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RITA foes to collect more signatures Saturday

SALEM — From 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Salem Memorial Building, city voters have another chance to sign a petition aimed at getting the Regional Income Tax Agency issue on the November ballot.

Organizers of the referendum petition held their first signature drive last weekend, attracting what Mickey Cope Weaver described as a broad cross-section of voters both for and against the elimination of the city’s income tax office in favor of the regional council of governments known as RITA.

“We had tremendous interest, both people undecided and decided,” she said.

Weaver previously served as Salem’s city council president. Two others named as petitioners on the petition included former city treasurer Dr. John Conrad and current Second Ward Councilman Ron Zellers, who during the last city council meeting, suggested the ordinance to join RITA be tabled and that city council take action to let the voters decide. His motion to table the ordinance was shot down 5-2. Only he and Councilman Steve Faber supported the idea.

City council voted 5-2 last week, with Faber and Zellers voting no, to authorize the mayor to enter an agreement to participate in the regional council of governments for the administration and collection of the city’s municipal income tax as approved by council. The petition being sought to stop the city from following through with RITA would allow the voters to decide whether they want to switch to RITA for tax collection. If the petition is successful in getting the issue on the ballot, nothing will happen with RITA until the voters decide. As it is now, RITA was expected to take effect July 1.

“They cannot go with RITA until after the election as long as we have the required number of valid signatures to place it on the ballot,” Weaver said.

Besides having the petitions available to sign, volunteers are also checking to ensure people are registered to vote. If a person isn’t registered to vote, voter registration forms are being made available for anyone interested in becoming a registered voter. Only signatures of registered voters are valid for the petition and will be counted.

A statement on the petition says that it must be signed by 10 percent of the number of electors or voters in the city who voted for goveror at the preceding gubernatorial election, which was in November 2018. which is at least 350 voters. The plan is to get twice as many signatures as necessary to ensure there will be enough valid signatures. Then the petition must be filed with the city auditor within 30 days after the ordinance was passed by city council and signed by the mayor, then forwarded to the Columbiana County Board of Elections.

Proponents of going with RITA said there will be a cost savings to the city of $30,000 to $50,000 a year, plus the income tax collection may increase due to the agency’s efforts. Opponents question the amount of savings and whether it’s worth it to eliminate an entire city department and end the jobs of four people with over 50 years experience and service to city residents. Just last April, there was a long line of residents waiting to get into that office on tax day to file their taxes. The closest RITA office is in Youngstown. RITA officials said during meetings that they could have a day where they make personnel available in Salem, but nothing was in writing in the agreement.

Weaver said the whole point of the referendum is for anyone who wants to get involved in the decision on RITA, pro or con, to have a voice.

When eliminating an entire department in a city, she said she feels it should be a decision for the people in that community. She invites anyone for or against to come and sign the petition to get it on the ballot. Some people who came for the first signing event weren’t sure what they wanted to do related to RITA. She said some were for it and some were against. She urged everybody to do their own research, talk to people in communities who have RITA and talk to tax preparers.

“We weren’t there to sell anybody on yes or no to RITA. We are there to get this thing on the ballot,” Weaver said.

For anyone who can’t make the signing event, there are people circulating the petitions individually, including Weaver.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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