Oct 23

How often do we read or hear leaders proclaim “bold action is required” in the face of adversity?

Calls for structural, systemic change and greater coordination among local entities that deliver services within our region are not unusual.  Finding common ground and commitments from our institutions and leaders to think big, embrace disruption, and transform how our region provides crucial services in the face of adversity, can be a more difficult task to achieve.

In July, the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s (GCP) Board of Directors announced support for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) decision to limit its November levy to a 10-year term, instead of proposing a permanent CMSD tax levy ballot question.  The district’s move was prudent, allowing voters more decision-making power over a future CMSD levy question at the end of its term. 

During the Cleveland Plan discussions in 2012, a principle for the GCP and partners was the need for levies to have a term of years, rather than being in place permanently – also known as a “continuing levy.”  Terms remain important to encourage progress, provide the community an opportunity to measure results, and review desires for future support.

Due to the importance of the CMSD levy for future generations, and an increased level of accountability through a 10-year term, the GCP’s Board of Directors moved to support the November CMSD levy increase. 

The CMSD’s ballot question addresses a severe and urgent societal need.  Cleveland: vote “yes” on Issue 68 this November. 

Still, our region faces some monumental old and new challenges that stem from emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic, systemic racism, and digital inclusion.  These challenges amount to incalculable losses, further weakening our region’s economic vitality.  To that end, we are initiating difficult conversations about tax reform because how we presently allocate resources in our community is not working.

We know the important role of entities like the Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), and its 27 branches, to foster a rich quality of life for.  In fact, we supported most, if not all, of the region’s tax increases over the past decade.  But this “business as usual” approach—characterized by tacit support for permanent levies—has not yielded transformative outcomes.  Permanent tax levies are becoming increasingly rare in Greater Cleveland and COVID-19 has and will significantly change income tax payment revenue.

As a result, the business community cannot make the case for an extra $18 million annually (a 40% permanent increase) – in perpetuity – to operate CCPL’s 27 branches.  Without discussion around an aggressive restructuring of library systems in our county (which is home to nearly 70 individual branches), GCP board members voted to oppose the CCPL’s ballot Issue 70.

Issue 70 will likely win the approval of voters on November 3rd.  Northeast Ohioans are not only resilient, but we generously support our institutions.  GCP board members voted to oppose a permanent allocation of tax dollars to fund an institution in an ever-uncertain environment.  This can serve as an opportunity to discuss how we allot a shrinking pot of wealth to a growing number of challenges.

Cleveland is the poorest big city in America, according to U.S. Census data and Greater Cleveland’s tax burden is higher and growing at a faster rate than nearly all peer cities.  We urge our community to join in a dialogue around how we can leverage tax dollars to change the trajectory of our region, because “business as usual” will produce similar outcomes.

Bold action and improved funding models and updates to laws over time are not only necessary but required if we hope to grow the economic prosperity of the region.  Colleagues and community members have voiced support for the general premise of needing to fix our local tax system but have said, “drawing the line in the sand with libraries isn’t the right place.”   Where is the line?  Perhaps, evaluating every municipal and county levy is the right place and this is the start.