Grandview Heights seeks renewal of city property-tax levy

Alan Froman (afroman@thisweeknews.com)

Grandview Heights voters will decide by Nov. 3 whether to renew the city's property-tax levy for a second time.

Issue 8 is a four-year renewal of the city's 7.5-mill property-tax levy that is set to expire Dec. 31.

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Voters first approved the measure in 2012 and renewed it in 2016.

If approved, the levy is expected to generate an estimated $1.9 million annually.

The levy provided about 12% of the city's general-fund revenue in 2019, City Council president Emily Keeler said. 

In all, the city had about $17 million in general-fund revenues last year, city finance director Megan Miller said.

The levy provides a significant amount of revenue that goes to the general fund to help fund city services and infrastructure projects, Keeler said.

"It gives us the wiggle room financially so that we can continue to provide top notch services and complete needed infrastructure projects, like streets and sewer work," she said.

The levy's current effective millage rate is 5.36 mills for residential properties and 6.64 mills for commercial and industrial properties, Miller said.

If the renewal is approved by voters, a residential property owner would continue to pay $164 annually per $100,000 of appraised value, Smith said.

"It's one of the important points – this would not increase your taxes," City Council vice president Chris Smith said.

If voters reject the renewal, the levy's revenue would be eliminated entirely and some budget adjustments and cuts would be needed until a new levy could be approved, Mayor Greta Kearns said 

"We are limited as a small community with revenue sources, but we are a full-service community," Smith said. 

"The property tax is not the majority of our general-fund budget, but it is an important piece, especially in a time of economic uncertainty, like we are in right now," Kearns said. "We went on a slowdown on spending this year because of the (COVID-19) pandemic and the economic downturn.

"We don't know what the future's going to hold, which makes passing this levy and maintaining the revenue it provides so important," she said. "We're optimistic but cautious."

Some major projects in the works, including the redevelopment of two brownfields south of Goodale Boulevard and the Grandview Crossing project, are expected to bring additional revenue to the city, but revenue from those projects is still to come, Kearns said.

At some point, the city would like to "wean" itself off the property tax and "reduce the millage a bit," Smith said. "It's not the right time to do that just yet."

The revenue from the levy will help compensate for the loss of other revenue the city has suffered, he said.

"We've really taken a hit in the revenue from the hotel tax this year," Smith said.

Fifty percent of the tax revenue from the two hotels in Grandview Yard is earmarked for the city's parks and recreation department, he said.

Although he is not leading a formal campaign against the levy, former council member Steve Reynolds is voicing his opposition to the measure as presented by city officials.

"I just wish the city was a little more straightforward about the levy," he said. "We hear a lot of generalities about the levy – that it will help 'pay for city services and infrastructure projects' – but there's no specific plan for how the money the levy generates will be spent."

The levy is not meant to provide funding for any specific projects or initiatives, Kearns said.

"It's a levy to provide funding for our general operations, which include providing services and funding street and sewer repairs and paying personnel costs," she said. "Each year, we come up with a budget to fund those expenses."

Reynolds said he's not sure the levy is even needed, given that the city had $11 million in unspent general-fund revenue at the end of 2019, about $6 million above the reserve representing 105 days of operating expenses the city is required to maintain, he said.

The unspent general-fund revenue offers a contingency in case the economic downturn continues or worsens, Kearns said.

And if the money isn't needed or spent now, it could be of use in the future, she said.

"We're not just looking at the next few years; we are taking a long-range view and have two master plans in place that provide a vision for the next 50 or 100 years," she said. "We have some major projects we would like to do, including a facilities project to build a new municipal complex, and we need to have the funds in place to provide long-term financial stabilization in order to be able to plan those projects."

Although Election Day is Nov. 3, oversees and military absentee voting began Sept. 18, and early in-person and mail-in absentee voting began Oct. 6, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Office voting schedule.

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