If trust in the public sector can be measured by the opinion of citizens, then Warren city government has reason to revel in the vote it received in last week’s general election.
Mayor Doug Franklin, members of city council, the police and fire chiefs and other government officials put their reputations on the line when they asked Warren residents to approve a 0.5 percent income-tax increase.
There was no guarantee of passage. First, the highly contentious presidential election not only divided communities, it even split families.
Then, the effects of the Great Recession of 2007 are still being felt in the Mahoning Valley at large.
Finally, private-sector taxpayers continue to question the reliability of government officials as watchdogs of the public treasury.
But when the votes were counted the night of Nov. 8, it became clear that a majority of Warren residents who went to the polls believe that government needs the $3.5 million to $4 million a year the half-percent income-tax increase will generate.
“The fact that we won is a credit to our unions and the citizens committee that took an independent, objective view and looked at the need for the increase,” Mayor Franklin said election night.
But while city officials have reason to be heartened, we would point out that the result was by no means a runaway.
The final but unofficial count shows 7,420 residents voting in favor of the increase and 6,539 saying no.
The 881-vote difference should serve as a warning to city officials that taxpayers will be watching closely to ensure that the promises made about the spending of the new money will be kept.
During the campaign, residents were told that the money would be earmarked for police, fire and roads. More to the point, a warning was issued that rejection of the tax increase would result in 10 police officers being laid off.
UP SIDE OF TAX PASSAGE
On the other hand, passage of the tax hike would result in the hiring of eight to 12 new officers, proponents said.
In the fire department, a two-year federal grant will result in an additional eight to 12 firefighters being brought on board. The mayor pledged to set aside $1.05 million out of the new tax revenue so the additional firefighters will be retained after the federal grant period has expired.
As for the roads, the city plans to spend $500,000 on resurfacing and other improvements.
Mayor Franklin’s reference to the labor unions is noteworthy because taxpayers are aware that most of the money in the general fund is gobbled up by salaries and benefits.
The three unions in Warren have agreed to new contracts that do not cost city government additional money.
We do not doubt the important role played by the citizens committee that was formed to conduct an independent review of the city’s operating fund.
The committee, made up of leading business and community leaders, undoubtedly swayed the public when it issued this unequivocal finding: “By any reasonable standard, the City’s General Fund is in serious financial distress.”
Had the tax increase not passed, the fund would have had an operational deficit of between $1.4 million and $1.8 million in 2016. All cash reserves have been depleted, and no excess funds remain to be used for future deficits or emergency expenses.
Since 2008, expenses have been cut by $5.3 million – a 17.4 percent decrease in spending. And since the same period, revenues have dropped by $7 million – a 23 percent decrease.
In endorsing the 0.5 percent income- tax increase, we made note of the fact that 15 years have passed since Warren’s income-tax rate was increased, and it has been that long since government had a road maintenance program.
The city of Warren isn’t alone in having to come to terms with today’s economic difficulties, which have been exacerbated by state government’s reduction in the money Columbus allocates to local governments.
On Nov. 8, the voters of Warren displayed their trust in government by approving the tax increase. Now, it’s up to Mayor Franklin, members of city council and others to show their appreciation by keeping the promises that were made during the campaign.