Outgoing Salem treasurer defends city tax office

SALEM — City Treasurer Dr. John Conrad briefly addressed city council regarding the Regional Income Tax Agency known as RITA, questioning its value and its ability to save the city money.

After the meeting Tuesday night, when asked why the topic came up, Conrad explained that he heard rumors that some people, not any officials in city government, were pushing the idea of handing over income tax collections to RITA as a means to save money. If implemented, he said four jobs in the income tax office would be lost.

He said municipalities that use RITA for their income tax collection and administration pay the agency a percentage of the income tax collected instead of having their own income tax office. After looking at what the tax office costs the city and what he heard RITA would receive, he said “I don’t think it’s going to save money,” but also said he was told after the meeting that his figures were wrong and he was getting correct figures.

He described RITA as very impersonal because there would be no local office. He suggested that instead of losing local jobs, bring jobs back to the community by allowing the locals to handle the income tax collection for the state and federal governments. He acknowledged that’s probably a crazy idea, but that would be a way to save some money.

According to the website at www.ritaohio.com, more than 45 percent of Ohio municipalities with an income tax use RITA to administer and collect the tax. The agency was formed in 1971. The village of Leetonia just switched over to RITA this summer.

Conrad is the outgoing city treasurer after deciding not to file for re-election to the post he’s held for nearly four years. Two Independent candidates, current Council President K. Bret Apple and former city utilities worker Bob Hiltbrand, will vie for the seat this fall.

No one responded to Conrad’s comments during the meeting.

In other business, council approved ordinances authorizing the Salem Utilities Commission to purchase 6.888 acres on Pennsylvania Avenue which borders city-owned property where the wastewater treatment plant is located, to advertise for bids and enter into a contract to build a water pumping station for the Highland Avenue water tank and to sell two used vehicles, a Ford F-250 pickup and a 1996 GMC 1500 four-wheel drive pickup with snow blade.

The cost of the property the Utilities Commission said could be used for future plant expansion was $105,000, coming from wastewater reserve funds. Councilman Geoff Goll abstained from voting on the measure to avoid any appearance of conflict since one of the shareholders of the company which owns the parcel is Joseph Korff. Goll’s daughter is engaged to Korff’s son. The property is owned by the Pennsylvania Land Company.

Council members agreed back in July to allow Goll to withdraw from any vote on the land purchase ordinance, as permitted by council rules.

A first reading was held on a proposed resolution to approve an application by Simmons Feed and Supply Co. to participate in a tax incentive program due to a planned expansion. The tax break will be based on the number of jobs added by the company and a percentage of the income tax that would be collected from those new employees.

Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart reported that the water line replacement project on North Ellsworth is nearly complete and will be ready for the street paving program by the end of the week. The street is on the list to be paved this year by the city.

During council comments at the end of the meeting, Councilman Brian Whitehill said he was confused on the downtown parking proposal at McCulloch Park, saying he would like to think that the late Jackie Troll whose business is next to the park would have a problem with losing parking spaces in the downtown.

Whitehill was referring to a proposal Jennifer Brown had presented during a recent Rules & Ordinances meeting and a previous Streets, Alleys & Sidewalks Committee meeting to possibly eliminate up to three parking spaces in that area and use part of the park for a garden dedicated to Troll. Goll, who sits on the Rules & Ordinances Committee and saw Jennifer Brown’s presentation, said she told them she talked to everybody around that area and the three spots in questions were near the guardrails they want to remove and are between two posts. He said she was told to review the proposal with the neighbors and come back to council.

The next council meeting will be 7 p.m. Oct. 3. No committee meetings were announced.