HARTVILLE A resident petition to re-instate the village’s income tax credit for those who live in the Hartville, but work elsewhere, was overturned on a technicality July 29.
Village Council voted July 2 to remove the 100 percent tax credit for residents working outside the village. At that same meeting, Council passed legislation to place a 0.5 percent income tax levy to fund road projects and a new police facility on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Removal of the tax credit has been estimated to generate $360,000 annually, according to Mayor Cynthia Billings. The income tax, meanwhile, would to bring in an estimated $600,000 to $700,000 per year.
Should the income tax levy pass, Council members have pledged to reinstate the income tax credit.
Village resident Ronald Williams led the petition initiative to place the issue of the tax credit on the November ballot. The effort collected 147 signatures, well above the required 10 percent of voters in the most recent Governor’s election.
However, in a July 29 letter to Hartville Fiscal Officer Scott Varney, village Solicitor Ron Starkey wrote that the petition did not meet a number of “pre-circulation requirements” set forth by the Ohio Revised Code.
“The pre-circulation petition filed with the Village does not only fail to contain a signature of the circulator, it fails to contain the name of the circulator,” Starkey wrote. “As election laws require strict compliance with the statute, the initiative petitions filed with the village are illegal and of no force.”
Moreover, Starkey said in the letter, the circulator of a petition must file a “certified copy” of the ordinance with the village clerk prior to the circulation of an initiative petition.
“Clearly established case requires that the certified copy be signed by the circulator to attest that it is a true and exact reproduction of the original proposed ordinance,” Starkey wrote. “The fiscal officer has no duty to certify an initiative petition which does not comply with the pre-circulation requirements.”
At the July 29 meeting, Councilwoman Bev Green made a motion to reinstate the tax credit immediately. Councilman James Sullivan, who originally proposed removing the tax credit ahead of the November general election, supported Green’s motion, but the motion failed by a 4-2 vote.
The petitioners still have options for placing the tax credit question on the November ballot.
According to Starkey, a mandamus action with the Ohio Supreme Court could be filed by the petitioners. If the Supreme Court were to find Starkey’s opinion in error, it could compel the Stark County Board of Elections to place the issue on the ballot, whether or not the August deadline for doing so is met.
The petition could also be recirculated for the next general election. Petition initiatives can only be placed on general election ballots.
Following the meeting, Billings said she is glad the motion to reinstate the tax credit immediately did not pass.
“The plan all along was to do this,” she said. “Jim (Sullivan) backed down and he is the one who made the plan up.”
Billings said she sees Council’s efforts as “the only way we can get the money we need.”
An attempt for the same 0.5 percent income tax increased failed at the ballot box in May.
“We haven’t had luck with voters (so Council) did what they had to do,” Billings said, adding that while the projects like the new police facility are expensive “we would have it for the next 40 years.”
“We don’t want to (come back to the voters) again,” Billings said. “But if you don’t put (the income tax) on the ballot, people think you don’t really need it.”