Make Tax Hike The Last Resort

Most proposals for local tax increases do not sound like much. But a little here, a little there, and pretty soon, a healthy bite is taken out of family budgets.

Steubenville City Council is being asked to increase the city income tax by a quarter of a percent. That would take the current 2 percent slice out of city residents’ incomes up to 2.25 percent. For someone with a total income of $20,000 a year, that would amount to $450 in local income taxes.

City Finance Director Stacy Williams explained the request to council this week – adding that the income tax increase will not be enough to keep Steubenville’s budget in balance. A property tax levy to support public safety services also will be needed, she said, noting they account for 60 percent of the city general fund budget.

By 2016, the city, under a “worst-case scenario,” will be $835,000 short of balancing the general fund budget, Williams said. The following two years may be even more daunting.

Fortunately, taxpayers are not the only class of people becoming fed up with the ever-increasing cost of government at all levels. Many local officials also have qualms about tax increases.

During Tuesday’s meeting, some city council members suggested that before increasing either income or property taxes, they should look at ways to reduce municipal spending. “We need to look at staffing and more efficiencies,” suggested Councilman Mike Johnson.

Precisely. If taxes go up, many Steubenville residents and business owners will have to review their spending with fine-tooth combs, searching for ways to cut back. Before city government forces them to do so, officials ought to engage in the exercise themselves.

Meaningful cuts in city spending may well mean less service in some ways, perhaps including public safety. But before increasing taxes, city officials should at least be prepared to explain options – less service in exchange for restraint on taxes – to Steubenville residents and business owners.