Easy come, easy go

Should Dayton increase its income tax?

By Sarah Sidlow

Fun fact: The city of Dayton maintains 5,700 vacant lots and mows them two to three times per year.

Another fun fact: The city of Dayton has proposed a 0.25 percent earnings tax increase, so that they could, among other things, mow those lots every month.

The proposed increase would result in nearly $11 million in new annual revenue, $6.7 million of which would “be designated as necessary revenue for the general fund” for “road repair, vacant lot improvement, parks, and safety enhancement,” according to the ordinance, with the rest ($4.3 million) dedicated to “make high quality pre-kindergarten education accessible for all families with preschool age children who live in the city of Dayton.” If any revenue remains, it will be deposited in the general fund “for essential municipal services and necessary capital improvements.”

That is, provided Dayton taxpayers go for it.

This is the first request for an income tax increase in 32 years. Supporters claim the additional cash will fill a projected $5 million budget shortfall and fund improvements the city argues will make Dayton more viable for residents and businesses—like increasing police patrols, maintaining current levels of fire protection, resurfacing roads and paying for park enhancements (and mowing those empty lots).

The pièce de résistance? A universal pre-kindergarten for all 4-year-old children in Dayton. This initiative is a BFD for Mayor Nan Whaley and other city officials, who point to the stat that three out of four Dayton children start kindergarten behind the eight ball, ultimately resulting in lower test scores, fewer graduates, and a weaker workforce. The universal pre-kindergarten would benefit about 1,900 4-year-olds, and become the first of its kind in the Midwest.

Supporters include the Downtown Dayton Partnership, the Montgomery County Democratic Party, and the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.

But critics of the tax hike blame the city of Dayton for investing their money poorly—think bad real estate deals and downtown development plans—and don’t think their tax dollars should be responsible for bridging a budget gap they didn’t create. Some opponents also say they’re going to hold off on approving until they see the city create an explicit set of measureable goals to ensure the extra cash is being used appropriately. Trust issues, much?

Moreover, they argue, about 70 percent of the people who pay the earnings tax work in the city, but don’t live there—and those people cannot vote on the tax hike; only residents can do that. P.S. there are people who aren’t convinced the whole universal pre-kindergarten thing would be all that great anyway, saying the city has no plan to ensure accountability or effectiveness, and would essentially be overstepping an existing pre-school program within Dayton Public Schools.

To many, a “no” vote is a challenge to the city to come up with a better, more inclusive, plan to manage their existing finances and make proposals on changes that would impact a larger swath of Daytonians.

The proposed tax hike, which would expire after eight years, would cost a Dayton worker earning $35,000 a year about $1.60 more per week. (There goes the coffee money.) The measure appears as Issue 9 on the Nov. 8 ballot and would begin Jan. 1, 2017, and end Dec. 31, 2024.

 Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

For Issue 9, for our neighborhoods, our kids

By Lela Klein

I am voting for Issue 9 because I believe that now is the right time to invest in our city and our children, and I believe this is the right way to get it done.

As a native Daytonian who moved away for school and my early career, I returned to Dayton four years ago to find a city facing a far different set of challenges from when I left. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis and loss of good jobs, the city had to make hard choices, cutting 40 percent of its staff and struggling to keep neighborhoods safe and streets paved. There hasn’t been a Dayton income tax increase in 32 years, but the city’s responsibilities have increased, including mowing and maintenance of 5,700 vacant lots and maintaining safety in neighborhoods peppered with vacant and sometimes structurally unsound homes. Divestment and poverty have impacted too many of our neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods of color.

An earned income tax is a fair and progressive way to increase the city’s capacity to provide the services we all rely on and give Dayton a better future. It doesn’t tax seniors living on retirement income, doesn’t increase sales tax (which places a heavier burden on the poor), or raise property taxes on already stretched homeowners. For folks making just above the median income, the quarter percent amounts to about $1.60/week. I will not argue this amount is trivial to families with tight budgets, but I believe it is worth it. In addition, more than 60 percent will come from those who live outside Dayton but work here and use our streets and city services.

