Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Lucas County levies and a warped sense of 'necessary'

We'll decide on at least two county-wide levies in November, thanks to the Lucas County Commissioners who voted to put them on the ballot.

The Zoo will request approval of a .85 mill 5-year renewal levy for their operating expenses. It will generate approximately $6.4 million and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $26 each year. If approved, the levy would be collected in the years 2012 through 2016.

The County will request approval of a renewal of the 9-1-1 and Communications System levy. It is a .70 mill 5-year levy that will generate just under $5.6 million and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $21.45 each year. It, too, would be collected in the years 2012 through 2016.

These are renewal levies, which mean they will collect the same amount of money as the current levies do.

Something many people don't realize, though, is that state law limits taxation within counties to ten mills. But Section 5705.19 of the Ohio Revised Code provides authority to the Board of County Commissioners (and other governmental entities) to levy a tax in excess of the ten-mill limitation for various purposes. Those 'excess' taxes go to the voters for approval.

What is interesting is the actual language of the law which says (emphasis added):

The taxing authority of any subdivision at any time and in any year, by vote of two-thirds of all the members of the taxing authority, may declare by resolution and certify the resolution to the board of elections not less than ninety days before the election upon which it will be voted that the amount of taxes that may be raised within the ten-mill limitation will be insufficient to provide for the necessary requirements of the subdivision and that it is necessary to levy a tax in excess of that limitation...

It then gives a list of things for which taxes can be imposed and the list is so long it goes through the alphabet just 3 letters short of twice! Of course, many of the items on the list are far from 'necessary.'

This law actually says that Ohio governmental entities (except schools) should live within a ten-mill taxation budget. But if they don't - or if they want to spend money outside that limit - they can vote to put levies on the ballot to pay for everything from parks, to emergency services, to air pollution, to regional planning, to wetlands and green space, to 'free' museums of art or science or history.

Are all of these things "necessary requirements" of a government? I don't think so.

In fact, I couldn't find anything that governmental entities couldn't tax for, as I'm certain politicians would be able to find permission under one - if not multiple - sections of this law for any whim or desire.

Certainly, some of the projects on the permissions list are necessary. If a local governmental entity is ordered by the state or federal government to implement flood protections or waste/sewer projects, they would need the ability to pay for such mandates and a tax (preferably temporary) would be a proper way to do so. (Though such mandates from the federal government are questionable in their Constitutional authority - but that's a post for another time.)

A valid argument can even be made for the 9-1-1 Communications levy being a 'necessary requirement.' I'm certain individuals who have called 9-1-1 and had their lives saved as a result would agree.

But no amount of twisted logic or faulty reasoning can make me believe that a zoo is a necessary requirement of any area. It may be 'wanted' or 'desired' and people can even present rationalizations about how it is an 'economic development driver' or 'money-making tourist attraction.' But it's not necessary, as many areas without zoos can attest.

The problem is that granting entities the ability to tax above and beyond the ten-mill limitation means that elected officials are free to spend their ten-mill monies on all kinds of 'unnecessary' items because they can always find a way to fund other expenses through the excess taxing authority of ORC 5705.19.

And, over time, the list of items for which we can be taxed has grown far beyond 'necessary requirements.' Just for reference, my taxation for Lucas County's general fund is only 10% of the total amount of taxes I pay for county-wide items - $62.83 of the $613.11 total.

(You can check your own rates by going to the Auditor's AREIS website, putting in your name or address, clicking on the 'data' tab above your name/address, and then selecting 'tax distribution' which is highlighted in red on the left. Be sure to add up the 'Lucas County,' 'other countywide levies' and 'other' sections.)

Clearly, I'm being taxed for unnecessary items simply because the commissioners (in the case of county-wide levies) have decided to put these things on the ballot. Just because we 'can' tax for all kinds of things, it doesn't mean we 'should.'

Sadly, the commissioners - and the politicians in Columbus who keep expanding the taxing authority - have a warped sense of what 'necessary' really means.

And all of us are paying for it.

NOTE: The local paper is reporting that a third levy request (1.4 mills renewal for Children Services Board) wasn't voted upon, but the Commissioner's website Resolution Report for yesterday shows three 'yes' votes on that resolution.


Mad Jack said...

I noticed on the report:

Award of Contract to Gerken Paving, Inc. of Napoleon, Ohio for the 2011 O.P.W.C. Resurfacing Project, Phase 2.

Any relation to Pete?

I like the zoo, and so will vote for the levy. In fact I like the Toledo zoo so much I'm going to join the Democratic Party so I can vote for the zoo levy twice!

Maggie Thurber said...

nope - no relation....

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