Category Archives: government services

Tax appeals, parks, libraries, weights & measures: Policy Matters finds erosion of basic state services

A new report from Policy Matters Ohio finds that Ohio has seen a decline in the capacity of state government to deliver basic public services in disparate areas ranging from tax appeals to policing the ethics of public officials. The state’s library and park systems have been eroded. Service to localities has suffered at the Division of Weights and Measures, while new cuts could imperil the Ohio Civil Rights Commission’s ability to handle discrimination complaints. The paper focuses on areas outside of human services and education, and it is not comprehensive, it is merely a review of several areas that have been cut in recent years, including:

Board of Tax Appeals: Homeowners and businesses that appeal property-tax valuations now have to wait more than two years for a hearing because of staff cuts and the rising volume of cases. Between Fiscal Years 2005 and 2010, cases nearly tripled, from 1,608 to 4,679, yet the state sliced funding by $815,847 or 41 percent in Fiscal 2010 from FY09. Funding for FY11 slipped another one percent, to $1,149,715. The board was forced to lay off 60 percent of staff in 2009, leaving just three examiners, compared to 10 three years ago. The last full year that the BTA kept up with its caseload was FY2006. In February 2011, the examiners were hearing cases filed more than two years earlier.

Division of Weights and Measures: This division ensures honest commerce by helping ensure that scales weigh items properly and that counties adequately monitor supermarket scanners, gas pumps and other measuring devices. Over the past five years, General Revenue Fund (GRF) funding for Weights and Measures in Ohio dropped precipitously by 81.4 percent, from $1.074 million to $200,000. Field services provided by the state have been slashed, and spot checks in some instances have replaced the previous regular inspections. Ohio and its counties share responsibility for these services, and the state’s retreat leaves hard-pressed counties struggling to pick up the responsibilities in the face of their own budget shortfalls.

Division of Parks and Recreation: Seventy-four state parks in 60 counties encompass 174,212 acres of land and water, attract more than 50 million visitors annually, and generate over a billion tourism dollars per year. According to the November 2010 budget request letter, the General Revenue Fund request for FY2012-13 matches the 1988 request. Over the last decade, funding for parks and recreation has declined in inflation-adjusted dollars by 23.5 percent. The parks have deferred maintenance projects, including EPA-mandated sewer and water upgrades. We’ve seen a 45 percent staffing reduction, a $556 million backlog in maintenance, and a decline in perceived safety by visitors. Ohio is considering selling Jefferson Lake State Park to Jefferson County for one dollar. The County would sell timber and drilling rights to pay for dam repair and campsite upgrades.

“Years of investment in a system of parks and recreational facilities could be lost, hurting tourism and removing affordable recreation options for Ohio families,” said Wendy Patton, report co-author and senior associate at Policy Matters Ohio.

Ohio Civil Rights Commission: In FY 2000, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission had 199 employees; there are now 94. GRF funding of $10.6 million in 2000 was hacked to $4.6 million in FY 2010, a decline of 54 percent. Flat or ten percent reduced funding is expected to result in the elimination of an additional 17 to 23 positions. A loss of 23 individuals would mean 1,600 fewer investigations per year, a 36% decline. More cuts could bring quality problems, negative press, even lawsuits, as in the mid-1990s, when a burst of activity and lack of capacity undermined service provision.

Ohio Ethics Commission: Ethics cases rose an average of 18 percent each year since 2000 and ethics filings are up 30 percent over the past 15 years, but the budget hasn’t kept up. In the Strickland administration’s first year, Ethics Commission funding rose by about 16 percent, inflation-adjusted. But by FY2010, GRF funding had fallen by 19 percent after inflation from the 2007 high. As a result, ethics education was reduced by 19 percent; staffing fell from 25 to 21; the operations budget was cut by 30 percent; and equipment has not been updated for three fiscal years.

Environmental Review Appeals Commission: GRF funding for Environmental Review Appeals Commission has fallen by 20 percent over the past decade after inflation. Staffing has fallen from 14 to 2 since the agency was founded in the mid 1970s. Length of time in investigations has caused legislation and litigation.

Public libraries: Historically, Ohio libraries have dominated the ranks of the nation’s top libraries. Over the past two years, state support for library funding has been chopped by nearly 23 percent. Overall, libraries received $347.9 million from the state Public Library Fund last calendar year, compared to $450 million in 2008, despite a successful grassroots effort that reduced the cuts. In response, libraries reduced hours, closed branches, reduced purchasing, cut programming and shed staff. Overall, Ohio public libraries cut hours by more than 10 percent in 2009. The slashed state support has meant a huge increase in proposed property-tax levies. According to a recent analysis by Driscoll & Fleeter, the 71 library levy proposals that appeared on the ballot across the state in 2010 were twice as many as in any previous year since 1980, except 2009. Greater dependence on local levies will result in disparity of service.

