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Ohio mayors talk gas tax, House Bill 70

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From the pending gas tax to state takeovers of school districts, the Ohio Mayors Alliance met Tuesday to push for investments in local communities across the state.

The Ohio Mayors Alliance is a bipartisan coalition of the mayors of Ohio’s 30 largest cities. The group meets three times a year to advocate for policies in favor of local governments.

On Tuesday, the main topic was Gov. Mike DeWine’s recently released budget and his proposed gas tax increase. The alliance is in favor of DeWine’s proposed 18-cent increase, as it would allow cities to better invest in maintaining their transportation infrastructure.

Ohio has the fourth-largest interstate system among U.S. states, but Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda said its funding ranks at 29th. The last gas tax increase was in 2005, and Brinda said DeWine understands the funding gap that has been created by inflation over the years.

There are some differences of opinion at the state level as to what the gas-tax increase should be. While DeWine suggests 18 cents a gallon, the House is proposing 10.7 cents for regular and 20 cents for diesel and the Senate is recommending an increase of 6 cents a gallon.

“As it relates to Elyria, it really matters because if you look at the difference between the Senate suggestion at 6 cents a gallon and the administration’s recommendation at 18 cents/gallon, just for the city of Elyria, it’s $1,371,573 that we would lose,” she said. “There’s a lot of money at stake for public infrastructure projects in the city of Elyria.”

Brinda added that the alliance believes it is best for the state to pass something that would make a significant difference. While no one really wants to advocate a major increase in taxes, she said, it is necessary.

“If we pass something too low that the amount of work that we’ll be able to do is going to be so small that people still aren’t going to be happy,” she said. “Since this hasn’t been done in so long, there’s a lot of unfinished business here as it relates to transportation issues in the state. To just raise it a little bit is not going to solve the problem, and it will not be as visible to people; and I have a feeling that taxpayers are still not going to be happy.”

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer agreed. He has testified on behalf of the governor’s increase and noted issues about roads and money to repair them is a problem every mayor in the state faces.

“If the governor’s plan was adopted, our $1.8 million annually in gas tax revenue would jump to about $3.4 million, and that’s significant. If bonded out, we could do $14 million in road work. If we didn’t bond it out, we would be able to pay cash for certain projects, add more to our local roadway program. Those are significant items because especially this time of year when hopefully the snow is gone, but it’s getting warmer and potholes start emerging.”

House Bill 70

Since Youngstown and Lorain mayors part of the alliance, state takeovers of struggling school districts was bound to come up at Tuesday’s meeting. The alliance has pushed for a reform of the current process — something state legislators are looking at, with several bills circulating in the House and Senate.

Ritenauer gave an update on what is happening in Lorain, as well as recommendations from State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria and language in DeWine’s budget.

It is a matter of restoring some type of local control, he said.

“I talked about some of the issues specific to Lorain in regard to the teachers having to reapply for their jobs at the high school to that being walked back, to the fact that the CEO will not meet with the School Board to discuss the levy renewal issue. And the need to get something done legislatively within the budget or through different means prior to the budget being passed, but something immediately.

Ritenauer said he is confident something is going to change and that Tuesday’s meeting was productive. Speaking to legislators from throughout the state while in Columbus, he said many are starting to take note and want to help.

State takeover looms over several cities in the alliance: Dayton, Columbus, Lima, Akron, Canton and Toledo could all fall under House Bill 70 within the next two years if their districts’ state report cards do not improve or the law is not changed.

“My warning was ‘you need to be paying attention to this now,’” Ritenauer said. “You don’t want this coming into your community, because as mayor you’re going to be dragged into it whether you want to be or not. It’s going to consume you, it’s going to be really the majority of what you have to deal with and it’s going to tear apart your community and you don’t want any of that.”

Other topics

  • The alliance also discussed the possibility of allowing longer Tax Increment Financing agreements in the state, including agreements of more than 30 years. Brinda said this is something the city may look at for property near Chestnut Commons, as the shopping center’s current abatement is expiring soon. There also is the potential for Elyria to designate its downtown as an Opportunity Zone, allowing developers to take advantage of other tax agreements.
  • The group met with Alicia Nelson, director of Recovery Ohio, an advisory council created to combat the ongoing opioid crisis. Brinda said the Council plans to compile a list of organizations certified by the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Board that cities can partner with to attempt to address the issue of addiction.
Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.

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