I’m also voting for Issue 9 for personal reasons. I am mother to a sweet, creative son, a first-grader in the Dayton Public Schools, as well as a goofy, headstrong almost 3-year-old daughter. My partner and I stretched our budget to send my son (and now daughter) to a high quality family learning center, and I’ve seen firsthand how it impacted my son’s school success. On his first day of kindergarten, I dropped him off and kept my eye on his Star Wars backpack until it was out of sight in the crowd of K–6ers trotting into the front door. I was amazed how quickly he learned the new routine, rules, and expectations. When I went for fall conferences, his teacher told me she could tell he’d been to preschool because of how well he acclimated, and how ready he was to start learning to add and subtract and read.

Not all kids get the advantages mine did. While the vast majority of preschool-aged kids in Dayton receive some form of childcare outside the home, only a minority attends a high quality preschool—and it shows. According to assessments given by teachers at the beginning of school, three quarters of our kindergarteners are unprepared. Those children continue to lag behind well beyond their kindergarten years, with lower test scores and fewer graduating on time, if at all.

Issue 9 will fund the Preschool Promise, ensuring all Dayton 4-year-olds get the foundation of quality preschool—by providing tuition help for Dayton families with children who attend a high quality program anywhere in the county (with the amount of assistance based on family income, household size, and the quality rating of the preschool). And for parents whose child is already receiving state childcare subsidies, quality improvement funds are provided to improve the center their child already attends.

Because I’ve served as a parent volunteer on the Preschool Promise outreach committee, many neighbors have come to me with questions. One of the most common is “Why isn’t this a DPS issue?” My answer: DPS is one of the primary providers of preschool in Dayton, and will benefit from Preschool Promise funds for improving existing preschools. But DPS preschool is mostly four days per week or half-day, which doesn’t work for many working parents like me. Expanding DPS’s capacity would be great, but improving the quality of the centers that Dayton children are already attending is the best and fastest way to reach Dayton children now.

Another question: “What does high quality mean?” Answer: the statewide “Step Up to Quality” program uses a star-rating system for preschools. Three stars or more is considered “high quality,” based on several criteria, which includes using a research-based curriculum and having some teachers trained in early childhood education. Currently, 35 Dayton preschools are not star-rated, but nearly all serve families receiving childcare subsidies. These centers already provide warm and loving care, but Preschool Promise will help them improve their preschool programs and obtain star ratings through coaching and on-site training for teachers. This will ensure the children they serve get a strong foundation to start kindergarten ready to learn.

Please join me in voting for Issue 9, for our neighborhoods and our kids.

Lela Klein is a labor lawyer, a native Daytonian, and a mother of two who lives in the South Park Historic district. She is currently working on an initiative to create more worker-owned businesses in Dayton, to drive economic growth from the ground up. Reach her at LelaKlein@DaytonCityPaper.com.

The hoodwinking of Dayton

By Gary Leitzell

Hoodwink: to deceive by false appearances, dupe.

Dayton voters, don’t be hoodwinked. Issue 9 to increase income tax on people working in the city is not good. City officials are misleading you. They state they are operating at 1998 levels with a $160 million general fund budget. In 2009, the budget was $160.7 million. In reality, they are operating at pre-recession levels. They claim to have reduced staff by 700 people—that was all done before 2010. The 2010 budget was $154 million, yet more activity occurred in Dayton between 2010 and 2011 than at any time a decade earlier, or in the years since 2013. In fact, the city had three consecutive years of budget surplus from 2011 to 2013.

The ordinance states the general fund gets the first $6.7 million. To be vaguely used for services they already provide. They are giving $4.3 million to a private nonprofit to fund one year of affordable pre-school—to what amounts to 750 children. That is $5,700 per child. Surplus after that goes into the general fund, as well. There is no guarantee they will use the money for what they are telling us it will be used for.

