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Council leans toward tax hike

Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton Councilman Christian Zavinski, left, speaks during Thursday’s Warren City Council budget hearing.

If the members of Warren City Council vote how they spoke during Thursday’s budget session, a tax increase is coming.

The city’s proposed 2021 budget was advertised as containing a two mill property tax increase.

While that option remains on the table, council also discussed a combo proposal — smaller increases to both earned income tax and property tax — as well as the prospect of a no-tax increase budget.

Mayor Maurice Cashman asked for feedback from each fellow councilman on the possibility of an increase.

Councilman John Wortman has already gone on the record indicating his opposition to any increase. He suggested that a property tax increase doesn’t hit everyone.

“You have people that are on fixed incomes who own the homes,” he said. “They’re going to be the ones that are getting taxes.”

Cashman noted that the cost-of-living adjustment that Social Security provides “disappears” quickly with increases in bills and taxes.

“Dollar for dollar, it’s important to those people,” he said.

“I think taxes are part of what’s expected to keep the city moving,” Councilman Douglas Hearn said. “The majority of my taxes do not come from the city.”

He calculated the increase at 65 cents a day, acknowledging that’s a challenge for some.

“I think it’s something we need to consider,” he said.

“I’m definitely not in favor of raising taxes,” Councilman Christian Zavinski said, “given the circumstances of this year.”

He acknowledged that no increase now will likely require an increase in 2022.

“Eventually (we are) going to have to slowly dip your toe in the pool and start raising taxes,” he said. “I don’t think, what’s gone on this year, it’s fair or reasonable…. I can’t in good conscience do it this year.”

He suggested the city needs to reach out to the residents to determine what level of service they want and what they’re willing to pay.

“I will say up front that I think we have the responsibility to be fiscally prudent,” Councilman Gregory Fraser said. “I think that part of that prudence is maintaining some sort of safety net in our budget…. We are getting to a point with our budget where we are eating away at our safety net. We all pretty much understand our constituents want to have the services that we are currently providing. There are services that we provide as a community and the price of that is taxation. The price of civilization is taxation. I think to be fiscally responsible, fiscally prudent, we have to go in that direction.”

Councilman Paul Giannini said he “thought we should have raised taxes last year. (I) think we should raise this year,” he added, indicating the city is “falling behind the curve” if it doesn’t do so.

“I like the services we provide. I think we provide good service,” he said. “However we want to propose it, I am fine with it.”

Councilman Phil Gilbert said he echoed Giannini’s remarks.

Cashman suggested that smaller, incremental tax increases can be “helpful for the future” and suggested the possibility of smaller increases to earned income tax and property tax rather than all property tax “if we’re going to do something.”

City Manager Nancy Freenock noted that a .1 percent in EIT would bring in $163,000 while one mill of property taxes nets about $110,000.

Wortman argued that higher EIT rates prevent people from living in the city and argued that places where population is growing have lower tax burdens.

“It’s not the taxation that’s driving people away,” Fraser said. “It’s jobs. They don’t have jobs here.”

Council aims to consider final action on the budget during the December monthly meeting which has been moved up to Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.

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