CLEVELAND, Ohio — Republican nominee for Cuyahoga County executive branch Lee Weingart has proposed a plan to unify the county’s 57 communities by consolidating and simplifying income taxes. But instead, the municipalities seem to be allied against it.
The Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association released a letter Wednesday that didn’t fully denounce Weingart’s idea but urged him to consider it in collaboration with cities.
“We are disappointed that there was no discussion or contact with our club prior to the introduction of the plan,” said the letter, written by Pepper Pike Mayor Richard Bain, the club’s president. “This proposal raises several important issues that need to be carefully addressed with input from local communities.”
As proposed, the consolidation plan could have “unfair outcomes and serious negative consequences,” the association said. Above all, it worries about the plan’s losers — taxpayers, who may pay more under the new plan, and communities, who may receive less revenue, “which would hurt a city’s ability to deliver essential services,” the in said the letter.
Weingart’s plan attempts to make up for the loss.
He proposed a flat income tax split of 2% to 2.5% that would be collected by the county and redistributed to municipalities based on what each received prior to the 2019 pandemic.
Cities and towns would no longer set their own tax rates, which could lower income taxes for some individuals who pay higher tax rates in places like Bedford and Parma Heights and raise taxes for others who now have lower tax rates, like Bentleyville and Pepper Pike.
But Weingart says cities could have more stable incomes if collections aren’t tied to where people live and work in a year’s time. During the pandemic, cities like Cleveland lost money as more residents worked from home, while other communities reaped those benefits.
Mayor Bain didn’t believe it in an interview with cleveland.com on Friday.
The full implications of remote work are not yet fully understood, Bain said. He doesn’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution and said municipalities need more time to monitor the impact of remote work on municipality budgets before reforming taxation.
“It’s not just about making or losing money,” Bain said.
He criticized the idea of freezing tax revenues at 2019 rates when some communities have been growing and changing since then.
“Communities that may have been striving to improve during this time, why would they be time frozen in terms of a percentage or dollar value they should be receiving?” asked Bain.
He also condemned Weingart’s suggestion that the tax be collected by the county instead of the Regional Income Tax Agency (RITA).
“They’re just swapping collection agencies,” Bain said.
Weingart’s plan is years away from the possibility. It would first require voters to amend the county bylaws to create a countywide municipality with exclusive authority to levy and collect income taxes. That change would require the approval of a majority of voters in Cleveland and surrounding suburbs as a group, but it likely won’t go to the vote until 2024.
Earlier, the association said it “welcomes the opportunity to engage in the discussion that lies at the heart of local governance – providing safe and vibrant communities for our residents.”