Sunday, May 16, 2010

Taxation without Representation

The South Euclid city council has voted to suspend the .75% income tax credit for residents who work outside of South Euclid. Already, there is a petition drive underway to put an issue on the ballot in November reinstating the credit.

Personally, I believe local taxes should be levied based on where you live, not where you work. In this day and age when people change jobs every few years, it’s hardly realistic to expect someone to move every time one gets a new job – and one’s community of residence can’t always be counted on to provide gainful employment. Being taxed based on where you work, rather than where you live and vote, is taxation without representation, which was one of the reasons our founders broke from England.

That said, the system is what it is, and RITA is firmly entrenched in Cuyahoga County. Despite the much touted county reform, our Rube Goldberg system of workplace vs. residence taxation is unlikely to change soon.

One does not need to be a tea-bagger to be disturbed not only by the suspension of the tax credit, but in the manner it was changed. It was quietly voted on after an election where the voters approved a tax levy for road repairs. So, South Euclid residents are going to get a double tax-whammy this year. It was truly an underhanded move by the gutless wonders of South Euclid politics.

The recent history of South Euclid’s government has been a mishmash of mismanagement. Livable homes have been arbitrarily purchased and demolished by the local government – at taxpayer expense. The city rushed to tear down Cedar Center North (thereby throwing people out of work and reducing the city’s tax revenue) in anticipation of a rebuild. The Cedar Center lot has been a vacant eyesore for nearly a year.

Many on the city council continually push for needless regulation of local business, such as a proposed measure to ban sidewalk advertising. This kind of micromanagement only serves to discourage businesses from staying in South Euclid – further reducing the tax base. Don’t think businesses are leaving? Take a look at the string of empty storefronts along Mayfield Road, from Warrensville Center Road to Dill Road. Many locally owned businesses can’t afford to advertise on radio or TV, so if a guy in a dinosaur suit is what’s needed to generate interest, let it be.

In the mad rush to generate more government revenue, the city council has recently signed a deal for automated speeding cameras, thereby discouraging non-South Euclidians from driving in South Euclid. Who’s going to be punished for having a momentary lead foot? South Euclid residents. While the city council’s move to ban cell phone use while driving is laudable, the almost total lack of signage advising of the ban is not. This only highlights that the ban was merely a revenue enhancer and not a safety measure.

I spent my childhood in South Euclid. My parents moved here in 1971. I went to Anderson Elementary, Memorial Junior High, and Brush High – all part of what was the once excellent South Euclid-Lyndhurst School System. My family would walk to Wiggam’s farm on Anderson Road and buy corn right off the stalk when it was in season.

After living in many different communities in four states, I consciously decided to move back to South Euclid because of the area’s beautiful homes at great prices, and the real neighborhoods where people actually know each other;. The convenience (just about everywhere I want to go is within a few minutes’ drive) can’t be beat. Need to get some Italian Deli items? Aleschi’s is on Mayfield Road. Feel like going organic? Whole Foods Market is just over the border in University Heights. Across the street from that is a shopping center with the biggest Target I’ve ever seen. Feel like high culture? Severance Hall, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Natural History Museum, Cinematheque, and Cleveland Institute of Music are a few minutes away in University Circle. Rather go see an independent film? Cedar-Lee Theatre is ten minutes away, and you can enjoy a nice Thai, or Mexican, or Irish, or just about any kind of dinner before the film. Don’t drive? No problem: South Euclid is well served by RTA (which can’t be said for many communities anymore).

The South Euclid “vibe” is unique: it has a relaxed suburban quality, yet there is a touch of urban funkiness, in marked contrast to the vacuous soullessness of exurbia. South Euclid is ethnically and religiously diverse, with an interesting mix of people who all get along. Doesn’t matter if you’re White, Black, Brown, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, Atheist, Straight or Gay - unless you’re hostile to people who are different than you, South Euclid will be a comfortable fit.

South Euclid is also highly walkable. Daniel and I can walk with our dog, Mason, to the nearby ice-cream stand for an evening treat. Or we can leave Mason at home and walk to one of several nearby restaurants. Mason will forgive us for leaving him at home when we take him to the nearby dog park.

But South Euclid is facing challenges.

History is replete with turning points, and South Euclid is in a precarious place. The population has fallen by 1/3 since its peak around 1970. Many local seniors came here for the excellent schools – but their kids have graduated and moved on. The parents stay for the familiarity and convenience, but an increasing tax burden, or a speed camera ticket, or hostility to their small business, could be the final straw that convinces them to move elsewhere. When they put their house up for sale, it exacerbates an already depressed housing market. Thus starts a domino effect that hurts everyone: the seller, the remaining homeowners whose houses have diminished value, the city which has diminished tax revenue, and the character of the neighborhood which thrives on long-term residents. When the leadership of South Euclid makes changes, whether through regulation, ordinance, or by changing tax rates, they need to make considered, thoughtful decisions, considering first the impact on the governed – not about how to make a quick buck.

1 comment:

Cappy said...

I, CaptainSQL!!!!!!!, by the authority vested in me as a carbon-based taxpaying unit and homeowner of South Euclid

Hereby name the fetid hole in the ground where once used to stand Cedar Center as Lake Georgine Welo.