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In favor of the Regional Income Tax Agency

To the editor:

It was not all that long ago that Salem City Councilman Geoff Goll and others were promoting a new charter form of government for Salem. They held public forums. They wrote letters to the editor. They took out full-page ads. And, they swore that their only motive was to “run the city like a business”.

All of this sounded good. But the charter itself lacked the sort of accountability that public elections offer us. Whereas a city manager would have been accountable only to his contract, statutory forms of government, like we have in Salem, make all elected officials directly accountable to the voters, every four years.

Ironic how those that so wanted to “run the city like a business” back then are now either silent or opposed to the city adopting “business-like” operating protocols. For the past several years, for instance, Salem City Council has been “studying” and haggling over and endlessly delaying even a simple vote up or down on a proposal to contract Salem’s income tax collection with the not-for-profit, state-chartered Regional Income Tax Agency (RITA) at a savings of between $50-80,000 per year. Not counted in this savings is the cost of outsourcing the collections enforcement of our income tax delinquencies worth another estimated $20,000 in savings to the city.

Meanwhile, nearby East Palestine, Leetonia and Columbiana have already contracted with RITA. The actual tax dollar savings in these communities have far surpassed RITA’s initial projections. The City of Columbiana, with a general fund one half the size of Salem’s, is on a pace to realize $80,000 in savings through RITA in their first year.

The latest road block to Salem City Council moving forward with even a vote on RITA is the false and misleading claim that Salem would “lose earned interest” on funds collected by RITA. The facts of the matter are that the city would receive full value, interest included, on all dollars collected, with distributions made to the city on the 1st and 10th day of every month. RITA’s quoted retainer fee is a flat percentage that does not change nor does it exclude the value of interest earned on our funds, all enforced by state of Ohio public audit.

Another roadblock seems to be the false charge that Salem residents would lose the “taxpayer services” it has now. Yet RITA has presented to Council, in open meetings, the pledge to bring qualified staff to Salem City Hall to provide in-person taxpayer services during tax season. Of even greater significance, RITA would offer Salem taxpayers the option of electronic filing and online 24/7 electronic taxpayer services – something that Salem’s antiquated “manual processing” office simply cannot offer.

This entire debate reminds me of the FAKE narrative that so often passes for “news” whereas a falsehood gets repeated so often in so many different ways that it just gets accepted as fact. By every objective criteria, however, RITA is precisely the business-like protocol that it is advertised as and it will in fact save the taxpayers of Salem hundreds of thousands of dollars over the outlying years – dollars that could be better deployed improving our city and making it a safe and good place to live and work. Is that not what we elect city officials to do?

David W. Johnson,

Salem

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