St. C. panel: Tax is necessary

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – City Council directed Mayor Robert Vincenzo in December to form an independent committee to study the city’s finances and make a recommendation as to whether the proposed .75-percent income tax was necessary.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, the report issued by the committee and detailing its findings was circulated throughout council.

In essence, the committee saw no other way for the city to return and stay in the black without the income tax.

“Even if the two major issues discussed would be elimination of recreational department funds and police dispatchers, that still would only resolve less than 40 percent of the deficit,” the committee reported. “However, the impact on young families with children would be significant if these services were eliminated. Therefore, the other type of spending cuts would not have any significant impact on St. Clairsville’s financial situation.”

Based on that recommendation, council voted to adopt the .75-percent income tax, albeit by a narrow margin.

The vote was deadlocked at 3-3, with Councilmen Frank Sabatino, Terry Pugh and Perry Jones casting no votes and Mike Kasper, Jim Weisgerber and John Bukmir in favor.

Councilman Jake Olsavsky was absent from the meeting which left it up to council president Patricia Bruhn casting the deciding yes vote to break the stalemate.

Because the measure didn’t pass with at least five votes, it is unable to be implemented under emergency status and must wait 30 days to begin. It likely wouldn’t have mattered since a representative from the Regional Income Tax Authority, who will be administering the income tax, admitted the earliest collection could begin is April 1.

The report’s official recommendation read as follows:

“In reviewing these figures, it would appear that said tax, due to the increasing costs of all services and the decrease in funding sources for the city, that a three-quarter percent income tax is necessary.

“Also, this tax is necessary for the long-term financial stability and in order that the community of St. Clairsville can maintain not only its status quo but hopefully progress in its services to its citizens.”

In making its recommendation, the report cited the real possibility that the State of Ohio will pass House Bill 3, or a version of it, which will eliminate estate taxes by 2013, as well as the reduction of local government funds.

Vincenzo thanked the committee for its service to the city and also the individual members’ willingness to participate without hesitation.

He then, speaking of the three councilmen who still cast no votes, apologized to the committee and expressed hope they didn’t feel council wasted their time. The same three who voted against bringing the ordinance up at the special meeting following the 1-percent tax’s defeat at the ballot in November were the same three who voted no Tuesday.

Sabatino, who was the council member who motioned to have Vincenzo form the committee, took exception to the mayor’s statements, citing it was a hard decision for him and that all but one of the people he talked to on the street were not in favor of the tax.

Later, Finance Director Jill Lucidi mentioned that the city has two funds in the red when discussing the end of the month reports for December and January.

The general fund was nearly $105,000 behind while the water department was almost $14,000 in the red.

“I was very concerned because as of the end of May, I was worried we’d have to go out of business,” Lucidi said. “We’re not allowed to operate at a loss so after the tax money came in May, I wouldn’t have been able to approve any more spending.”

Also on Tuesday:

  • Ordinance 2011-5 was passed 6-0, authorizing the St. Clairsville Police Department to participate in the Belmont County Special Operations Branch and adopting a mutual aid agreement for the special ops. Police Chief Martin Kendzora explained that this is akin to a SWAT unit and an officer from the department will be selected to participate. It will also allow the officer involved to cross lines of jurisdiction, only if his assistance is requested from another participant in the special ops unit.

“I hope it something we never have to use,” Kendzora said. “But it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

  • Ordinance 2011-6 was passed 6-0, allowing a subdivision of property owned by Zandex, which includes the Beacon House, Forest Hills Care Center and the Forest Hills Apartments. A representative from Zandex explained they wish to divide the property, keeping the care center and Beacon House on one subdivision and the apartments on the other.

This was requested so that Zandex can take advantage of special financing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, without packaging the apartment complex in with it.

  • Ordinance 2011-7 was also passed 6-0, transferring 6.953 acres of real estate to the St. Clairsville Community Improvement Council for the purpose of marketing for sale. The property is the overflow parking area on the former Belmont County Fairgrounds property.
  • Councilman Mike Kasper told council that indoor soccer began Feb. 18 at the recreation center with 191 boys and girls ages 4-13 participating.

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