Recommendations include protecting taxpayer return on investment, restoring capacity to services eroded by inflation, and reducing dependence on fees to avoid politicization and disparities between communities. “Cuts to education and human services rightly get a lot of attention,” said Zach Schiller, report co-author and Research Director at Policy Matters. “This report shows that we also need to pay attention to some of the very basics. Ohio has slashed staffing and funding to ensure that your public library is open, your park’s sewage system is safe, your tax appeals are reviewed and your community’s employers are not discriminating. Such cuts threaten business, individuals and communities in Ohio.”

Policy Matters Ohio is nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

City of Xenia Announces May Ballot Issue

Xenia City Council unanimously passed legislation on Thursday, January 14, 2010, which is the first step in the process that will give voters the right to decide whether it’s time to raise the City’s income tax rate from 1.75 percent to 2.25 percent. The proposed tax increase, which would appear on the May 4, 2010, ballot, is expected to generate an estimated $2.7 million for the City. This revenue would help to maintain current Police and Fire staffing levels and services as well as provide much needed dollars for street improvements and other general capital improvements. If voters approve the legislation, the City’s tax credit will not be affected, which is a maximum of 1.5 percent. Further, 0.25 percent of the increase is dedicated solely to maintain current Police and Fire staffing levels and services and provide funding for police and fire capital needs (i.e., police cars, ambulances, etc.).

City Council has been deliberating the city’s finances after the defeat of a Replacement 3.5 Mill Operating Levy in February 2009. Voters approved a renewal of the 3.5 Mill Operating Levy in August 2009. Although the City needs those dollars, the renewal levy only kept the existing revenue stream in place and did not provide any additional funding. The City of Xenia has not received a voted income tax increase since 1991. Further, the existing 3.5 Mill Operating Levy was initially passed in 1959 and has generated very few additional dollars since the 1970s. Mr. Bazelak said, “The City of Xenia has received only one voted tax increase (a quarter percent in 1991) over the last 30 years and that increase was almost 20 years ago. Income tax collections have declined significantly over the past year and there has been a reduction in local government funding from the state, and with little growth in other revenues, it is just not enough anymore to be able to provide the same level of services that our residents have come to expect.” City Manager, Jim Percival said, “the City has done everything we can do to reduce expenses, save jobs, and maintain current Police and Fire staffing levels. We have cut everything we can cut … we cut nine full-time and two part-time non-union positions in September 2009, two vacant police officer positions have not been filled, a wage freeze for non-union employees was put in place in 2009 and will continue in 2010, and union contracts have been renegotiated with concessions. This comes on top of a staff reduction of 15 employees in 2003. Voters need to be made aware of the potential additional cuts to police and fire and service reductions so they can make an educated vote on May 4th. City streets are also in grave need of improvements, but there are just not enough capital dollars to make any substantial improvements.”

In November 2009, the City began a community outreach initiative with a citizen perception survey of a limited number of residents conducted by Wright State University and a focus group of community leaders facilitated by 3-F Coaching. The results of the survey and focus group discussion were utilized in forming a recommendation to Council on a potential levy ballot issue. The survey indicated street improvements as well as police and fire services were top priorities for citizens. The survey results are available on the City’s website at Council President Patricia Felton said, “Nobody wants to raise taxes, but we feel an income tax increase is the best approach to raise the necessary dollars to maintain our current Police and Fire staffing levels and also provide much needed capital dollars for street improvements and capital dollars for police and fire. This is essential when it comes to the safety of our City. If it doesn’t pass, we’ll have to go to Plan B – which is to lay off 6 firefighters and 4 police officers – there is no other way around it.”

If approved by the voters on the May 4th ballot, the rate increase would be effective January 1, 2011. The City realizes the economic difficulties of our community and took that into consideration when determining what amount and what of type of issue to place on the ballot. Those with higher incomes would pay more, those with lower incomes would pay less, and those with no earned income would pay nothing at all. For a middle-class Xenia household making $40,000 a year, the increase would cost less than $17 a month. All Social Security, company pensions, dividends, and interest income would continue

New Year Resolutions For Local Officials

Making resolutions is a tradition of the New Year’s holiday. Most organizations establish plan objectives in order to reach their goals. One example of an organizational objective is to reach a specified number of potential customers, clients, or audiences. Another might be to recruit a certain number of new members, clients, new readers, or new businesses. Still another objective might be to increase revenue by a targeted amount whether in the form of sales, membership dues, or taxes.

