Bertram de Souza’s column titled “Austintown wins battle of water” has prompted me to write. The old adage comes to mind, “Sometimes you need to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”
Last July, Tom Humphries from the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone requested a meeting with Trustee Jim Davis to discuss the possibility of a Joint Economic Development District at the racino site. Several weeks later, Trustee Rick Stauffer was asked to meet with the mayor. I personally felt it was a divide- and-conquer tactic being used by the city. Perhaps, they should have requested a meeting with our entire board. After all, I am the most knowledgeable trustee sitting on this board regarding JEDDs. In 2006, the city expressed its intent to impose a profit tax and income tax on existing businesses and their employees, respectively, in Austintown. I was on the board at that time.
In 2008, our board held a town-hall meeting, which nearly 400 residents and business owners attended. Many stated if a tax was imposed, they would move their businesses farther west. That’s not economic development; that’s economic relocation. It may have also been a good idea to include Penn National in these initial discussions unless the intent was for these two governing bodies to enter into an agreement, without Penn National’s input and strong-arm it in the 11th hour.
SUBURBS BIGGER THAN CITY
To put things in perspective, Youngstown has a population of 65,000 residents and a 2013 budget of $167.8 million. Austintown and Boardman have a combined budget of $35 million and 80,000 residents. Youngstown has 15,000 fewer residents than Austintown and Boardman and its budget is $130 million more a year. How much money does a shrinking municipality need?
The hype about a JEDD providing necessary funding for new infrastructure to promote economic development is a weak sale. Austintown has been experiencing steady commercial growth, especially in the last 10 years, absent a JEDD.
Several years ago, to make Ohio more tax-friendly to businesses, Gov. Bob Taft implemented tax reforms that included phasing out Tangible Personal Property Tax and elimination of the Corporation Franchise Tax. Taft understood that in order to improve Ohio’s business climate, we needed to reduce taxes.
Youngstown’s plan to impose an income and profit tax in lieu of the TPPT and CFT doesn’t make good economic sense. This decision would have required a unanimous vote of all three trustees. If we did not agree, it would need to be voted on by the residents. It was my understanding, the city did not want the residents of Austintown to vote on this issue.
If the trustees rejected the taxation proposal, I was informed the city’s contingency plan was to charge Penn National $2 million annually to provide water service. To me, this gave every appearance of extortion.
In closing, I would like to say I fully understand perception is reality, but I have never stated I have disdain for Youngstown or its residents. I realize a few individuals have planted that seed in an effort to diminish my sensible, steadfast position on this issue. Austintown is willing to work with any community leaders who realize the “big stick” mentality won’t get you past the border.
Lisa L. Oles, Austintown
The writer is an Austintown Township trustee.