Here is what the local paper stated in June: “‘The tax increase will help close a $5 million funding gap. It also will pay to maintain fire services, add about 20 police officers, roughly triple the amount spent to pave and resurface residential roads, improve parks and better maintain vacant lots,’ said Shelley Dickstein, Dayton’s city manager.”

Reading the ordinance passed on Sept. 21, things have already changed. No dollar amounts are assigned to policing, road repairs, or park improvements. Here are reasons to vote no on Issue 9:

Are the 20 police officers in addition to the current force or do they replace 20 officers that have retired. Oh wait. The ordinance doesn’t state they will be adding 20 officers. That is all hot air.

There is no funding gap. This is a proposed budget on paper. They can balance the budget with no tax increase. They just can’t do extra things they want to do with other people’s money.

The city approved bond issues on Sept. 21 totaling $9.8 million for new vehicles and road repair. If issue 9 is approved, they will spend the bond money now and use the extra tax funds to pay the interest on the bonds.

The police department budget has increased 3.26% since 2013, while the city manager’s office and commission office budgets have grown over 19% in the same time frame. If fire department budgets are to remain constant at $38.5 million a year, why do we need more money to fund something that isn’t planned to change?

Ask Mayor Whaley who paid for her trips to Germany and Bosnia in the last year. The mayor needs to focus on Dayton. The Commission office budget in 2013 was $960,973. This year, it is $1,144,900. A $183,927 increase. Why? The city manager budget has grown by $221,283 since 2013. We lost Tim Riordan, Warren Price, and Assistant City Manager Stanley Early. Since March 2013, the law, director, fire chief, economic development director, and the public relations director have all left. Between 2010 and 2013, no department heads left on their own accord. Since 2013, the current administration has given themselves two pay raises. Increased travel spending for themselves. Imposed a permanent .25% income tax instead of one that renewed every 8 years. Increased the waste collection fee. Increased water rates. Added a street light assessment to the property taxes and now they want another .25 percent income tax for 8 years to raise an additional $11 million.

The pre-school promise, a noble idea, will get a fixed amount of $4.3 million (if the funds are available). It will not solve the problems in Dayton Public Schools. A year of pre-school for children whose parents can’t afford to drive them to school and for which there is no legal requirement for the public school to provide transportation will not work as long as these same children suffer from food insecurity. If the difference between school lunch and school breakfast the next morning is 20 hours and there is no food at home, these children will never learn because they are in survival mode. This tax increase does not address one of the main reasons children in Dayton fail to graduate. It would be more effective to provide every one of the 6,700 babies born in the county a copy of Dr. Tizer’s “Your Baby Can Learn” DVDs at $50 each and award the parents a $200 income tax credit if their child is reading by age 3, which would be possible if they started at 3-months-old. This would cost $350,000 the first two years and less than $2 million a year after the third year and impact the entire county, not just the City of Dayton residents.

City government should provide safety services to citizens. Not education or economic development. Education is the responsibility of the school district and the state. Economic development should be handled by the Chamber of Commerce. Right now, your tax money is being squandered on real estate speculation and development is being controlled by government. What do they really need the tax increase for? In 2016, Dayton spent $500,000 on the Paru Tower. $450,000 to buy a hole in the ground at the former Cox printing site due to an error they created. They have committed $1 million on the Levitt Pavilion, which should be named “Nan’s Folly,” to be built in 2017. It is a music stage that will destroy the ambiance of Dave Hall Plaza and Dayton really needs another underutilized stage right now. That is another story…

Vote NO on Issue 9 and force this administration to go back to the drawing board—to find ways to use your money more effectively and efficiently to solve real problems.

Gary Leitzell is former mayor of Dayton and currently running for county commissioner. For more information about Gary, please visit GoGaryGo.com. Reach him at GaryLeitzell@DaytonCityPaper.com. 

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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