Tax issues, hundreds of candidates dominate local election

Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, explains how new voting machines function. BONNIE MEIBERS/ STAFF

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Steve Harsman, deputy director of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, explains how new voting machines function. BONNIE MEIBERS/ STAFF

With no state issues on the ballot, turnout is expected to be low in this election, but there’s a lot of local issues at stake.

History says voter turnout is likely to be low Tuesday, as it’s a city/township/school election with no state or federal races.

There’s no statewide ballot issue like marijuana legalization or drug pricing to drum up interest, and other than in Preble County, there are no countywide tax-increase levies that broad swaths of people will vote on.

But the voters who do show up will decide major issues close to their homes: layoffs and class sizes in Lebanon schools, the condition of Riverside’s roads for years to come, fire and EMS funding in Beavercreek, plus determining who oversees each city, township and school district’s governance for the next four years.

VOTERS GUIDE: Your candidates explain positions, background

That last item will draw extra attention in Dayton, where the city commission race has been run against the backdrop of a federal “culture of corruption” investigation, with more indictments last week.

“This (vote) is the way you plan the course for your city or school district for the next several years,” said Grant Neeley, chair of the University of Dayton’s political science department. “This is your one chance to really influence that, other than (pleading) at a council meeting.”

The last November election that mirrors this one — an odd-year local election, with no big state issues — was 2013. That fall, turnout for contested races was as low as 12.4 percent of registered voters for West Carrollton school board, 11.4 percent for Harrison Twp. trustees and 14.0 percent for Englewood city council.

RELATED: Multiple counties get new voting machines

That meant a group of 810 voters was enough to elect a trustee in Harrison Twp., which had more than 15,000 registered voters at the time. A West Carrollton school board candidate who garnered 1,300 votes (from 19,000 registered voters) earned one of the community’s five school board seats for the next four years.

“Typically, low turnout gives challengers difficulty (vs. incumbents),” Neeley said. “But when you get into smaller communities and smaller races, the personal relationships matter more. … It’s about name recognition and knocking on doors and having people know you.”

Why does your vote matter?

If there’s a tax levy in your community, that’s easy. It’s your money, so regardless of whether you support or oppose the levy, you should have a vote on how your money is spent.

Races for city council, school board or township office are less direct, but at some point in the next four years, the person elected will be one of 3 to 7 people deciding something you care about.

RELATED: Two polling locations changed due to tornadoes

The examples are endless — city council in Kettering deciding to use a financial windfall on new fire stations, a school board in Springboro or Huber Heights ousting a superintendent or athletic director, trustees in Washington Twp. or Miami Twp. deciding whether land in your area becomes a park, a subdivision or an office complex.

“People need to take their government more seriously,” said David Rich, professor of public administration and political science at Cedarville University. “They often ignore it till something bad happens.”

RELATED: Right to vote on Yellow Springs issues could expand

Neeley said one problem in nonpartisan local elections is that voters often don’t know as much about the people running. In bigger elections, candidates for president or governor are dissected in debates and television advertising, and party affiliation gives voters easier cues about leanings.

Locally, residents can use the Dayton Daily News online voters guide, where hundreds of candidates answered as many as a dozen questions spelling out their background, qualifications and policy positions on multiple issues.

Tornado communities

Residents of Brookville, Trotwood, Riverside and Beavercreek are all recovering from the Memorial Day tornadoes, and all four communities have contested races for mayor.

MORE DETAILS: Beavercreek mayor race

In Beavercreek, candidates for mayor and council have slightly different approaches on pursuing a city income tax, which voters have rejected before, after tornado recovery stretched the budget.

MORE DETAILS: Riverside mayor race

In Riverside, the four candidates for mayor disagree on whether city government's tornado response was effective, or whether the city needs a better emergency plan to connect community resources for residents.

City of Dayton

Dayton residents will decide whether to re-elect Matt Joseph and Chris Shaw to the five-member city commission, or change directions via challengers David Esrati and Shenise Turner-Sloss.