In the spirit of setting corporate goals, I propose two New Year resolutions that would improve the service of public officials to those who pay them their salaries and that might increase public respect of the same.

Resolution one. Treat Xenia taxpayers like stakeholders and investors. To accomplish this goal, the City will create and distribute to every taxpayer a corporate-like annual report that includes goals, accomplishments, new issues, and simplified financial statements.

Government exists to serve specific needs of the citizens who created it. Services needed by local citizens include police and judicial protection of property and person, facilitation of economic prosperity, education, sanitation, and the like. Like investors in for-profit business, taxpayers invest their hard-earned money into government. Taxpayers have a right to expect a return on their investment (ROI). It could even be said that they are obligated to demand measurable results. To achieve this reasonable demand, city officials could create and distribute an annual report as stated above. An annual report would provide taxpaying investors both with measured and comprehensive results of service achievement and with financial accountability by means of simplified financial statements.

Some people will like react negatively to this resolution because they believe the cost are not justified, That is, they believe the money would be better spent on paving streets, repairing equipment, or some other necessary expenditure. It must be admitted they are mostly right.

The city spends tens of thousands of dollars for each levy campaign to increase taxes. Yet, most local taxpayers have no real clue why the money is needed, whether the need is legitimate, how tax revenue is in a reserve fund, or whether some of that reserve could be used for a proposed levy. It is for these and similar reasons that an annual report widely distributed would provide all taxpayers will the necessary information to overcome such ignorance. In short, such an annual report would go along way in making Xenia taxpayer informed citizens–one of the more important requirements for good decision-making in a participatory democracy.

Resolution two. Honesty and transparency is the only public policy worthy of the public trust. Therefore, honesty and transparency in all public issues, ordinances, levies, and all other public matters will always be practiced. If it is found to be otherwise, any legal matter involved will be deemed null and void.

Not only are taxpayers not treated as investing stakeholders in their public institutions, but they are treated like consumers and dupes. The underlying view of citizens and taxpayers by officials is the old sales adage: “A sucker is born every day.” The mentality is if you are stupid enough to buy the lies and half-truths, you deserve what you get. What school officials gave South Hill residents and taxpayers in general was a royal snow job. Officials said that a soil study was conducted showing that the school was atop a high water table, which was the cause of a flooding problem in the basement of Spring Hill elementary school. Because of this, Spring Hill could not be rebuilt.

However, the official geological study also states that all of Xenia is on just as high a water table. In fact, the land Tecumseh is built on is even more prone to flooding than at the Spring Hill site. The fact is officials have no good reason not to rebuild Spring Hill on the same site. Certainly, Spring Hill has no greater land limitations than at Shawnee Elementary.

Any votes for public money schemes based on such misleading information should nullify those votes in favor of it.

Southwest Ohio Liberty Conference Wrap Up

The Southwest Ohio Liberty Conference held on November 21 was a huge success. Even the Ohio State – Michigan game wasn’t able to keep away those who understand just how dire the times are for our nation as a republic, said event coordinator Andy Myers.

The first speaker, Mr. Harold Thomas of The Ohio Republic Blog, gave a incredible powerpoint presentation outlining the “true” history of states’ rights and debunked the idea of secession as something that should be looked upon as taboo. Harold took the audience on a exciting historical journey that began with the Magna Carta (1215) continued through the formation of our national compact and the civil war between the states and ended in our present “Empire,” which shows how states are now merely “tools” of federal government run amok. Thomas concluded that states must enforce their 9th and 10th amendment powers before it is too late.

Jason Rink, co-founder of the Ohio Freedom Alliance, also used a powerpoint presentation to educate the audience on Free Market Capitalism and the cause as well as effects of how we got to where we are today. Beginning with currency based on a gold standard to the current paper currency solely based on the arbitrary standard of government edict, the government created a monetary system through which the wealth of many has been transferred to few. Now as then inflation is still the primary means. During his in-depth presentation, Rink showed how central bankers such as the private Federal Reserve through inflation and a fiat or paper currency have consistently debased the value of our nations wealth. That is why he and other like him are working hard to effect the return of a gold and silver backed currency. Ohio Honest Money Act is one of their efforts to make it reality.

