Some say that if you ever saw the way sausage was made, you might not ever eat it again. I think the same can be said about the way government functions from time to time. It certainly seems an apt description for what is going on in Avon Lake as the mayor and City C ouncil grind to a decision about imposing a property tax, without a popular vote, in order to ensure that required health services are maintained.
This action will mark the first time in city history that taxpayers will not have a chance to vote on the imposition of a property tax.
This story actually begins in Lorain. For decades, its health department was contracted to provide state-mandated health services to Avon Lake, including restaurant inspections, pool inspections and mosquito control.
As I understand it, Lorain had discussed the possibility of closing its health department. However, discussion moved to action in recent months as Lorain struggled with a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. The health department got the ax.
As a result, Avon Lake was left with few options regarding health services: join an existing health department able to pass a state-mandated accreditation process or create an Avon Lake health department. Existing health departments included Elyria, which is quickly heading toward its own demise; Cuyahoga County, which spurned the city’s approach; or the Lorain County General Health District, to which Avon, Sheffield Lake and Sheffield Village, among others, already belong. Lorain recently voted to merge with the health district as well.
Forming an Avon Lake health department seemed unwise due to the expense and realization that Avon Lake lacks the expertise to create, manage and earn accreditation for a health department – and in pretty short order.
Ultimately, joining the Lorain County General Health District emerges as the only viable option – but it comes at a cost to Avon Lake homeowners, who will pay an additional property tax to join the health district.
Council postponed a final vote in order to have health district Commissioner David Covell appear before it to answer questions. Residents about to be saddled with more taxes have some legitimate questions, and they deserve answers. For instance: How will an average homeowner, with health insurance, and in good health, benefit from this tax? This question was asked by a resident who attended council’s April 11 meeting. In my opinion, his question was not answered fully.
Mayor Greg Zilka says the current contract with Lorain provides “basic” services at a cost of $85,000 to $100,000 a year. These funds come from the city’s operating budget. Moving to the county health district will cost taxpayers about $450,000 a year. Broken down, a taxpayer living in a home valued at $220,000 – the average valuation of an Avon Lake home – will pay about $33 a year. While not an untenable amount, residents still have a right to know whether there will be “some bang for the buck,” especially since this tax will be imposed, and not voted on, by the people.
The mayor spent tax dollars mailing a postcard to 8,500 homes inviting residents to a presentation by the health district commissioner and himself. The postcard did not mention a word about a property tax increase. A few dozen people attended. I believe that had he been more forthcoming, the auditorium would have filled. More importantly, residents would have been aware, and perhaps more accepting, once the dilemma was fully explained.
There is little choice but for council to vote to join the district, despite a new property tax. I urge city officials to clearly communicate the benefits of this action to that “average homeowner, with health insurance, and in good health.” They owe that to Avon Lake residents who already pay among the highest property taxes in Lorain County.
Like it or not, however, the tax is coming. When you are having breakfast at a local restaurant, enjoy your sausage. It will have been inspected.