Rogers officials explore dissolving village after tax effort fails

ROGERS- Efforts to begin the process of enacting a 1 percent income tax failed to garner enough votes at Thursday’s Village Council meeting, throwing into doubt the town’s future.

Council voted 3-1 to pass the proposed income tax on first reading, but Fiscal Officer Dale Davis said council rules require four affirmative votes for approval of any ordinances.

Voting in favor were Mike Hunt, Marilyn Locke and Jayne Balmenti, while Mark Gordon cast the lone dissenting vote, although he did not say why. Absent was Councilman Jerry Hoon, and the sixth council seat is currently vacant.

Council was prepared to take up the income tax issue at the regular monthly meeting on Sept. 9, which was canceled and rescheduled for Thursday after only two of the five members showed up.

Only four people showed up at the meeting, three of whom spoke against the tax. Cindy Black, who owns and operates the Rogers Feed Mill with her husband, said an income tax would prove a financial hardship for her 11 employees, most of whom live elsewhere and already pay an income tax there.

Black is one of those people. Her family lives outside Columbiana but pays the school district income tax. An employee, Deb Freudberg, said she lives in the Crestview school district and pays the school’s income tax, while her husband works in Columbiana and pays the city’s tax as well.

“A lot of them are barely living pay check to pay check. I just don’t think this is the route to go,” Black said.

The tax is estimated to generate $17,250 per year in additional revenue for the village, which has a tiny annual budget of about $68,000. Black believes the real reason for the tax is to repay the $50,000 owed the state for the cost of routine audits of the village books dating back nearly 10 years.

Davis said the state auditor’s office is poised to take action to collect what it is owed unless the village comes up with a reliable source of income to enter into a debt payment plan.

“The auditor is waiting to see what will happen here,” and failure to act could result in liquidation of village assets to satisfy the debt, he said.

Davis said the state might be willing to enter into a payment plan for a small amount, such as $250 per month, freeing up the rest of the income tax revenue to be spent elsewhere.

“This tax is really to keep the village going,” he said.

Resident Margaret Shingleton suggested letting the voters decide the fate of the tax. “I think it needs put on the ballot for a vote to make it fair,” she said.

“We have no choice if you want the village to continue to be a village,” Mayor Sharon Hebron told her.

The only services currently offered to village residents are a part-time street department, street lights, a community park and fire protection through the Negley Fire Department. There is no police department, nor any municipal water or sewer service.

Hunt said the income tax revenue is needed for the village to be able to provide more services, such as hiring a part-time police officer.

Even if the tax had passed on first reading, council would have to approve the measure two more times before it would take effect sometime in 2014. Hunt suggested they pass the tax on first reading to get the process started, and in the meantime someone in town could start a petition to determine whether residents want the village to be dissolved and become part of Middleton Township.

“It’s fruitless for four or five people to make this decision if not enough people really care,” he said. “If the majority don’t want this and want to go into the township, so be it.”

To explore that option, council suggested inviting Middleton Township Fiscal Officer Bob Chapman to its Oct. 14 meeting to explain what would occur if the village were to dissolve.

“I think we’re going to be losing a lot and not gaining much,” Locke said.

The income tax scenario would change because resident Tom Chambers has expressed an interest in being appointed to the vacant council seat, and Hebron intends to invite him to the Oct. 14 meeting. Chambers attended the canceled meeting last Monday and indicated he might vote in favor of the tax if appointed.