Middletown takes step toward placing levy on May ballot

Middletown City Council took a key step Tuesday toward placing a senior services levy on the May ballot.

That 5-0 decision was made amid concerns about the amount and length of the levy and whether officials in Warren and Butler counties, as well as the city of Middletown, will be able to process the levy request in time to place it on the May ballot.

Council on Tuesday took the necessary step of approving a resolution that asks the Butler and Warren county auditors to calculate Middletown’s total current tax valuation and the dollar amount that would be generated by a 1-mill levy within city limits.

Council members asked Central Connections officials to consider requesting a lower amount than the renewal amount of their 1-mill levy, which voters originally approved Nov. 6, 2012, and was intended to pay the mortgage on Central Connections' facility at 3907 Central Ave.

Council was told in December the organization had been unable to pay off its mortgage with its first levy due to $450,000 in annual budget cuts from Butler County.

With this levy — unless there again are significant state-driven budget cuts — Central Connections should be able to pay off the mortgage that remains on its approximately $1,260,000 in principal and also build a fund to maintain the building, according to Richard “Dick” Isroff, a Central Connections board member and levy co-chairman.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Council Member Talbott Moon said Middletown has “the highest effective tax rate in in Butler and Warren (counties), which is not a place any city should aspire to be, certainly impacting our ability to draw new residents, and our ability to draw the new development. So I just hope that’s something this council and future councils take into consideration as we move forward.”

City Manager Doug Adkins told council if the city receives the estimates from the two counties by city council’s Jan. 17 meeting, declaring how much the levy would reap, “we would then have to have another piece of legislation on the 17th, by emergency, that would put this on the levy for May.”

“If there’s any break in the time, we don’t get anything back in time, that time would lapse and we would not be able to make it,” he said. The effort also would fail to get on the May ballot “if we don’t have four votes (from the five on council) for both tonight and on the 17th…” he said.

Vice Mayor Dora Bronston expressed concern that both pieces of legislation had to be approved as emergency measures — with each considered at only one meeting — “because we were not brought the information ahead of time by Central Connections. So now we are in an emergency situation, and I don’t like them — not only Central Connections but some of the other ones that we’ve had lately. Because it tends to put us in a spot where we have to make a decision right here on the (Council Chambers’) dias, and not be able to think things totally through, and perhaps make a mistake.”

Adkins noted that between now and the Jan. 17 legislation, “you still have two more weeks to decide whether you want to actually put it on the ballot….” The 17th legislation will mark the decision to place the levy before voters, he said.

“You could vote it down at the 17th and tonight’s would be for naught because we wouldn’t end up using it,” Adkins said.

Council can continue to mull the matter and discuss it with the general public in the meantime, he said.

Moon said if the past levy is an indication, a renewal of a 1-mill tax would generate about $3 million. The balance of the mortgage “only seems to be $1.2 plus some interest,” he said, questioning what the rest of the money would be used for.

Monica Smith, the organization’s executive director, said levy money so far has only gone toward the mortgage, not toward operations. Funds from a future levy would be used to build capital reserves to maintain the building and its parking lot, which she said needs repairs.

Moon asked Smith to return in two weeks to explain in detail how the proposed levy’s money would be used.

“I would love to have that opportunity,” she said.

In explaining why she didn’t ask the city to start the levy process sooner, Smith noted she will be with the organization one year next month, and has worked on many things. As for a timeline for the levy, “We thought the time frame would be OK. We didn’t realize, or I personally didn’t realize, that it would be brought as an emergency.”

Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr. asked if the 1-mill amount could be less.

Smith later said Central Connections will discuss lowering the levy request, but added that her organization’s operations are very lean, and she has been told that requesting a lower levy amount is “harder and more costly in the long run” than seeking a renewal levy.

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