December 22, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria tax issue could appear on November ballot

ELYRIA — The Nov. 4 ballot is being eyed by City Council members who are looking to possibly place a tax issue before Elyria voters.

With so much to be decided upon before residents can be asked for more revenue, the consensus Tuesday from city officials was that May is too soon to even consider a ballot initiative. As it stands, Elyria officials don’t know what kind of issue — income tax, property tax or income tax credit reduction — or if it should be a permanent or temporary addition.

Council members almost immediately told Mayor Holly Brinda the city was not ready for a May issue.

“Let’s just put it out there that if we are going to do something, we do it on the November ballot,” said Council President Mike Lotko, D-at large.

But much to Council’s surprise, Brinda said she was in full agreement that May was too soon.

“I didn’t present the scenarios to force Council to do anything now, but I wanted to get the conversation started,” she said.

Brinda has not minced words about how the repeal of the estate tax and reduction of the local government fund has affected the city’s bottom line. That, coupled with the pending expiration of two federal grants, puts Elyria in a precarious position and in need of more revenue.

“When we look at the amount of money we have lost and will lose, there is no amount of cost reductions on our part that can make up the difference,” she said.

The Elyria Police and Fire departments are most in jeopardy of cuts and could benefit from a tax increase.

In the Fire Department, which faces the possibility of losing 23 firefighters when federal grants run out, Chief Richard Benton said the city would return to operating with just 52 firefighters and the hazards that come with it.

“It wasn’t a pretty time at 52, but we couldn’t come to every Council meeting to discuss the epic failures we were experiencing every day,” he said. “At that level, you can expect property losses and equipment losses to increase, not to mention more overtime just to meet the staffing demands.”

Police Chief Duane Whitely said his department cannot drop four officers paid for with federal dollars, but finding the revenue in the budget to cover the positions for a year post grant expiration, which is a stipulation of receiving the grant, will have ripple effects. Three officers from the Neighborhood Impact Unit, including the person designated as the downtown beat officer, would be put back on the road and the Narcotics Unit, which was started back up this year to combat the growing heroin epidemic, could possibly be disbanded for a second time.

These scenarios are nothing new to Council, but getting everyone on board for a tax push will not be easy, even though as Councilman Jack Baird, R-at large, put it, “the need has been demonstrated over and over again.”

Most members know the history of going to the ballot. A slew of failures are in the city’s past.

But after Tuesday it appears, at least for now, that Council is ready for serious discussion.

Lotko set the second meeting in February as the next time to pick up the conversation.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.