Kevin Cullinane who built and runs The Freedom Mountain Academy rounded out the conference with some good old common sense and true world history. “History is a good teacher of truth” said Mr. Cullinane, “the problem is with those who would like to see our freedoms destroyed have been working hard in subverting true world history.” Trained by the First Special Forces Group in psychological warfare and head instructor of the 1st Marine Division’s counter-insurgency school, Kevin explained how ideas and philosophies have been “turned on their heads” over the centuries to get patriotic Americans to “worship the state” instead of choosing true liberty. From the “Pledge of Allegiance” originally composed by socialist Francis J. Bellamy to the Communist Manifesto’s 10th plank; “state controlled education,” Kevin methodically exposed how many of principles of what was once a free republic being destroyed by infiltrators from within.

Many people in attendance said they would like to see another conference held soon.

Many also appreciated having State Representative Jarrod Martin (R-70) and County Commissioner Marylin Reid present for the celebration of Liberty. These events are for everyone including our elected officials,” said Ohio Freedom Alliance Regional Coordinator Andy Meyers.

Source: Ohio Freedom Alliance, November 24, 2009.

A better way to balance State budget than cut services to the poor, elderly, and library patrons : HB 25/SB 52 Reorganizing Ohio’s Executive Branch

In April, Gov. Strickland issued an executive order to reduce and control spending. In May, the office of Budget and Management estimated an additional budget shortfall would exceed $900. In response to this assessment, Gov. Strickland made the following statement:

“The national recession continues to present historic economic challenges for every state and Ohio is no exception. Even though we have reduced state government spending by nearly $2 billion this biennium, we are now faced with even steeper revenue shortages. Addressing the challenges before us will require extraordinary collaboration and bipartisan consensus-building among the state’s elected leadership. I know that we can work together to make the tough choices necessary to maintain a balanced budget while continuing to invest in education and job-creation that will lead to Ohio’s economic revival.

Did the governor mean state jobs or private sector jobs? Earlier this month, Gov. Strickland said state government must be reduced by another $2 billion to balance the budget. To accomplish this, he has closed mental health facilities and other facilities, reduce staff to Reagan era numbers, and reduced budgets of most state agencies. State employees have voluntarily sacrificed further increases in pay for several years. After all of these fiscally responsible steps, a budget deficit of $3.2 billion still exists.

I suppose that is why Gov. Strickland proposes additional cuts to local library budgets. The deficit probably accounts for a number of proposed cut is services for the poor and elderly as well.

In his last press release, Gov. Strickland repeatedly said, “We must resize the government.” Of course, he means the cuts to agency budgets and some of their personnel. What he doesn’t mean is downsizing the executive branch itself. Yet, there are concurrent bill in both House and Senate committees that will do just that. In February, Representatives Jarrod Martin and Robert Hackett cosponsored HB 25 and Senator Timothy Grendell is the sponsor of SB 52. (Where is Senator Chris Widener?) If these bills would pass, at least $2 of the $3.2 billion would be realized.

Yes, it would be limited-government advocates dream come true. The 20 cabinet-level agencies would be consolidated into 10 cabinet-level departments.

Yes, it would actually reflect the downsizing occurring throughout the private sector as well.

According to analysis by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, the bill would not “affect the provision of services by and operations of political subdivisions.” Because government is notorious for inefficiency anyway, the disruption of some services during the transition is bound to occur. Nevertheless, less bureaucracy means less waste and (god-forbid) less taxation.

Although Gov. Strickland still says he doesn’t want to raise new taxes, his comrades on Capitol Hill and elsewhere are creating a New Deal Era economic crisis requiring more taxes and more national debt to justify the enlargement of the federal powers and further the Left’s goal of a fully socialist-Marxist economy. Maybe that t is why loyal party member Strickland is in the key position in a key state.

This federally-driven economic crisis is even more reason for getting Ohio legislators to pass HB25/SB52 to consolidate the executive branch and meet the balance budget. If we can achieve it in Ohio, we can also achieve it at the federal level too. “Yes we can!”

State of the City Address : 2008 Review & Projections

By James W. Percival
City Manager
Xenia, Ohio

As everyone is aware the national economy is not doing well, and the local and regional economy have experienced some major troubles in the past few months. The DHL closing in Wilmington and the closing of the Truck and Bus Plant in Moraine have received tremendous coverage in not just the local, but the national media. We are blessed in the City of Xenia to have a very diverse economy. One major component of the Xenia economy is the Service Industry. This helps to
provide a strong base and maintain the stability of the economy here in Xenia. We are also blessed to have a strong industrial and manufacturing base here in town. We have many small and midsized
businesses in Xenia that provide quality employment opportunities to our Citizens.

Next year we will also see the beginning of the Cornerstone Research project that promises to provide many opportunities to our Citizens. We, as a Community, need to continue to support our local businesses and industrial Citizens to help them provide a base for our local economy.

