Higher taxes? Fewer services? Brimfield seeks a third option

image of the brimfield town hall, a white siding and brick building, on a cloudy day
Brimfield Township Townhall Natalie Wolford/The Portager

As the population of Brimfield grows, so do the township’s bills. 

Most recently, trustees announced that they may place a tax levy on the November ballot, seeking funding for new requests from the police department. 

The trustees realize that residents may vote with their feet instead of approving frequent tax levies, but they say their hands are tied. Caught between funding basic services or raising taxes, they are faced with hard questions but few answers.

Approached by Brimfield resident Bill Anderson during a recent trustees meeting, officials assured him they are on the constant lookout for creative ways to raise money. Their job is made harder because townships do not collect payroll taxes and Brimfield does not receive sales tax.

That leaves Brimfield relying on its taxpayers to maintain the township’s cemetery, parks and recreation department, zoning, fire and police, roads, community center, and staff. It’s a big ask for a township that has grown from 8,000 residents to over 10,000 in 20 years.

Each one of those residents expects services, and services cost money.

“We are very aware of the effects of the levies we put up there, and we take advantage of any alternative method to raise other revenue besides property tax,” Fiscal Officer John Dalziel said.

That means charging new companies impact fees, billing for use of township ambulances, charging impound lot and fire inspection fees, searching for grants, and anything else the township leaders can think of.

That’s also what makes Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) agreements attractive. Since villages and cities can charge payroll tax, and townships cannot, JEDDs allow townships to partner with nearby municipalities to collect those taxes on employees within a defined area.

Brimfield is bordered by the cities of Kent, Tallmadge and Stow, and by Franklin, Ravenna, Rootstown, Randolph, Suffield and Springfield townships. Brimfield has JEDD agreements with Kent and Tallmadge that funnel half of payroll taxes the cities collect from Brimfield residents back to the township. Forty percent goes directly to the township for general purposes, and 10% is reserved for maintenance and improvement, Dalziel said.

Brimfield’s annual JEDD revenue is close to $1 million, which is a chunk of change when the total township budget is about $9 million, he said.

JEDD agreements also prohibit participant cities and villages from annexing the township for a specified time period.

Prior to entering its JEDD agreement with Brimfield, Kent and Tallmadge actually did annex portions of the township. Without a JEDD agreement, townships are seen as reserve land for the surrounding municipalities, Dalziel said.

“We had no say in the annexation,” Trustee Nic Coia said.

If Brimfield had not agreed to its 99-year JEDD agreement in 2002, surrounding communities could have annexed more pieces and parts of the township, leaving Brimfield an industry-free bedroom-community skeleton of its current size, trustees said. The tax base would have disappeared, leaving residents to bear the cost of expected services.

While the township is working to attract businesses that will be beneficial to the JEDD, Dalziel said there is a possible tipping point where residents will have to accept higher taxes or a reduction of services, including police.

It is possible that residents will look at tax rates in surrounding communities and leave, he said.

To keep that from happening, trustees are working to attract light industry, which typically provides higher-paying jobs than, say, fast food restaurants.

“We’re in a big growth area right now. We just want to make sure we have the right kind of development in our township in a growth period,” Dalziel said.

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