A recent request to help pinpoint why some local tax proposals failed at the polls last November prompted some thought about attitudes toward levies on income that go beyond distaste toward sharing your hard-earned dollars with government.
There is support for the services that keep us free of risk and help the value of property you own, such as for fire departments, emergency response and telecommunications. In Ohio, many of these local levies come up for renewal every few years and as seen by the examples set in Gallia and Meigs counties, voters tend to give them their support or provide a winning majority when ballots are counted.
Other tax issues that didn’t fly may come back before voters, some of them in the next election. Special elections can be arranged for such purposes, but tend to be costly. In Ohio, the next countywide election won’t be seen until May 8 when local issues and candidates appear on the ballot with federal/statewide party nominations or ballot questions. That’s still five months away, but if possible, proponents of a second try at a levy may be well-advised to give it more time, even a year, before putting their issue before the people again.
Why? Some recent elections have seen tax issues that failed in the preceding vote lose by as much or even larger margins. Even with changes to the levy proposal’s purpose and ballot language, not enough voters have been convinced the tax increase is necessary, let alone affordable. It’s a frustrating fact for the levy’s backers who have done all they believe they could to publicize and illustrate the need for the additional money. Other supporters may have to take the time to re-think their campaigns to develop new strategies to win more votes.
And some other factors need to be recognized and reckoned with to understand what motivates voter support for some taxes, or select the “against” or “no” option.
Appalachian counties’ continuing struggle with lack of jobs and high unemployment is a major factor for consideration. For November, when Ohioans cast their votes, Meigs County’s jobless rate was the second largest in the state. That fact only recently came to light, since employment data from Ohio tends to run a couple of months behind. But it can be argued that this fact was apparent to most people when they went to their voting locations on Nov. 7.
While Meigs’ unemployment rate has been historically higher and reached double digits, the 6.8 percent rate it logged for November was large enough and no doubt affected the failure of ballot issues to build a new county jail and a replacement levy for support of Rio Grande Community College.
Joblessness in Gallia was 5.5 percent for November and contributed to mixed results that saw the levy for the operation of the Guiding Hand School and local fire/emergency options emerge victorious, a narrow defeat for the RGCC question, which would have affected property taxes, and a negative result for Gallipolis’s latest attempt to increase the municipal income tax for police operations. It also didn’t help matters that in September, M&G Polymers announced it would close its Mason County plant and eliminate 140 jobs held by local folks before the close of 2017. Such news prompted voters to make their decisions with their wallets in mind.
Meanwhile, West Virginians’ overwhelming support for the sale of bonds to finance highway and infrastructure improvement, with an eye toward safety, economic development and new jobs, spoke to the desire to see all of those goals come true. Mountain State officials said unemployment in Mason County topped 7 percent in November as residents and the rest of the state await the fruits of the October special election that made the bond sale possible.
The conclusion is that a healthy jobs picture in our three counties may help get local levies approved and prompt a lot of good things to happen, but it’s a goal that remains a work in progress.
An educated workforce is one of the arguments offered for improving the tri-county job scene. One objection heard about the RGCC proposal, which would have aided its branch campuses at Rock Springs, McArthur and Jackson, is that they should be closed if the institution cannot afford to operate them. The reasons behind that thinking appear to be living within your budget, and if anyone wants to attend the community college, then travel to and take classes at Rio Grande. Many people do operate on a budget, as with other major considerations in their lives. That’s just a fact.
But gas prices haven’t moderated and commuting becomes less attractive to prospective students from the counties served by RGCC. The branch campuses offer a means of obtaining a two-year degree or starting a path of study in higher education. They should be encouraged for bringing college-level instruction to the immediate area, but also for what they add to the counties in which they are located. Still, backers of a levy should think long and hard about getting such benefits over to voters before putting the question to them again.
The decision to take another chance at the polls as soon as possible is entirely up to those folks who really believe they have a shot at reversing the result of the previous election. But giving it time to develop that new campaign, sell people on the idea and win new supporters is as critical and perhaps more advantageous than following the old adage of striking when the iron is hot.
In these times, a little caution and reflection can go a long way. Know and understand what’s happening in the region with jobs, costs, needs and public attitudes before seeking approval from the electorate.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.