Tax Hike a Point of Contention in Gahanna City Council Races

Gahanna City Council member Andrew Renner listens as challenger Ray Kautz answers a debate question.

Incumbent members of Gahanna City Council face challengers calling for the city to change how it does business, while residents will vote again in November on a tax levy they rejected this spring.

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb, a Republican, and Gahanna City Council Vice President Ryan Jolley, a Democrat, were the most vocal backers of a tax plan defeated in May. Stinchcomb and Jolley argued that their proposed tax “reform” would either lower – or at the very least would not increase – taxes on 57 percent of the city’s population.

However, Ohio’s Regional Income Tax Authority (RITA) calculated the plan would increase taxes for an estimated 11,083 taxpayers, roughly 57 percent of the city’s working residents.

At a September 24 debate, incumbent council members including Stephen A. Renner evaded questions about their personal support for Stinchcomb’s tax hike. Challengers such as Ray Kautz and Joe Gergley were openly critical of the proposed levy.

Following are the candidates’ positions on the tax levy.

Ward 1Ward 2Ward 3Ward 4
Stephen A. Renner (incumbent): FORBrandon Wright (incumbent): FORRyan Demro: AGAINSTJoe Gergley: AGAINST
Ray Kautz: AGAINSTMichael Schnetzer: AGAINSTBrian Larick: Unknown (did not attend)James Leeseberg: FOR

Kautz, a financial analyst, challenged Renner at the city’s council debates, claiming that the incumbent Ward 1 legislator served as an enabler of Mayor Stinchcomb’s spending.

Kautz told Media Trackers that Renner “hasn’t made any cuts whatsoever. We increased spending by $4 million from 2011 to 2012, during which he was on council.”

Kautz compared the Stinchcomb administration’s campaign tactics to President Barack Obama’s failed attempts at negotiating for tax increases earlier this year, saying that Stinchcomb and the current City Council were “trying to operate like a larger government body, by saying if we don’t pass this tax increase, it’s doom and gloom – when we actually increased spending and [are] not making any cuts substantially.”

“Any new tax needs to go specifically towards capital improvements,” Gergley told Media Trackers. “It can’t go towards the general fund.”

Suggesting a potential alternative to Stinchcomb’s plan, Gergley said, “I believe a smaller percentage — maybe a 0.4 or 0.5 increase, specifically towards capital improvements — would go further for the city, in the long run, than a full 1 percent increase.”

Key donors to Citizens for a Strong Gahanna, the pro-levy campaign committee, include businesses that stand to gain from increased tax revenue.

Michigan-based architectural firm Orchard, Hiltz, & McCliment — a municipal contracting firm with whom the city regularly contracts for multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects such as the city’s Creekside developments— and public-sector unions such as the local Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) have recently contributed to Citizens for a Strong Gahanna, with each submitting checks for $1,000.

Gahanna voters will head to the polls for another vote on Mayor Stinchcomb’s tax plan and to select city council members on November 6. Early voting for the general election begins on October 1.

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