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The Suburbanite
  • Jim Hillibish: How to pass a tax hike? Call it ‘police and fire’

  • City Council is considering how to collect the cash — a new property tax or a half percent increase in the 2 percent city tax on payrolls.

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  • I had an argument with a friend this week. I’m writing the column, so I get the last say.
    His question: Why a Canton tax increase?
    “Don’t they know we are suffering enough,” he said.
    THE FLEETING RECOVERY
    City Council is considering how to collect the cash — a new property tax or a half percent increase in the 2 percent city tax on payrolls.
    Canton expected to get bonus cash from payroll taxes this year with the recession supposedly over. Ohio’s income-tax collections have spurted 7 percent.
    But for a lot of local folks, the recession is not over. Unemployment still nags here. Canton’s population flight continues, down 20,000 since 1980. Our neighborhoods still are riddled with foreclosed houses.
    With these conditions, it’s easy to argue against a payroll tax. It harms the poor, is only paid by working people and is a detriment to industry moving here.
    GENIUS CONCEPT
    During the recession of the late 1970s, the city faced an even larger deficit. Mayor Stan Cmich in 1980 came up with a genius idea. Why not earmark a tax increase for police and fire? Who could vote against police and fire? That’s mom and apple pie.
    The beauty is the tax frees up cash to go to other departments. So a vote for the “police and fire tax” is in effect a vote for the General Fund, and the rest is all accounting magic.
    Cmich knew that “hell would freeze over” before a tax increase for salaries would pass. It already had failed twice. But police and fire? Everybody loves police and fire.
    So we passed the tax, the last increase since 1981.
    THE VICTORY KEY
    This time, council is mulling a tax increase for — here it is again — “police and fire.” It looks like they’ll choose what they call our “income” tax. It’s not a tax on all of our income. It’s only on payroll income.
    The property tax could be a good move. Check our Canton City Schools, where property taxes pass easily.
    Why?
    Almost half of Cantonians now live in rentals. I have been told many times that renters believe they do not pay property taxes. It’s true they don’t see the bill. They pay in a different way, higher rents.
    Half of Canton is older than age 41, and it’s climbing fast. Retirees consume city services but usually don’t pay local payroll taxes. A property tax would be a fair way to spread the pain.
    Whatever the tax, the best way to pass it is to ignore the issues behind it, except for “police and fire.” Hammer on that one. This is how the county passed its recent sales-tax hike.
    Page 2 of 2 - In January, if Congress does not act, our federal income taxes will increase dramatically. Local governments are rushing to avoid competing with that steamroller, betting that Congress will sit on its hands (as usual).
    The outlook for taxpayers is suck up and pay up. With Medicare, Social Security and the federal deficit yet to bite, we ain’t paid nothing yet.