Many times in the past our Community has faced economic hardships. Our predecessors have worked through difficult times and our community has always risen to the occasion and come through with flying colors; the current issues that we face will not be different.

We have seen many positive enhancements to our community in the past year. The business and property owners in the downtown have ALL improved their buildings this past year. I cannot count the number of times in the past few months people have stopped me to express their appreciation for the improvement in the downtown. We thank all of the folks that helped in this effort. The City of Xenia could not make the improvements—this was a true partnership. To continue this partnership into the coming year, the City will be offering a Façade loan program that will provide resources to those property owners in the downtown area that would like to improve their buildings. This effort will help continue the momentum that has been created. The City is also continuing with the streetscape enhancement program that is adding to the attractiveness of the town.

The Community Development Department has helped to administer the CHIP program in the past year. Through this program we have been able to provide resources to homeowners in town that without this assistance would not have been able to improve their properties.

The Community Development Department has helped to administer the CHIP program in the past year. Through this program we have been able to provide resources to homeowners in town that without this assistance would not have been able to improve their properties. Hopefully next year, there will be additional resources available for homeowners so that we can continue to improve our neighborhoods. As a City we will continue to pursue these resources from the State and Federal Governments to aid our local residents.

Our Public Service Department has faced significant challenges in the past year brought on by Mother Nature. In March we had to deal with a Blizzard, in the spring our employees at the Water and Wastewater plants were dealing with significant rain events that taxed the capacity of our treatment plants, and this past September we all dealt with the effects of the wind storm. Through it all these employees provided the best service that we could under the circumstances. Many times Citizens complimented the City based on how efficiently we were able to remove the debris from the streets and sidewalks. This past year we also made significant improvements to Shawnee and Spring Hill Parks. Next year we are going to finish replacing the retaining wall around the pond at Shawnee Park. This project has been needed for quite some time and should stabilize the area around the pavilion. This park is one of the Jewels of our community and we need to make sure that all of our Citizens can enjoy the park for generations to come.

In the past year our Safety Departments have continued to provide a great service to the Community. The members of our Police and Fire Divisions do not always have the easiest duties to perform, but they are professional and do everything they can to keep Xenia a safe and healthy community in which to live, work, and raise a family. The members of these departments are on the job 24 hours a day to insure that we as Citizens can enjoy our City and our neighborhoods to the highest extent.

Our Finance Department has continued to insure that we maintain the highest level of fiscal integrity as we expend the tax-payer dollars. This past year our Finance Office was awarded the Government Finance Officers’ Association (GFOA) award of distinction for financial reporting for the twenty-fifth straight year. This dedicated group of individuals continuously works to improve the business side of the City of Xenia operations.

The City of Xenia Law Department has also had a very good year. Our Law Director and his staff are constantly reviewing contracts and other documents to make sure that we as a City are in the best possible legal position. The legal staff has also worked to update many ordinances of the City of Xenia, to bring them into compliance with State Law, or simply to update them based on current situations.

As we look forward to next year, we realize that there may be some difficult times ahead. As your City Staff, we will continue to provide the highest level of service possible so that each of our Citizens can enjoy the wonderful things we have to offer here in Xenia. Working with our current businesses and new businesses, we will continue to pursue every opportunity to create new and better jobs here in town so that we can increase employment and other opportunities for our
Citizens. We will continue to work in both the downtown and in all areas of the Community to improve the aesthetics of the community. Next year we will, with the help of State Grants, continue to pave the Jamestown Connector, thereby creating a new recreational opportunity for our Citizens and for all Citizens in Greene County.

Finally I would like to thank the Mayor Phyllis Pennewitt and our City Council: President Pat Felton, Vice President Jeanne Mills, and Councilmen John Caupp, Dale Louderback, Bill Miller and Dennis Propes. This group dedicates countless hours to the Community. While they do not all always agree on each item, they are all dedicated to the improvement of our Community and our Citizens, and we are indebted to them for what they do to improve our community!

Cost of Government in Xenia, Greene County and Dayton Area

A study of the cost of government was recently published by the City of Fairborn. The total cost of government included real estate taxes, income taxes, school district taxes, plus water and sewer services. The study compared the cost of government in 24 cities and villages in both Montgomery and Greene Counties. Each place was ranked from highest to lowest according to total costs.

The study used current tax rates as well as the water and sewer costs from a 2007 Water & Sewer Rate Survey prepared by Oakwood. Comparisons were based on a home valued at $144,896 for real estate taxes and $57,959 Earned Income for city income taxes. School District Taxable Income was
based on $53,609 with one personal, one spouse, and one dependent exemption.

The chart below represents only the study findings for places in Greene County. Continue reading