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Marblehead council won't seek controversial income tax

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - For the second time this year, Marblehead Village Council decided last night not to impose a controversial income tax.

A crowd of more than 50 people in the village fire garage cheered when the proposed 0.5 percent tax died on the floor after its third and final reading. Mayor Joseph Ihnat, Jr., had urged council to table the measure, but no one moved to table the issue or pass it.

“I think it should die on the table,” Councilman John Starcher said. “The way it's written with the emergency clause, I've never been in favor of anyway.”

Council had been poised to pass the tax as an emergency measure. Leaders believed passing it as an emergency would have ensured collections through most of 2003, even if residents organized an initiative drive against the tax.

Council used that strategy in December, 2000, when it passed a 1 percent income tax as an emergency. The move blocked opponents from halting collections through a referendum, but angry residents overwhelmingly repealed the tax in November, 2001.

The village considered reinstating the 1 percent tax in August, but council took no action.

Resident Steve Sapp thanked the mayor and council for their decision last night. “We appreciate you looking for ways to cut expenses and not raise taxes,” he said.

The village has struggled with a tight budget and a lack of funds to improve its streets, sewers, and sidewalks, which are heavily used by tourists in the summer.

After the meeting, Mr. Ihnat said he believes the village should wait to see how much it gets in tax receipts from Ottawa County in the first quarter before deciding whether to seek an income tax.

“We are not in a financial crisis,” he said.

To boost revenue, council passed a ferry departure fee in August, but a referendum petition has put that tax on hold until at least November, 2003, when it is scheduled to be on the ballot.

Voters approved a 2-mill property tax replacement last month. That action will raise an additional $113,000 a year, but the village will not begin receiving the extra money until 2004.

Council settled another controversial issue last night by rescinding a decision to eliminate one of the village's four police positions. The vote was 4-0, with councilmen John Imke and Janet Monak abstaining.

Council voted last month to cut a police officer as of Jan. 1 to save money. The village has two officers who have been paid through a federal grant and must pick up those salaries next year.

Mr. Ihnat said he checked with federal officials and learned that Marblehead risked having to repay the grant if the village eliminated either or both positions. The village has received $202,000 in federal grant money to pay police officers since 1995, Chief Wood Holbrook said.

The mayor also cited public pressure to keep the department intact.

“The residents want the 24/7 coverage, and to do that we need the three officers and the chief,” he said.

“I'm glad they made the decision they did,” Chief Holbrook said. “It's only going to benefit the people of the village.”

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