December 19, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria to seek charter amendment on elections

ELYRIA — A charter amendment will go before city voters in November to define a municipal election to include both primary and general elections, a move, if approved, that will allow tax issues to go before voters more than once a year.

City officials are just now starting a campaign to convince voters to pass a 0.5 percent income tax renewal, but Monday night Council members unanimously voted to put a companion issue on the ballot to expand when it can seek levies. The issue is similar to one voters shot down in November 2012 when an attempt was made to change language that was only added to the charter in 2007.

“At that time, it was a change to the municipal income tax section and it got very confusing,” said Law Director Scott Serizan. “This is a much shorter section that is easier to read and ultimately accomplishes the same thing.”

Passing the income tax renewal is the most important issue the city faces right now, said Mayor Holly Brinda. She calls the money it generates — roughly $6 million a year — critical to the city. It would be devastating for the city if it failed along with the charter change — a companion piece that would open the door for a second attempt in May that just beats the June 30, 2014, expiration date.

“Right now, we have one opportunity to pass this renewal in November,” she said. “Changing the charter is a very good idea to have other options. With such a critical issue and there is so much riding on this, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the safety and welfare of our electors and the way to do that is to make sure they have choices.”

If the renewal fails in November, Finance Director Ted Pileski has long said he would have to lower the estimated revenue for 2014 by $3 million, which is the equivalent to a half-year of non-collection.

Serazin said when proponents, who had soured on the idea of using special elections to request more tax dollars, placed the referendum on the ballot regarding income tax proposals they likely read the charter believing it meant primary elections. However, when former Law Director Terry “Pete” Shilling interpreted the language of the issue that voters passed he interpreted it to mean just the November election.

“He had very good reason to interpret it that way because the charter indicated that a municipal election was in fact a general election. It never defined it to mean primary election,” Serizan said. “This is one sentence added to a section that basically says a municipal election is a general or primary election. The upshot of it is that a levy can be put on during a primary, too, which is the way it always was before there was that charter amendment.”

Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, who backed the 2007 referendum, said he agrees “municipal election” should be defined as a primary or general election.

“I always did,” he said. “This is the clarity we needed and I believe the spirit of the referendum is intact.”

Councilman Vic Stewart, D-at large, said the issue does give the city a safeguard in case the renewal does not pass.

“But, make no mistake, all energy in the city will be focused on passing this the first time this November,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.