December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Elyria officials plan campaign to seek support for income tax increase

ELYRIA — The countdown to the November general election is on, and city officials have 90 days to convince Elyria residents that their newest plan to raise taxes is the right way to go.

Mayor Holly Brinda said she anticipates needing a lot of community volunteers and at least $40,000 in donations before Election Day to pull off a successful campaign. She said this won’t be like last November when the city just had to convince voters to pass a temporary tax that had been on the books for decades and cost residents no additional money.

The city would like voters to increase Elyria’s income tax rate from its current 1.75 percent to 2 percent with a 0.25 percent, five-year temporary tax in November.

The estimated $3.2 million from the increase would include $2 million for additional police officers and firefighters, as well as money for the purchase of safety equipment in each department, emergency road repairs as needed and more crime prevention work in the Police Department. In the second year, $80,000 would go to auxiliary police officers in the form of $3,000 stipends and a police academy scholarship program.

If passed, the tax would expire June 30, 2019, about the same time the city’s current 0.25 temporary tax will be up for renewal.

“I don’t want to say this is the most critical step the citizens should take, but it’s certainly one of the last steps in three years toward financial stability for the city,” Brinda said Tuesday. “If it doesn’t pass, it really would change the dynamics in the city of Elyria.”

The campaign season will be short for those knocking on doors, making phone calls and handing out literature — all things Brinda said volunteers will have to do if the measure is to succeed — but the mayor said her administration has been building the case for a tax increase.

“We knew pretty much from the beginning. The approach taken was pretty strategic because we knew when we took office the finances would be a dilemma for us,” Brinda said. “But we couldn’t do anything until we could prove we were good fiscal stewards of the city.”

The state performance audit and $2 million in adjustments made as a result and successfully passing the income tax renewal all were part of the plan. Even the just-unveiled economic development plan was done with that in mind.

“There are things we know we need to do as economic incentives to grow, expand and retain jobs in the city to grow our tax base. We are behind the curve in a lot of areas,” Brinda said.

However, focusing on economic development while trying to figure out how to put more firefighters and police officers on the street will not allow the city to move quickly enough.

Brinda wants residents — she also has encouraged City Council to get involved — to help get the message out in the form of letters to the editor, testimonial stories and at community meetings. Brinda said this will be a traditional, grassroots campaign along with a substantial amount of social media work.

Councilman Mark Craig, I-4th Ward, the only Council member to vote against placing a tax issue before voters, has long said the city has not given enough information to justify raising the tax rate at this time. He would like to hear more details about projected revenues, expenses and anticipated net gains and losses in all of the upcoming budgets.

The first campaign meeting that is open to the public will be 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 28 at City Hall. The first fundraiser is set for 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sept. 7 at the Elyria Moose Lodge, 555 Ternes Ave.

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