“In our city we’ve reached turning points. One was when the railroad was envisioned to come through this area,” said Breneman, noting that despite the cost, city leaders moved forward with the project.
“They chose to make a true pitch to get the railroad here and did get it to come through Wooster, and that changed the direction our city went,” said Breneman.
“I believe we are reaching one of those turning points as far as who we are as a community.”
Breneman said that over the past several years the city has relied on grants to fund the majority of the city’s infrastructure projects, such as roads, water and sewer lines, sidewalks and parks.
“Those grants are drying up and there is a need for us to stand on our own feet and say these are important to our community. We need to take responsibility for funding them,” said Breneman, adding that for the past two years the city has been unable to fund its capital improvements fund “because we couldn’t afford to do that.
“We can’t continue that,” said Breneman. It is not “good stewardship of the infrastructure and the equipment that we have.”
While the city’s income tax revenues were up eight percent in 2011, the city will lose a total of $2 million in state funding effective Jan. 1, 2013.
The largest source by far is estate tax.
According to Breneman, in 2011 the city took in $1.4 million in estate tax and has averaged $1 million in estate tax revenue each year for the past decade.
In addition, local government funds will be sliced in half, from $1.2 million per year to $600,000, and tangible personal property tax reimbursements will be reduced by $276,000.
The $2 million reduction in state funds represents approximately 12 percent of the city’s operating budget in the general fund.
“The biggest challenge facing us is one not of our making,” said Breneman.
“We have scaled back our operation…We have taken our employee base down. We haven’t funded capital. We are doing everything we can to try and live within our means and all of a sudden we’ve got $2 million that is instantly gone as of Jan. 1. It will change who we are.
“We must replace that $2 million. The only other choice we have is to cut services,” said Breneman. “We are to that level now that there is no other choice in my opinion.
“I believe the community needs to have a say in what happens.”
To that end, the city will be working with The College of Wooster to conduct a community survey, the results of which will be available by mid-summer, along with the auditor of state’s findings from a performance audit of the city’s operations.
“That will give us two very important pieces of information,” as council and the administration face into the city’s financial condition in the coming months.
“To me, the only way to (replace the lost revenue) at this point is to put some sort of tax initiative in front of the voters, and I believe we will be doing that in the November election to some degree,” said Breneman, noting that the only city the size of Wooster that still has a one percent income tax rate is Sandusky, which brings in $2 million annually from a two percent entertainment tax on Cedar Point.
“I truly believe in our town,” said Breneman. “I know that when people see challenges placed in front of us that they will rise to the occasion.
“I know it in my heart that people do not want this community to backslide. We have many things to be proud of,” said Breneman. “If we see that starting to happen, I believe the community will step forward and say ‘That’s not us. We want to keep Wooster moving forward’.”
Published: February 28, 2012