Forum questions focus on taxes, class size
Reynoldsburg school board, city council and township trustee candidates met constituents and gave their views on city issues at an Oct. 8 candidates' night at Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church.
Sponsored by the Franklin County Consortium for Good Government, the event gave residents a chance to submit questions to a host moderator.
Council candidates who attended included incumbents Barth Cotner and Chris Long and challengers Dan Skinner and former council member Preston Stearns, all vying for three at-large council seats.
A hot-button question was whether they would support an income tax credit reduction, which would -- without voter approval -- raise taxes for residents currently working outside the city if the city's request for a 1-percent income tax hike fails Nov. 5.
Stearns said the tax credit reduction "should be reviewed."
"I hope the income tax increase passes, but if it does not, we need to review the tax credit reduction but also need to look down the road for long-term planning," he said. "But I would be pressing hard for economic development in the city."
Skinner said he would not be in favor of the credit reduction.
"A tax increase should be something the citizens decide on, not the council," he said. "If the tax issue fails again, then we would have to figure out how to use the resources we already have. Finances are a big deal but I hope we could start with a vision to know where we are going first."
Long said he opposed the tax credit reduction in the first place.
"Any time additional funds are taken from the public, it should be decided by voters," he said. "We have passed balanced budgets and continue to pass balanced budgets. I would not support it unless it was an emergency. I will do everything I can to promote economic development and redevelopment."
Cotner said he was among those council members who voted against the tax credit reduction.
"I believe the city needs more revenue, but I do not want to see it come from a tax credit reduction unless it was a true emergency," he said. "Revenue drives economic development. If you are not going forward, you are falling behind."
School board candidates at the forum were challenger Joe Begeny and incumbents Ryan Brzezinski, Andrew Swope and Elaine Tornero.
They were asked what they thought about class sizes going up because of open enrollment in the Reynoldsburg district.
Brzezinski said the original open enrollment agreement, which allows students from other districts to attend Reynoldsburg schools, called for a cap on class sizes at 25.
"We did not want overcrowding and that is what our original agreement said, but we have let that slide to accommodate more students," he said. "I want to stand firm on an average of 25 in a class and think we should not push class size.
"I feel like I have been vocal on the school board for the past four years and I want to continue to be a voice for school district residents," he said.
Swope said class size should depend on grade level.
"With a blended curriculum at the high school, I think more than 25 students in a class could be appropriate," he said. "We have a good school system and we have set the bar high."
Tornero said classes should be kept small at the elementary level.
"I think 23 or 25 might be ideal for class size," she said. "When I began as a school board member four years ago, I wanted to keep costs down and learning up. I believe we have done that and continue to offer more for less money."
Begeny, a Columbus City Schools teacher, said the key is making sure students receive individual attention.
"I do not want a classroom of 30 first-graders," he said. "Students must be able to have individual attention from teachers. I think the school board has done a great job so far, but there is always room for improvement and a fresh voice."
Truro Township trustee candidates at the event were incumbent Dennis Nicodemus and challenger Mike Shirey, a former Truro Township firefighter. Incumbent Barb Strussion could not attend because she was out of town at her daughter's wedding.
The candidates were asked if they support the township's 0.75-mill levy on the Nov. 5 ballot, even though the township asked for a fire levy last year, which voters approved last fall.
Nicodemus said the fire levy was needed for the fire department and the township levy is needed to improve roads and maintain services.
"We lost a lot of government funds in this recession and it has put us in a bind," he said. "We need to be on solid footing if we want to improve roads and make sure the township has enough revenue to provide necessary services to residents."
Shirey said he is not in favor of the levy.
"I respected our trustees for the decision they made about a hiring freeze for firefighters, but I want to see the township making necessary cuts," he said. "Everyone needs to share in this. Until that happens, I don't think it is right to ask people for more revenue."
Strussion provided campaign literature that stated she has 16 years of township leadership.
"I will continue to make the improvement of township roads a top priority and will continue the restoration of Silent Home Cemetery," she stated on the campaign literature.