Beacon Journal staff writer
PENINSULA: The fate of this tiny village of 600 residents has largely been shaped by outside forces.
By the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which has bought more than half of the village's property, turning tax-paying parcels into tax-exempt federal land.
By a million hikers, bikers and nature lovers who overwhelm this quaint community each year, using streets that have to be paved, salted and plowed from a shrinking budget.
By Summit County Council and the Ohio Revised Code, whose rules govern village activity because Peninsula has never adopted its own charter.
But officials hope a couple of issues on Tuesday's ballot will give citizens a little more control over their future.
A request to boost the income tax from 1 to 2 percent could add up to $100,000 a year to the village's bank account no small matter for a $1 million budget.
And while no one is marketing the issue as anything other than a simple tax increase, it's no secret the village has met with Boston Township trustees to discuss forming a Joint Economic Development District.
A 2 percent income tax is a necessary step toward a JEDD, a creative option for generating new revenue for the village and township.
Also on the ballot, voters are being asked to reconsider an issue they turned down once: Forming a commission to frame a charter. The question failed 96-87 in May.
Mayor Dick Fisher is convinced some residents thought they were voting on an actual charter and not a commission that would study the idea.
A 15-member charter commission was elected in May. That's 3 percent of the town's adult population.
''These are our friends and neighbors. They're not going to write a bad charter,'' Fisher said.
''And the good thing about a charter is if you don't like something, you can have an amendment in four years and change it,'' Fisher said. ''Try and get something done that fast in Columbus.''
While a charter would give the village self-governance, an income-tax increase would improve the village's ability to deliver public services, Fisher said.
That has been a nagging problem since the Cuyahoga Valley National Park began buying land in the 1970s.
Referring to a color-coded map in his office, Fisher estimates the park now owns 55 percent of the village.
Because the park does not pay property tax, a 2008 study concluded the 568 parcels of village property the park owns represents $224,000 in lost property taxes to the village, schools, fire district and other taxing agencies.
Another undetermined amount is lost because the park property is no longer available to people who might have lived on the land and paid income tax as well, Fisher added.
''This is not anti-park talk,'' Fisher is quick to note. ''We love the park. The bottom line is, we have lost income because of it, and we have to deal with it.''
Internal growth is not an option. The village has the same population as a century ago. And there is no water and sewer to support business expansion.
So officials have to look outside their own borders.
The income-tax increase could open that door.
Neighboring Boston Township also in a financial crunch after losing land to the park since the 1970s asked Peninsula Village Council to begin discussing a JEDD.
The partnership would allow the two entities to identify commercial and industrial property and levy an income tax on people who work on it.
The township benefits because it cannot collect income taxes on its own, but it can share the taxes from a JEDD.
The village benefits because it would share taxes generated on township land.
Some target areas are private businesses (like the Boston Mills ski area) and some are nonprofits (like the Boy Scouts' Camp Manatoc).
But other areas could include park-owned land in Boston Township. Under a JEDD, they would remain exempt from property tax but would begin paying an income tax.
Village and township officials met a couple of times this summer, but decided to stop until the question of Peninsula's income tax is decided.
''It doesn't make sense unless Peninsula has a 2 percent tax,'' Boston Township Trustee Randy Bergdorf said.
Fisher said if the income tax passes, negotiations probably would resume, but the village is not promoting the issue as a piece of the JEDD puzzle since there is no guarantee that will happen.
''We simply need more money, and an income-tax increase will give us more money,'' Fisher said.
Park spokeswoman Mary Pat Doorley said the income-tax question is village business and the park has no issue with it.
''We will follow the law, whatever the law is,'' she said.
Who would it affect?
Many Peninsula residents won't be affected by the tax increase at all, the mayor noted, because most communities already charge a tax of 2 percent or more and offer a 100 percent credit so workers aren't hit twice.
Most of those who see a hike will be Peninsula residents who also work in the village, Fisher said.
Still, the village will double the $100,000 it gets in annual income-tax revenue because some income-tax money being paid by workers to other communities would come to the village instead.
Fisher said that money could be used to increase pay for a police force that hasn't had a raise in five years.
The mayor is also eager to replace the 19-year-old service truck responsible for plowing the village's 13 miles of streets. Not to mention the town's two mowers 22 and 29 years old.
And if it doesn't pass?
''We'll do what we always do: survive,'' he said.
The village's only full-time employees are the office clerk, a road worker and three police officers the minimum needed for three eight-hour shifts in a day.
Peninsula voters are also being asked to renew a road levy and a fire levy, but Fisher is optimistic about the chances of the income-tax increase.
''I think they're supportive of it. They know our problem,'' he said. ''But you also have a really weak economy, so who knows? Taxes are not a nice thing.''