With a wary eye on the sagging economy, Belmont County voters are facing tough financial decisions at the Nov. 2 general election that will impact their pocketbooks. More than a dozen political subdivisions are seeking new or renewed tax levies in order to continue their services to the public.
Four new tax issues are on the ballot along with 13 other renewal or replacement levies from the various communities, townships and school districts in the county.
Bellaire School District residents are faced with the largest, single new levy request - 12.9 mills. The request is being billed as an emergency to provide funds to keep the district financially afloat and prevent another round of drastic personnel cuts.
Twenty teachers were cut from the faculty staff after the defeat of an identical levy in May and school officials have indicated if defeated again it would trigger another sizeable personnel cut. Passage of the levy would generate $1.4 million a year but the district would not be operating out of a deficit situation until 2013. At the present time the district is operating at a $3.5 million deficit.
In St. Clairsville, approval is being sought for a 1 percent income tax to bolster the city's finances so that the city can "keep the services that we all rely upon and enjoy." Specifically, funds from the income tax would go for capital improvements throughout the city, general municipal operations and for operation of the police, street and recreation departments, landscape and grounds, litter program, the National Road bikeway and to provide matching funds for grants.
People who either live within the city limits or those who are employed in the city will have their earned income assessed by 1 percent, should the issue be approved. Net profits for businesses as well as income rental on property will also be subject to the tax.
Those who receive Social Security benefits, pension plan payments, retirement benefits, annuities and unemployment compensation will not be taxed. And city officials noted when the tax was proposed that they are not after dividends, interest or capital gains. Also, a person paying an income tax in some other city such as Martins Ferry will have to pay only 50 percent of the tax assessment in St. Clairsville. For a person earning $50,000 a year, the 1 percent tax would amount to $500.
There is only one countywide issue on the ballot - a one-half mill renewal levy for the Belmont County Senior Services. It is designed to provide the funds for the BSS to continue providing senior services, including but not limited to transportation, nutrition and in-home services to the elderly. It is to be in force for five years.
Replacement of a 2-mill levy is being sought by the Eastern Ohio Regional Transit Authority. In Belmont County that would increase the authority's revenue by approximately $40,000 - from the current $372,288 to $412,278 if the measure is approved. In Jefferson County the revenue produced by the levy would be increased by about $1,000.
While the additional revenue will bolster the operations of the transit authority, Thomas Hvizdos, executive director of the transit authority, pointed out the authority stands to lose $170,000 over the next seven years as a result of the tax reform legislation passed by the Ohio Legislature in 2005.
In addition to Bellaire, new tax levies are being sought in York Township, 1.5 mills for general construction, reconstruction, and repair of roads and bridges; in Pease Township, 1.5 mills for current expenses; and in three precincts located in the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School District, 1 mill for enlarging, improving or rebuilding of buildings and sites.
Renewal levies are being sought as follows: Shadyside - 1.9 mills and 2.5 mills, each for five years and both for current expenses; Bridgeport -1.5 mills and 1.5 mills, each for five years and both for current expenses; Yorkville -1 mill for current expenses; Goshen Township - 1 mill for five years for fire protection; St. Clairsville and Richland Township - one-half mill for improvement of the swimming pool and facilities at Memorial Park; Switzerland of Ohio Local School District - 5 mills for five years for current operating expenses.
Besides voting on a whether to approve a 1 percent city income tax, St. Clairsville residents will register their support or disapproval of four charter amendments that affect some aspects of the future operation of the city administrative staff.
One of the key amendments involves the office of the director of finance. At the present time the position is an elective one but the change proposed for the general election would have the position filled directly by an appointment by the mayor with the approval of the majority of council.
Another amendment would direct the individual appointed by the mayor to the finance position be a resident of the city "and continue to be a resident and a qualified elector thereof" during his term of office.
If the issue is approved by voters, it would not affect the current finance director until the end of next year. That's when the current four-year term of Jill Lucidi expires. Passage of the amendment would mean she would be up for reappointment by the mayor rather than running for another four year term.
Lucidi has been finance director of St. Clairsville for the past 16 years. She has been and continues to be a resident of the city which would be required for future appointees if the amendment is approved by voters.
The city's charter review committee presented its recommendations to council earlier this year and on July 6 the council by the narrowest possible vote approved placing them on the ballot. Four voted favorably on the ordinance and three were against it.
The following are the four amendments that will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot:
A - "The compensation of the mayor and city council shall be fixed at least 30 days prior to the filing date of nominating petitions for the terms beginning on the next succeeding first day of January, and shall not thereafter be changed in any respect during any such term or any part thereof."
B - "The director of finance shall, on the date of his appointment and during his term of office, be and continue to be a resident of the city and a qualified elector thereof."
C - "The director of finance shall be appointed by the mayor, subject to the confirmation of the majority of council, for a period not to exceed the mayor's term of office."
D - "The director of public service/safety shall be appointed by the major subject to confirmation of majority vote of council for a period not to exceed the mayor's term of office. He may be removed from office by the mayor but such removal shall not take place without the concurrence of two-thirds of the membership of council. The director of public service/safety shall be the head of the service department and the safety department. He shall have all the powers and duties now or hereafter given to the director of public serve and director of public safety in cities by law which shall include having charge of construction, operation and maintenance of all public works, properties and improvements and having supervision over and being responsible for the efficient operations of the police department and such other division or departments prescribed by ordinance not in consistent with this charter or general law."
When I picked up my absentee ballot last week, I was the 9,165th person to do so and two days later Bill Shubat, director of the Belmont County Board of Elections said it is very likely the total will surpass the 10,000 mark sometime this week.
"We're getting 100 to 150 requests a day and by the middle of next week we should pass the 10,000 mark," Shubat said on Friday.
But the 10,000 figure won't be a record. The record was set during the 2008 presidential election when approximately 14,000 voters cast absentee ballots. That is the absentee voting record and it was set mainly because that year the board of elections because of the anticipated heavy voter turnout -- sent out absentee ballot requests to every registered voter in the county.
"What we're getting this year is amazing considering we did not resort to mailing out the requests," Shubat noted. "Voters are responding on their own."
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: email@example.com.