MORE DETAILS: Dayton city commission race

The challengers have pointed to recent federal indictments, one leading to a guilty plea from former city commissioner Joey Williams, as evidence of a “pay-to-play” culture in the city that must be changed. The incumbents call the cases “isolated incidents” and disagree that there is a culture of corruption in government, as one FBI official said.

MORE DETAILS: Dayton school board race

Dayton residents will also choose three new school board members from four candidates — Gabriela Pickett, Will Smith, Joe Lacey and Dion Sampson. With Dayton Public Schools trying to rebound from bottom-of-Ohio rankings, Lacey and Pickett have called for smaller class sizes, while Smith and Sampson have emphasized efforts on school culture and students' base needs.

Dozens of tax levies

There are 48 tax levies in the Montgomery-Miami-Greene-northern Warren County area, but 34 are flat renewals of taxes that are already on the books. The 14 levies that would raise taxes include four for schools, five for fire/EMS service and two for road funding.

** Centerville schools are asking voters to approve a two-part levy with one vote – 5.9 mills toward daily operations and 1 mill toward facility upkeep. District officials emphasize how little money they get from the state, and the fact that they haven’t asked for a tax increase in six years. Some residents are pushing back, saying tax rates are already high because of numerous levies and schools are funded well enough.

MORE DETAILS: Centerville school levy

** West Carrollton voters will decide on a 37-year bond issue that would help pay to eventually replace all of their existing schools with four new buildings, with state help. If residents approve the 5.6-mill property tax measure for the local share, the state would kick in tens of millions in funding a few years later.

MORE DETAILS: West Carrollton school bond

** Lebanon schools are asking voters to reconsider a four-year, 4.99-mill operating levy, six months after they rejected it by a 56-44 ratio. Lebanon’s per-pupil spending last year was among the bottom 7 percent of Ohio districts, and school officials have made another round of budget cuts this year. Major cuts to staffing, busing and other programs are planned if the levy is rejected.

MORE DETAILS: Lebanon school levy

** The city of Riverside is also taking a second crack at a levy, asking voters to approve the same 8-mill road improvement levy they rejected last year by just over a percentage point. It’s the highest millage of any new levy on the ballot, but city officials say with 70% of roads in fair or poor condition, it still wouldn’t raise as much as their road study said is needed.

MORE DETAILS: Riverside roads levy

** Troy voters will decide on a 10-year, 1.2-mill parks levy that would add more baseball, softball and soccer fields to Duke Park, along with a miniature golf course and splash pad.

** Both city and township voters in Beavercreek will vote on a permanent 3.5-mill fire levy. In addition to helping fund daily operations, the levy would pay to build two new fire stations and replace four fire engines, one ladder truck and five ambulances.

MORE DETAILS: Beavercreek fire levy

** Elsewhere, Preble County has 22 tax levies on the ballot, many in smaller communities, and six of them would raise taxes. Two of the four countywide levies (mental health and library) are replacements that would include small tax hikes of less than $15 per year on a $100,000 home.

Crowded ballots

** Bellbrook: A contentious May levy campaign divided the community, and now incumbent school board members Elizabeth Betz and David Carpenter face three challengers — Kevin Price, Heidi Anderson and Karen Long. School funding and special education have been key areas of discussion.

** Valley View: After voters rejected both an operating levy and a bond issue in recent years, seven people are running for two school board seats — incumbent Tom Geglein, plus Ben DeGroat, Tim Hewitt, Spencer Izor, Mike Jones, Mike Kilroy and Katrina Williams. What to do with school facilities remains a major point of disagreement.

** Lebanon: In addition to a school levy on the ballot, Lebanon has seven people running for three city council seats, and six others competing for three school board spots.

Quieter ballots

In some races, the total number of candidates is equal to the number of seats available, essentially making those people automatically elected. That's the case in all Oakwood races, and only 25% of Kettering voters have a contested race to consider.

For a few communities in Greene and Warren counties, the only non-automatic item on their ballots is a countywide renewal levy — for parks in Greene County and the health district in Warren.

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