City tax hike, opioid initiative tie for No. 4

Cleveland property taxes

Posted 12/28/17

Action by the Cleveland City Council to increase the property tax for city residents was voted No. 4 on the Top 10 Newsmakers of 2017 list by Cleveland Daily Banner editors and staff writers.Council …

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City tax hike, opioid initiative tie for No. 4

Cleveland property taxes


Action by the Cleveland City Council to increase the property tax for city residents was voted No. 4 on the Top 10 Newsmakers of 2017 list by Cleveland Daily Banner editors and staff writers.

Council members increased taxes by 29 cents over the 2016's property tax rate (which had been $1.77 for $100 of value), despite some opposition across the business community. Many felt the increase to $2.06 was too much.

It was emphasized by the opposition that the city's property tax numbers, combined with Bradley County's property reappraisal, resulted in a 46-cent increase for city property owners.

The property tax increase for city property owners was preceded by a citywide survey on municipal growth, and what city residents would like to see as far as community improvements.

Community meetings were held in the city's five districts, with a concluding meeting at downtown Cleveland's Museum Center at Five Points.

City staff used information from these meetings to determine what improvements Cleveland residents were wishful of receiving from city government. The resulting bucket list included downtown revitalization and redevelopment.

Among projects targeted for the property tax increase were the start of construction of the new Candy's Creek Cherokee Elementary School on Georgetown Road, street and intersection improvements at various locations, new and improved sidewalks, continued connection of the Greenway to the downtown Cleveland business district, streetscaping of Inman Street, and revitalization and redevelopment of the downtown area around the old Cherokee Hotel (Summit Apartments), the Old Woolen Mill, and the 90 acres downtown vacated by Whirlpool.

Also on the agenda for the tax increase were the addition of 12 additional police officers, and 12 firefighters. The fire personnel increase is needed to man the city's new, No. 6 fire station in South Cleveland on Westland Drive.

There was some concerted opposition to the property tax increase, although it was more about the total amount, than the increase in general.

Several business and community leaders voiced their opposition to the amount, but agreed some increase was needed. Most opponents felt the increase should have been for smaller increments over a longer period of time.

City Manager Joe Fivas, and assistants Shawn McKay and Melinda Carroll, emphasized that smaller and multiple increases would have required changes and a redraw of the city's previously-approved budget.

Only the start of construction of the new elementary school could have been covered by the city's previous $1.77 tax rate.

Voting for the 29-cent increase (from $1.77 to $2.06) on the first of two ballots  were Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, and Councilmen Richard Banks, Bill Estes and Tom Cassada. Opposing the jump were David May Jr. and Charlie McKenzie.

The split vote was the same on the second and final reading a month later. District 5 Councilman Dale Hughes was unable to attend either voting session, and  a vote from Mayor Tom Rowland was unnecessary.

Rowland and Hughes missed the vote on first reading, and the second vote was delayed in hope the two could attend. Rowland was back, but Hughes still unable to participate.

Councilman Richard Banks was one of the council's strongest supporters for the tax increase, saying steps to increase city revenue should have been taken earlier.

"Still, we need to do this to get us where we need to be," he emphasized.

There was some last-minute consideration of a smaller increase, if the 29-cent jump was not approved.  Johnson said he would proposed an increase to $1.99.

Several city residents spoke up to opposed the increase, especially its amount, but there was also support.

Resident Pam Edgemon said the increase was too large. Businessman Tom Robertson, who has six local convenience stores, said he had concerns for his customers.  Dr. John Stanbery was also a strong opponent, joining other business individuals and professionals.

Attorney Roger Jenne praised the council and city staff for the process of determining the municipality's needs. "It was an excellent survey process, and I don't see any reasonable alternative," he said.

"It's time to bite the bullet," continued Jenne, as he praised the city's police and fire departments for the job they do, and their need for additional personnel.

A statement by Bill Campbell, who lives on Paragon Parkway, pretty much summed up the opposition's stand. "I don't believe you need this much, at this time," he said.

Council members listened to almost a dozen residents who opposed the increase for various reasons.

Most council members agreed the tax hike was needed for the many challenges facing the needs of a rapidly growing community.

The basis of the council's vote for the tax hike was data from the community's surveys, filled out by 1,076 Cleveland residents. The surveys emphasized the need for improvements, changes and additions.

City Manager Fivas told the council, “All cities across the state that support a K-12 school system, like Cleveland, have a higher tax rate than we do. With the tax increase, we will still be the second or third lowest tax rate among these 12 communities.”

“We’re at a crossroads,” said Banks. “We have a duty to listen to our city staff, our city manager and to responders to the community survey.”

Several things, such as addressing traffic congestion, adding sidewalks, lowering the street paving cycle and increased walkability were issues highlighted in the community survey results.

At one point, Vice Mayor Johnson said the property tax increase “is one of those things that you don’t want to do, unless you really have to. We have to do something, and I don’t know if we can back up to do it in increments.”

Resident Tucker Duncan said it looked like the tax increase was going to pass, and he hinted that some seats on the council might be impacted in the next city election.

Banks  has since dodged that possibility, announcing recently that he does not plan to run for re-election.


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