Monday, February 7th, 2011
Local tax burden rises as state money fades
By Shelley Grieshop
As money from the state dries up, local residents are being asked to dig more deeply into their wallets to financially support area schools, organizations and services.
Most of the proposed tax levies facing area voters in May are for school districts, which are anticipating huge state funding cuts this year from the debt-ridden state of Ohio.
Mercer County Auditor Mark Giesige said the increase in local taxes is something residents will have to get used to.
"It's the new normal," he said.
Giesige pointed out that many Grand Lake-area workers are still recovering from recent job losses or wage cuts and will struggle with any increase in debt obligations.
"People are at their saturation point for paying taxes," he said.
Giesige said a long list of taxes and fees have increased in the county in the last 10 years. Proposed school levies confront voters nearly every Election Day.
The average millage collected by Mercer County schools since 2000 has increased from 39 mills to 49 mills - about 25 percent more per school district, Giesige said.
A mill is the equivalent of $1 per $1,000 of taxable value of property or income.
Giesige also noted that during the last decade voters approved first-ever levies to support the county home and county libraries, along with increasing the county sales tax by a half percent to 1.5 to fund the new jail.
Since 2002, the state added to the local tax burden by increasing gasoline taxes by 27 percent, cigarette taxes to $1.01 per pack and hiking motor vehicle fees, among others.
Republican Gov. John Kasich has vowed not to raise taxes to balance the state budget. But Giesige, a Democrat, believes such statements are deceitful because Ohio residents are still paying the same or higher amounts in taxes through local collections.
"When they say there's no tax increases ... they're being intellectually dishonest," he said.
As the state decreases local funding, Giesige believes it should also lessen its demands on schools and other organizations.
"No more unfunded mandates," he said.
Across the state, residents are feeling the pinch as Ohio legislators attempt to mend an $8 billion deficit. Placing the burden on taxpayers' backs seems to be the fix of choice: Ohio is one of the most taxed states in the country.
According to the most recent study by the Tax Foundation - a nonpartisan educational organization - Ohio's total tax burden is the seventh highest in the U.S. Ohio residents pay about 10.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes, compared with a national average of 9.7 percent.
Newly-appointed state Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, agreed that Ohio residents are getting hit hard. He noted that whether the funding comes from the state or from issues voted in locally, "it's all taxpayers' money."
Buchy said budget deliberations are ongoing in Columbus, and he is sure every government agency across the state to receive less money this year.
"I'm suggesting that all government entities take a good, long look at their budgets and proceed appropriately," he said, adding local officials must implement conservative spending practices.
Good times are around the corner and the key to recovery is employment, he said.
"The solution is to get people back to work. That's where our priorities are right now," Buchy said.