The upcoming Wauseon Exempted Village Schools income tax levy request was again a major topic of discussion at the April 4 Wauseon City Council meeting. Councilors and the mayor were asked their opinions on the levy from a city standpoint by visitor Paul Zumfelde, and were able to answer personally if they chose.
“My concern first is obviously the kids and the impact it would have on them,” said Zumfelde near the start of the meeting. “I am also concerned about the open enrollment with students we would lose. And ultimately the exodus of 100 people, 200 people.”
They started going around the table to answer, with Mayor Kathy Huner speaking first.
“We serve the citizens of Wauseon, all of the citizens,” she said. “Whether they’re for or against levy, and we have to listen to both as far as anything that pertains to the city.”
The mayor said she didn’t know how a levy failure would impact the city, and then gave an example of a previous issue where the city was divided.
“I kind of look at the levy as the same thing. It divides the city as to how it’s gonna affect people, but all in all, you asked more or less what it would curtail if it doesn’t pass,” Huner said. “All I can say in the city is we look for economic growth, we hope for economic growth. We hope that people would want to come into the city.
“I would think we would actually pay attention a lot more if it doesn’t pass because we’re going to have to look at what our income’s going to be in the next couple years and how it’s going to affect it. And how it’s going to affect the economic growth and what we would have to do then to more or less rework our budget, rework our moving forward and what we would have to do to continue economic growth.”
Councilman Scott Stiriz said since he’s retired and his wife’s retired it won’t impact his income so he doesn’t feel comfortable telling people which way to vote. “I’m staying out of it both ways. My kids got a great education from here. I graduated from here. It’s a great school system but I can see it both ways.”
Councilman Steve Schneider said that either way it goes, you’re going to lose people.
“I’m trying to stay neutral too because there’s people on both sides, and also I think you’re gonna lose people no matter which way it goes, because the economy right now is not good,” he said. “That’s another factor.”
He added that exempting senior citizens without earned income has turned some people off the levy.
“I agree with Councilman Schneider that we’re going to lose people either way,” said Councilman Brandon Tijerina. He said he sees how it is unfair for families already having trouble paying bills to pay more taxes if it passes, and also unfair to students involved in extracurricular activities if it does not pass.
“I think that there’s a lot of things that can be done inside the school, if it doesn’t pass, that would still allow a lot of activities to happen,” said Tijerina. “It seems as though, the budget of the school… I think that they’ve noticed, or they haven’t noticed, and that’s a bigger issue, that they’ve been bleeding for a minute. And so I think correcting those processes is gonna help a lot more than taxing people in the community.”
Wauseon schools officials looked into a levy request in 2020 but COVID hit and it was delayed. A 2% income tax was voted down in November, and now the district is asking voters to approve a 1.75% earned income tax.
Before Councilman Harold Stickley spoke, law director Thomas McWatters said he didn’t think it was appropriate to question the Councilors on their individual opinions on the levy. “If you have a question about what their views on what the city might do in the event it fails, I think that’s a fair question, but to have a discussion about their personal views and back and forth about whether the levy should be passed, I’m not sure that’s appropriate for this situation,” he said.
Zumfelde replied, “We want your opinion as a city council person and it obviously comes from the heart. It comes from your belief system and what you value in the real world.”
McWatters reiterated that he didn’t think it was appropriate to ask their personal views.
Huner said she tried to answer it from a city standpoint, but it is a personal question. “I think that moving forward I think everybody has the right, if they choose, to answer that question. It’s up to that individual.”
Harold Stickley said he spoke to Ohio Ethics Commission and found that elected officials had to be careful how they talked about levies.
But he did say that the Wauseon Recreation Department would lose certain things if the levy is defeated, mentioning school facilities such as gymnasiums. He added the city may have to go elsewhere for facilities, which would cost money.
Stickley went on to say that he would have to pay more in taxes if they levy was approved, and that is OK.
“As Harold Stickley, not Councilman Stickley, it’s OK. The reason I say that is, in my opinion we have to educate our youth, because they’re our future. If we do not educate our youth we don’t have a future.”
Councilwoman Sarah Heising said she could bundle her personal and city viewpoints, saying “No matter what happens, somebody loses.”
She said that’s the sad part. “Nobody wants kids to miss out, you know. But you also have to be reasonable and look at the other side of it.”
Councilman Shane Chamberlin said that from the city perspective one of the chief responsibilities of Council is setting a budget.
“So like anything within our community it’s like a marketplace, where we’re asking [Finance Director Jamie Giguere] to keep an eye on things financially so we can make good decisions when it comes to setting the budget. So I think this would be no different,” said Chamberlin. “I would expect our finance director to keep a close eye on our income and we would legislate accordingly.”
Also at the meeting, Council approved by emergency a resolution to enter into an electrical supply agreement for various municipal locations.
Reach Drew Stambaugh at 419-335-2010.