Ask what your government can, and cannot, do for you

Ask what your government can, and cannot, do for you

Clearing up misconceptions about what different levels of government provide to citizens

By Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell

The City Hall building in downtown Dayton. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Dale.

Most people remember the movie Wall Street for the famous catchphrase, “Greed is good.” But I remember another quotable nugget from Gordon Gekko, one with a less sinister ring: “The most valuable commodity I know of is information.”

As Mayor, one of my most important goals is to empower citizens by putting as much information as possible at their disposal. Since taking office, I have pushed to make City Hall as transparent as possible and ensure citizens have quick and easy access to information that matters to them. Our City of Dayton website provides many forms of data, including interactive crime maps, updated trash/recycling schedules and a no-nonsense process for logging complaints.

For citizens to find the information they are seeking, it is critical they know who to talk to and what to ask. Almost every day, I receive citizen complaints about issues the City of Dayton has no authority over. People call to express their concern about topics like Dayton Public Schools, the RTA buses and property taxes. While many people might assume the mayor has authority over these and all other local government services, this is far from the case. So let’s set the record straight.

Municipal government’s number one function is to provide public safety for its citizens. Police, fire, emergency services, local courts, building inspection, clean water, sewer systems, waste collection and decent roads are the primary services of any local government entity. Our job at City Hall is to provide the infrastructure and the support that a community needs to attract businesses and residents. The primary source of funding for these safety services is the local income tax, which is 2.25 percent of gross income. A small portion of the real estate tax is assigned to the city as well. Here in Dayton, we also have a Recreation and Youth Services division and we have ownership of the Dayton International Airport and the Dayton Convention Center.

The county has to provide similar services to all unincorporated townships because they can’t enforce an income tax. They have to pay for these services by placing assessments on their properties. County governments have the county courts, sheriff’s department, building inspectors, children’s services, adult social services, dog licensing and animal control, marriage licensing, real estate recordings and solid waste disposal. If you go to the Montgomery County website at www.mcohio.org and click the “Services” button, you will get a feel for what county government administers. These services are paid for with money collected from the sales tax and the real estate tax.

Most of the money collected from the real estate tax is used to fund the public school systems. The school districts are entirely their own entity with their own boards and are controlled to a significant degree by state laws. The Greater Dayton RTA is subsidized by a portion of the sales tax in Montgomery County but operates independently.

Finally, what does the State of Ohio provide? The state receives funding from the state income tax, gas taxes, tax on alcohol, vehicle registrations and assorted other registration fees such as business filings. For this, we get state prisons, highway patrols as well as state routes, state parks and interstate highways. The state also runs the state judicial system, ensuring that law-abiding citizens are protected. The state provides funding for schools and also helps the municipalities by giving them lump sums of money that may have a designated purpose, but our local planners and administrators allocate those funds for worthy projects within the state’s guidelines. Some of this funding is being cut to balance the state budget.

Government affects many aspects of our lives at a variety of different levels, but President Kennedy said it best with his famous quote, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Government can use your tax dollars to keep police officers on the streets, put out fires and keep the roads in a safe driving condition, but strong, lasting, positive change in the Dayton region will only happen when citizens decide to take action.

Government can be there to support you, but you are the one who must do the work to make those necessary changes. There are many people in the region who are working hard to make a difference, and I hope you are one of them.

Reach Dayton Mayor Gary D. Leitzell at (937) 333-3653 or GaryLeitzell@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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