WHIO REPORTS SPECIAL TODAY
Watch a special election edition of WHIO Reports Sunday on Channel 7 at 11:30 a.m. on Dayton’s income tax issue. Host Jim Otte and Dayton Daily News City Hall reporter Cornelius Frolik sit down with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Fred Stovall, the city’s director of Public Works, to discuss the tax before voters this November.
Dayton’s first request for an income tax increase in 32 years has drawn mixed reviews from community members who are divided over the prospect of paying higher taxes and whether the things a tax increase would pay for are worth it.
On Nov. 8, Dayton voters will decide whether to increase the earnings tax to 2.5 percent from 2.25 percent. It will generate nearly $11 million annually in new revenue.
City officials estimate 70 percent of the people who pay the earnings tax work in the city but live elsewhere.
Supporters say the money will close a projected budget shortfall and fund critical projects, programs, additional staff and other improvements that they say will make Dayton more competitive and attractive to residents and businesses.
“We cannot continue to cut our way to our future,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. “We have to have this 0.25 percent tax.”
But critics say Dayton has dumped money into bad real estate deals, development projects and other unwise endeavors, and say the city should balance its budget instead of raising taxes on people who live and work in Dayton.
“If you were a business, you would be out of business,” said Ronald Markert, the vice chairman for research with the department of internal medicine at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. Markert works in Dayton.
If voters approve the tax increase, the city plans to use the new revenue to close a projected $5 million budget shortfall, increase police staffing and patrols, maintain current levels of fire protection and pay for park enhancements.
The signature initiative of the proposal is universal pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-old children in Dayton.
The income tax measure appears as Issue 9 on the November ballot. The tax would expire after eight years.
Groups that have endorsed the tax levy include the executive board of the city's largest union, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, the Dayton Area Board of Realtors' political action committee, the Montgomery County Democratic Party and the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The city made a strong case for new revenues going to enhance pre-school education for Dayton’s youth, enhanced police and safety services and improved roads and parks,” said Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
The additional tax will protect and expand many of the city’s essential services, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein at a recent press conference.
The city will add 20 police officers and increase police presence in crime hot spots while also funding more proactive law enforcement activities to prevent crime before it happens, she said.
The city also plans to use $3.3 million of the new funding each year on road repairs, and almost 80 percent of the city’s residential streets would be resurfaced by the end of the eight-year tax period, Dickstein said.
Without new revenue, the city will have to cut fire personnel and reduce spending on capital equipment, she said.
“The 0.25 percent allows us to continue the fight against blight, increase safety and create a higher quality of life in our neighborhoods,” she said.
The city maintains 5,700 vacant lots and would use some of the additional revenue to mow them every month instead of two to three times per year.
People who work in the city and pay the income tax but live elsewhere cannot vote on the tax hike; only residents can. Markert, who lives in Washington Twp. but whose office is at Miami Valley Hospital, said that is unfair.
The city should poll Dayton workers who live elsewhere about their opinions of higher taxes, because this tax hike will primarily impact their finances, Markert said.
Also, the city and the backers of the tax levy have not set measurable goals to ensure the new revenue is used wisely and appropriately and that taxpayers receive a return on their investment, Markert said.
David Esrati, a former city commission candidate and a vocal critic of Dayton’s elected leadership, has publicly denounced the city’s spending priorities. Other community members have questioned the city’s investment in downtown real estate.
The city spent millions of dollars while on a shopping spree for old office buildings and languishing commercial properties that have no immediate public use, Esrati said during public comment portion of an August commission meeting.
“You weren’t hired to be real estate speculators — you were hired to run a city and provide services to our citizens. You’re failing,” he said.
Former Dayton City Commission candidate Darryl Fairchild said elected leaders are downplaying the financial burden of the tax hike, which would cost a Dayton worker earning $35,000 annually about $1.60 more each week.
For families struggling to make ends meet, $1.60 more per week is a big deal and adds up because over time they could have spent that money on necessities like a winter coat, utility bill or trip to the grocery store, he said.
But city officials contend the new revenue will help fund programs that will shape Dayton’s future in important and long-lasting ways.
Three out of four Dayton children do not begin kindergarten ready to learn, and which results in lower test scores, fewer graduates and a weaker workforce and economy, said Mayor Whaley.
About $4 million of the funds will be directed toward providing high-quality, universal pre-kindergarten for every child in the city.
A demonstration of the “Preschool Promise” program is taking place in Northwest Dayton and Kettering.
The additional income tax revenue would allow the program to expand Dayton-wide, benefiting about 1,900 children who are 4 years old, Whaley said.
About 80 percent of children in Dayton start kindergarten unprepared, and preventing them from falling behind will have a big impact on later economic success, she said.
If the tax measure passes, Dayton will become the first city in the Midwest to have universal pre-kindergarten, Whaley said.
Every family in Dayton will have the opportunity to send their child to one year of preschool in the city, including middle class households, said Robyn Lightcap, director of ReadySetSoar.
Within a decade, they hope to increase the share of children in Dayton who attend a preschool program to 70 percent from 40 percent today, she said.
“We know preschool is an important anchor, and it is an important investment in the future workforce of our community,” she said.
But Dayton Public Schools has a good pre-school program and the public-private partnership the city is proposing to fund lacks accountability to ensure it is fair and effective, said Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, executive director of Racial Justice NOW!, which advocates for eliminating “instutitional and systemic” racism.
Racial Justice NOW! opposes passage of the income tax hike, a position the group took in part because of the city administration’s unwillingness to adopt a crime prevention program and policies to economically invest in high-crime, low-opportunity areas, Sankara-Jabar said.
“To vote no is to stop the process and really force them back to the table to come up with something that is really inclusive and is what all of Dayton wants,” she said.