The Village of Windham has restored the 0.5-percent income tax credit to residents who work outside the village following a former mayor and council member's petition to have it back on the books.
During a December council meeting, Mayor Robert Donham cast a tie-breaking vote to repeal the 0.5-percent income tax credit. Doing so would have given the village enough tax revenue to afford a full-time school resource officer in 2013, he said.
But pushing the measure through three readings in two months, in addition to repealing a tax credit approved by voters in 1995 that was coupled with a 0.5 percent income tax increase didn't sit well with Jim Moore, a former mayor and councilman, who began circulating a petition to reinstate the credit.
Moore said he gathered 128 signatures certified by the Portage County Board of Elections, far more than the 41 needed, based on 10 percent of Windham Village voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election.
"It didn't take long at all," he said. "We got them within a week."
The successful petition negated the tax credit repeal for the 2012 tax year, and gave council the option to reverse their decision or let voters decide in November. With six unanimous votes Tuesday, council axed the issue, rather than wait until November for voters to likely reverse its decision.
Donham said the December decision to repeal the income tax credit was meant to serve as a stop-gap budget fix for 2013 only while Windham deals with state budget cuts, and council intended to reinstitute the credit at the end of the year.
"Being that the referendum stopped it in the short term, it became irrelevant. It was never the intention of council to get rid of that tax credit forever," he said.
Donham said the village will work to adjust its budget and respect the public's decision.
"It's OK. We'll do what we've got to do, but it definitely delayed our plans to be able to put safety forces in the schools," he said. "You've got to respect the voice of the resident and give them what you can with what's available."
The Village of Windham will vote on a 0.5 percent income tax increase in May, which if passed will raise the income tax rate from 1.5 percent to 2 percent. Residents who work outside of Windham will still be able to receive the 0.5-percent tax credit if the income tax increase is passed.
Donham said if the measure is approved, a resource officer will be placed in schools.
"If we can get this income tax increase from village residents, we can commit to putting a full-time officer in the schools, dedicated only to the schools, and that's something that I think is a huge benefit and well worth the investment," he said.
Windham Village Police Chief Gene Fixler said state funding cuts have put the village safety force in a tough spot, as it is now in the process of negotiating a contract to outsource police dispatch, eliminating nine dispatchers from payroll.
Donham estimates the move will save the village about $80,000 a year.
Fixler said he's also been unable to fill two vacant full-time police officer positions, but stressed that Windham police are "giving it their all."
"We're giving the community the best service we can with what we have to work with, and I'm proud to say that we're working diligently to make sure that people feel safe in Windham and it's working," Fixler said.
If it becomes possible to add a school resource officer, Fixler said the move would provide a greater benefit to the schools than just protection.
"It's about more than safety in the schools. That officer becomes a friend to the students and somebody the students can turn to when they need someone for a personal issue and a lot of different reasons," he said.
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