UNIOPOLIS — The future of this village will be turned over to its residents in November with four important issues on the ballot.
Voters will vote on a 10 mill property tax operating levy, a 1.5 percent income tax that will also be used for operating expenses, and a 3 mill fire property tax levy that will be used to pay its annual contract with Union Township for fire coverage. Additionally, voters will again vote to unincorporate the village, a move that was narrowly defeated in November.
As with many small communities in the state, the village has had problems making many improvements because of funding cuts for locally dispersed funds from county offices. After seeing its funding cut more than half in the last few years, village Councilwoman Marilyn Fleck said it is impossible to do much.
“We meet once a month to pay the bills and keep the lights on,” Fleck said.
The financial problems have caused a lack of interest in running for village government. With only two councilors still in the middle of elected terms, Fleck was the only person to file for any of the four open seats to the council.
In addition, no one originally filed for the expiring mayoral position in the village. Bob Kohlreiser, the current council president, then would have become the de facto mayor. This would have left the village with only two councilors and an appointed mayor.
Ohio law allows for village councils and mayors to appoint new members, but the council must still have a majority (four seats in Uniopolis) or an elected mayor (Kohlreiser's position would have been considered appointed). The village would have been left without any way to conduct business.
Mayor Greg Ritchie prevented that scenario by filing as a write-in candidate for mayor just before the August filing deadline. Representatives in Secretary of State John Husted's office were unaware of that situation ever happening in Ohio and were unsure of how the predicament would work out.
While that situation was avoided, the village still faces the problem of operating money. A vote to unincorporate the village was placed on the November ballot last year but was defeated by a narrow 60 to 57 vote. If the village were to unincorporate, government responsibilities for the community would fall to Union township trustees.
“We have basically put a choice in front of the voters,” Ritchie said. “The money to run the village has to come from somewhere. The levies we have on the ballot would get us through as long as we had no major events. If the [Environmental Protection Agency] would come in and require something new or something like that, and we couldn't get any grants to pay for it, we would be in trouble.”
A report estimating revenue and expenses for the village shows it at a $70,121 positive balance, but operating at a heavy spending deficit because of the cuts. That balance would drop to $30,517 by 2015 and $20,301 in the red by 2017.
With a median per capita income of $16,099 and an average home value of $60,000 according to the last census, this means an average family of four with the average home value would experience an increase of $1,239 per year if all three taxes were approved. The fire levy would generate about $8,000 annually and the 10 mill property taxe would generate about $27,000 annually.
Estimates vary widely on how much the income tax would generate because of the percentage of salaries in the village that would be exempt from taxation, such as Social Security wages.
Fleck said she is remaining optimistic about the vote.
“It will show how bad the people want to keep the village incorporated,” Fleck said. “Personally, I think the best move financially is to approve the dissolution of the village because we do not have the revenue coming in.”