As Upper Arlington faces new fiscal realities, primarily stemming from the loss of the estate tax and cuts in the Local Government Fund, we found ourselves wondering how other Ohio communities were faring.
Finding little in the way of statewide data, the city partnered with Westerville, Loveland, the Ohio Municipal League (OML) and the Ohio City Managers Association (OCMA) to see what we could find out.
During May and June of this year, we extended a broad invitation to the member communities of OML and OCMA to complete an online survey relative to their fiscal health. While by no means a complete representation of the state of affairs within local governments, some notable trends emerged.
From 114 fully completed survey responses, nearly 20 percent of the responding communities had already raised property or income taxes to compensate for declining revenues in recent years.
An additional 30 percent that had not yet raised taxes indicated that their municipality had plans to attempt to raise one or both of these revenue sources in the future. Concurrently, nearly 40 percent of responding communities indicated they had raised user fees.
The most frequent response to addressing revenue reductions -- ranging from 50 percent to 70 percent, depending on the action taken -- was to make cutbacks within the municipality. This included reductions in capital expenditures -- including less street repaving, water line and sewer repair -- as well as staffing and service levels, specifically to parks and street maintenance, police and fire services.
We recognize the limitations of the survey process we used, and that no survey can tell the whole story. We are confident, however, the results of this relatively small sample demonstrate that many municipalities are under great pressure.
As the front-line providers of important community services, despite declining revenues, we still have to find a way to fix the potholes, keep our residents safe, provide public amenities and plan for future needs.
As evidenced by the results of this survey, in many instances, a greater share of the financial burden is being pushed directly onto residents as a result of the decline in state support.
Last week, I was afforded the opportunity to share the highlights of this survey with an Ohio House committee charged with studying municipal income tax issues at the state level. The work of the committee is to create a more uniform Ohio municipal tax code that will provide Ohio businesses with a streamlined, user-friendly process.
No argument here that this would be a good thing. However, a key message of the comments I shared with the committee was to ask that they be mindful of the needs of local municipalities charged with providing the basic services that residents and workers depend on every day.
A report on the survey can be found online at uaoh.net, under the Headlines section. If you have questions about the survey, please contact my office at 614-583-5040.
Theodore J. Staton is Upper Arlington's city manager.