Few attend hearing on Summit County’s proposed property tax increase
It was a critical step in the process to raise 2018 rates
October 16, 2017
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez gave an impassioned speech in front of the Summit County Council and other elected officials at the County Courthouse on Wednesday in support of the proposed property tax increase.
Last month, the county officially began the Truth in Taxation process to raise the general and municipal property tax rates for 2018. Wednesday was the first public meeting that has been held on the matter where public input was accepted. While the audience was filled with several elected officials, many of whom voiced their support of the proposal, few members of the public attended or addressed the County Council.
"I'm afraid we are going to lose the deputies that we have if we don't get this tax increase," Martinez said. "If anyone has a concern, express it to your neighbors and explain to them that this is more than just a situation where we need to raise taxes for more personnel. We are going to lose personnel."
Staffers are recommending a $3 million and $1.1 million increase in the general and municipal services funds, respectively. The municipal services fund, which supports law enforcement, public works, snow plowing and road maintenance, is levied in the unincorporated areas of the county. It was last raised in 2013. Services provided through the general fund include ambulances, waste collections, public health, the library system and youth recreation programs.
The proposed increase — 27 percent — would amount to about a 5.5 to 7 percent hike on the average property tax bill for primary residents in the county, according to a county staff report. The impact on the average taxable value of a primary residence — not market value — would be about $34.90 for a $100,000 home. For those living in the county's six municipalities, who pay only the general fund portion of the county's property tax, the increase would be about $19.50 for a $100,000 home.
If taxes are not increased, Summit County Manager Tom Fisher and county staffers have repeatedly told the County Council over the last several months that programs and services supported by the general and municipal services property tax revenues, such as public safety, will have to be cut in order to adopt a balanced budget.
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"I don't want to play that the sky is falling," Martinez said. "But, we are talking about potentially losing school resource officers and the working inmate programs. My primary job is to respond to 911 calls for services. If I have to pull people out, that will be my priority. Those that may be waffling about this concept should support the Council and the manager's decision to raise this.
"The time is now to rip the Band-Aid off to fix the problem and move forward," he added.
Ed Rutan, a Pinebrook resident and president of the nonprofit mental health organization CONNECT Summit County, said he is "very much" in favor of the increase. The County Council has identified mental health and substance abuse as one of its strategic goals. But, dedicating more resources to addressing the issue could be at risk without a property tax increase.
"I have enjoyed the services from the county and am well aware that we have not had a tax increase in many, many years," Rutan said. "As the president of CONNECT Summit County, I think what you have done in the strategic plan is critical to our plan. I think it is critical to the future of our county that you move forward on each of those five goals, which includes mental health. I think, quite frankly, the only way you will be able to do that is with the increase."
Summit County Auditor Michael Howard told the County Council "we have really tried to stretch to make things fit."
"It gets to a point where we are making decisions or recommendations on department goals and needs, but it gets tough when resources are tight," he said.
Howard said he created some sample disclosure statements for what homeowners may see next year if the new rates are approved, and it showed about a 3 percent increase on the total bill. However, he said, some might be closer to 5 to 7 percent.
"That is not a huge increase," he said. "I see the need and I wanted to go on record and say I support it."
At the Dec. 6 County Council meeting, the county is set to hold its first public hearing on the 2018 budget, which may include discussion about the recommended hike. After the Dec. 13 hearing, the property tax may be adopted. If approved, the Nov. 1, 2018, property tax notices would include the new rates.
To view the staff report and presentation from the meeting, go to this webpage.