Dayton tax hike fight over spending priorities

Construction crews work on First Street at Patterson Boulevard. The city of Dayton says if Issue 9 passes, all of its roads will be in good shape within eight years. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Construction crews work on First Street at Patterson Boulevard. The city of Dayton says if Issue 9 passes, all of its roads will be in good shape within eight years. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

A proposed 0.25 percent income tax increase is on the November ballot.

By the numbers

2.25 percent: Dayton income tax if Issue 9 passes

8: The number of years for the levy

$11 million: The amount of revenue to be generated annually

70: The percentage Dayton’s income tax coming from people who live outside the city

$1.60: The weekly cost of the income tax to a worker who earns $35,000 annually

Some people oppose Issue 9 because it will raise taxes in Dayton. However, some of the levy’s most vocal critics say higher taxes would be OK if the money is spent the right way.

Issue 9 would increase Dayton’s earnings tax for the first time since 1984, generating about $11 million annually.

The levy, supporters say, will pay to maintain and expand essential city services while also funding important investments in Dayton’s children, infrastructure, future workforce, assets and neighborhoods.

But some detractors argue that Dayton’s plans for the money lack meaningful accountability. Others say the city should spend the new revenue on other services and programs to truly address the most pressing community issues, such as weak economic opportunities in struggling neighborhoods.

The tax hike

Issue 9 would increase Dayton’s earnings tax to 2.5 percent from 2.25 percent. The measure would expire after eight years.

The additional 0.25 percent tax would cost a worker who earns $35,000 annually about $87.50 more each year. The levy does not tax Social Security and retirement income and interest earnings.

The tax applies to people with jobs who live or work in the city. About 70 percent of the income taxes Dayton collects is paid by people who live outside of city limits.

Groups that have endorsed the income tax measure include the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Dayton Partnership, the Dayton Area Board of Realtors' political action committee. The Dayton Unit NAACP announced Monday it is endorsing Issue 9.

The city faces a $5 million shortfall in 2017, largely because of state cuts to the local government fund that has resulted in Dayton losing $40 million since 2011, said Shelley Dickstein, Dayton city manager.

The new money will help close the budget gap while also paying to expand services, she said, such as increasing the number of miles of residential roads that will be repaved and resurfaced.

About 60 percent of Dayton’s streets would be redone over the eight year levy period, meaning all of the city’s roads would be in good shape by the time the tax expires, she said.

“Clearly, without the income tax increase, we also will not be able to protect other essential services from cuts,” she said.

The city also will hire a net of 20 new police officers to make neighborhoods safer and enhance the police presence in crime hot-spots, Dickstein said.

The city says it will use the new revenue on road repairs and repaving ($3.3 million), protecting and enhancing law enforcement ($1.6 million), maintaining current staffing levels for fire and emergency medical services ($900,000) and finalizing park upgrades and more frequently mowing vacant lots and the medians of thoroughfares ($750,000).

The cornerstone of Issue 9, however, is a $4.3 million annual investment in Dayton’s children, city leaders said. That money will pay for universal pre-K, giving all of Dayton’s 4-year-old children access to high-quality programs.

Dayton commissioners last month passed an ordinance stating how the new revenue should be spent.

The critics speak up

But the language of the legislation is so vague that the city could change how it uses the money without requiring another vote, said Darryl Fairchild, a former city commission candidate and community activist.

Fairchild said he supports universal pre-school, but taxpayers deserve a better explanation of how the program will work and need greater guarantees for where for the money will go.

The city is wise to seek an additional funding stream, but its spending plans will not increase economic opportunities for residents, said Zakiya Sankara-Jabar, executive director of Racial Justice NOW!, an advocacy group that opposes Issue 9.

The city has sunk large sums of money into buying downtown real estate to support high-end developments that do not benefit and will displace lower-income residents, she said.

Once the money is put into the general fund, the city will be able to use funds at its discretion without real transparency or accountability, she said.

“The city spending millions of dollars of its current budget on old office buildings and commercial properties has been bad business,” she has said.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said the city has selected essential and impactful areas to invest in where there is little possibility of state or federal funding support.

She rejected the idea that the city’s spending plan lacks accountability, saying the commission codified how the new revenue will be allocated.

“I’m not going to be mayor in eight years, so I want to make sure that whoever is the future mayor listens to the will of the voters and what they voted on,” she said.

The city has spent money on downtown real estate and projects, Whaley said, but they are important parts of Dayton’s revitalization strategy and are minor expenses compared to what it costs to pave roads and pay for other basic services.

Some community activists say the city should focus its resources on cleaning up the “deplorable” state of some local neighborhoods through demolition, enhanced code enforcement and projects that address food access in areas where grocery stores are scarce or nonexistent.

The city should have engaged the community more before it put the income tax on the ballot to hear what service and program enhancements citizens really want instead of deciding for them, said Jo’el Thomas-Jones, co-founder of Neighborhoods Over Politics, which has pushed the city to develop a new block-by-block revitalization plan.

“Elected leaders and city officials could have done a much better job bringing this up to citizens earlier to have a much more in-depth conversation and not just a press conference,” she said.

Gary Leitzell, Dayton’s former mayor, and David Esrati, a former city commission candidate, oppose Issue 9, claiming the city has been fiscally irresponsible.

The pre-school program will significantly increase economic opportunities for residents by allowing more parents to work once they can enroll their children in high-quality care, said Aaron Sorrell, Dayton’s director of planning and community development.

Some of the loudest critics of the tax hike have political ambitions or agendas that have been rejected by voters, said Mark Owens, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, which endorsed Issue 9.

Fairchild and Esrati ran for city commission and lost. Leitzell lost his reelection bid and unsuccessfully ran for a Montgomery County commission seat.

Voters can hold city leaders accountable if they fail to keep their promises about the new revenue, he said.

“The way to hold the leaders accountable is on the ballot box every two to four years,” he said.

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