of Brimfield Township for the purpose of providing and maintaining motor vehicles, communications, other equipment, buildings, and sites for such buildings used directly in the operation of a police department, for the payment of salaries of permanent or part-time police, communications, or administrative personnel to operate the same, including the payment of any employer contributions required for such personnel under section 145.48 or 742.33 of the Revised Code, for the payment of the costs incurred by townships as a result of contracts made with other political subdivisions in order to obtain police protection, for the provision of ambulance or emergency medical services operated by a police department, or for the payment of other related costs at a rate not exceeding 3.02 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 30.2 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for a continuing period of time, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.

Brimfield Township voters will decide on a continuing 3.02-mill replacement and tax levy increase to fund the police department.

The levy attempt is a virtual mirror of the one township voters approved in March 2016, Brimfield Police Chief Roy Mosley said. Intended to raise $352,000 annually, it would increase the 2006 2.7-mill levy to 3.02-mills and would cost the owner of a $100,000 property $3.37 a month, or $40.50 a year.

Though Brimfield is growing, and has added new residential development, Ohio law prohibits the amount of money a levy raises from surpassing the amount collected in its first year. That means Brimfield does not benefit from new home construction, but the residents do because the same amount is split among more property owners.

“Unlike the November 2021 police safety levy which was a proposed new/additional levy that did not pass by a narrow margin of only 40 votes, this a proposed replacement of a current levy that is scaled back and is 40% lower in cost in comparison to the November request,” Mosley said.

Levy proceeds are intended to cover five years of operational costs, which includes keeping the Brimfield Police Department’s lights on, paying for employees’ health insurance and salaries, covering fuel and equipment costs, and servicing the department’s building loan, he said.

Brimfield voters were not asked to approve a new levy or bond payment when the “new” police station was built in 2012, so “that $79,000 annual building loan payment comes out of our existing police levy funds every year right off the top,” Mosley said.

Ohio law dictates that levy proceeds be used only for their intended purpose, so even if other township departments have “extra” money, they’re off limits to the police department, he said.

If voters reject the levy, cutting police personnel, including the department’s school resource officers, is a real possibility.

“Naturally, the goal is to avoid this scenario if at all possible,” he said, adding that it would “be the opposite of what a growing community like Brimfield Township needs.”

Paris

Issue 10: A renewal of a tax for the benefit of Paris Township for appliances, buildings, or sites, therefore, or sources of water supply and materials therefore, or the establishment and maintenance of lines of fire alarm telegraph or the payment of permanent or part-time, or volunteer firemen or firefighting companies to operate by the fire department or firefighting company at a rate not exceeding 2 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to 20 cents for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for 5 years, commencing in 2022, first due in calendar year 2023.

Paris Township voters will face a five-year, 2-mill renewal tax levy to fund fire protection. 

Paris Township Fire Chief Derek Reed said the levy will generate “approximately” $68,000 annually, and is intended to continue funding daytime staffing. Renewal levies do not raise taxes.

Currently, two firefighter/EMTs are at the station from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and on weekends when anyone is available, he said.

“If the levy does not pass, we would potentially be forced to cut back on the hours our fire station is staffed,” he said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

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