Waynesville residents circulating petition to roll back income tax hike

Residents in Waynesville are circulating petitions seeking signatures calling for a referendum election on a recent 0.25 percent income-tax hike enacted by village council.

John Lewis, who lives in the community, has begun seeking support and signatures for what would likely be a November 2021 ballot issue.

“There is a method in which citizens can petition for most passed ordinances to be placed on the ballot for voters to decide,” Lewis said in an email seeking guidance from Warren County election officials.

On Nov. 16, the village council unanimously to increase the income tax from 0.5% to 0.75%.

“I am collecting signatures from village residents to place the issue on the ballot in 2021 for the residents to decide. If you are interested in joining others that have signed so far, send me a direct message with your address and I will stop by with the petition,” Lewis said in a Facebook post.

Lewis could not be reached Thursday.

Jeff Forbes, law director for Waynesville and Mason, said a referendum could be called for, although Ohio law permits municipal officials to raise income tax to 1 percent without putting it to a popular vote.

“They can do it. Council passed an ordinance. It’s subject to referendum,” Forbes said.

The petition drive needs to collect at least 123 valid signatures, 10% of the local vote on the last gubernatorial election, according to a calculation by Brian Sleeth, the county election board director.

The village has struggIed financially and seen successful referendums.

In 2010, a referendum aimed at repealing a five-year, 1-percent income tax on people who work in the village, enacted by council passed 425-312. with about 57.7 percent of voters voting for it.

In November 2014, just under 53 percent of village voters rejected continuing a 1-percent income tax. The vote was 456-405.

Earlier in the same year, the village had emerged from fiscal emergency, putting spending under state scrutiny.

The five-year, 1 percent income tax — on people working in Waynesville, not those living there and working outside the village, except in cases of residents who work in areas without a local income tax — raised about $400,000 a year for operation of the local government.

The village income-tax rate had been 0.5 percent since Jan. 1, 2016.

Before the Nov. 16 vote, council said the added revenue was needed to pay for an additional police officer, do more infrastructure projects and boost cash reserves. Residents also pay police and road property-tax levies.

To get the issue on an earlier special election ballot would cost $1,600 for each of the village’s two precincts. Otherwise the petitioners have until Aug. 4 to get the referendum on the Nov. 2, 2021, election, according to election officials.

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