Springfield income tax hike fails after more ballots counted

Mayor Copeland wants to go back on the ballot in May.

A final count of provisional ballots Tuesday showed that the city of Springfield income tax increase ultimately was rejected by voters, meaning about $1.5 million in cuts could be on the way.

Unofficial results from Election Night showed the income tax issue failed by just 55 votes. But the Clark County Board of Elections declared 717 provisional ballots cast by city residents should be counted. After those were counted Tuesday, the final, official results showed the tax increase was defeated by 227 votes.

The vote was close, but Springfield Mayor Warren Copeland said it doesn’t change anything in the short term.

Last week city leaders recommended slashing $1.5 million in several departments next year, including to parks, municipal court, safety services and a local tourism agency. The proposed cuts include closing both Fire Station No. 5 and the Johnny Lytle Police Substation.

“It’s nothing but ugly from here into the future as far as I can see unless we can convince people this isn’t the direction we want to go,” Copeland said.

The city is projected to collect $38.4 million in general fund revenues next year. However, it’s estimated to spend $39.8 million, including about $32 million for personnel and medical insurance.

The city is expected to use reserves to offset the nearly $1.4 million projected deficit at the end of 2017, which will leave its rainy day funds at about $470,000 — or 1.2 percent of its overall budget.

Springfield city commissioners were expected to discuss their budget again Tuesday night and likely will vote on the 2017 budget on Dec. 20.

The final tally on the income tax counted Tuesday showed 50.5 percent of voters reject the proposed tax hike. No recount will be required because the results weren’t within a half-percent.

However, it indicates Springfield voters are close to believing the increase is a good idea to save important services, Copeland said, meaning the city might go back on the ballot next year, possibly in May.

“I personally think we should,” Copeland said, “but I haven’t spoken to the other commissioners about it. … I think the sooner, the better.”

Dan Harkins, the treasurer of the group formed to oppose the income tax increase, watched as the results were announced Tuesday at the Clark County Board of Elections. Harkins unsuccessfully ran for city commission in 2013.

“The people have had the opportunity to vote on the matter and the people have spoken,” Harkins said. “Hopefully, the city commission and the city manager will act prudently and be more careful with taxpayer dollars.”

If approved, the tax would’ve increased the local income tax for five years from 2 percent to 2.4 percent. The tax would have generated an additional $6.7 million annually and cost workers making $30,000 a year an additional $9.75 per month.

On Monday, election officials reviewed all 1,600 provisional and some remaining absentee ballots cast countywide. Overall, they found about 1,400 ballots eligible to be counted.

>>MORE INFORMATION: $417K in cuts could close Springfield tourism agency’s doors

The Board of Elections members also voted Tuesday to refer a complaint from Harkins against the supporters of the Springfield income tax increase to the Ohio Election Commission.

The complaint alleges the Clark County Board of Elections received reports of a $500 donation to the committee from AFSCME Ohio Council 8 on Sept. 30 and another $500 donation from Dayton-based McGohan Brabender Agency Inc. on Oct. 7 — but the contributions haven’t been reported by the Citizens for a Stronger Springfield committee.

The report was also filed late, said Baker, who recommended referring the complaint to the state commission.

Expenditures for campaign materials purchased by the committee posted in Springfield also weren’t reflected in its campaign finance report, the complaint alleges.

Members of the pro-income tax committee have said they plan to sort out any issues with its finance report.

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