RITA referendum has valid signatures

Decision on councilwoman’s challenge of the possible ballot issue must wait a little longer

LISBON –There are enough valid signatures on the Salem RITA ballot issue petitions, but a decision on a councilwoman’s filing challenging the legality of the repeal effort will have to wait.

So ruled the Columbiana County Board of Elections at Friday’s meeting, which was called to take up the issue of a referendum petition filed with the elections board by a group of Salem residents. The petition seeks to void Salem City Council’s recent decision to replace the city income tax collection office with the Regional Income Tax Agency (RITA), a non-profit agency created under Ohio law by the Council of Regional Governments to provide income tax collection services to cities and villages.

Salem is seeking to become the latest community in the county to switch to RITA, but opponents believe the decision should be up to voters, which is why they launched the petition drive to get the referendum on the November ballot.

Getting the referendum on the ballot is a two-step process. First, the election board must determine if the petitions had enough valid signatures from registered Salem voters, and in this instance the magic number is 387. The petitions contained 665 signatures, 595 of which were determined to be valid, according to election board director Kim Fusco.

The second step involves returning the petitions to Salem City Auditor Betty Brothers, who is charged with certifying the “sufficiency and validity” of the petitions, which must be completed 90 days prior to the election. Once this is done, the election board decides whether to place the referendum on the ballot.

The process is similar to when a citizens group opposed to East Liverpool’s now-defunct traffic camera program filed petitions seeking the repeal of the ordinance allowing use of the cameras to catch speeding motorists. The city auditor determined the petition effort was flawed because it was based on the wrong section of election law, but the group was later successful in getting the issue on the ballot and the camera law was repealed this past November.

Last week, Salem City Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey filed paperwork with the election board challenging the validity of the RITA referendum petition. She said the decision to hire RITA was an administrative function of council, not legislative, and therefore not subject to a referendum.

Election board chairman David Johnson said the county prosecutor’s office advised them they cannot take up Dickey’s challenge until after they hear back from Brothers, at which time the board can schedule a hearing with witnesses before making a decision.

“At that time we would entertain the protest, and there is a specific protocol to follow,” he said.


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