Whitehall citizens will vote on a proposed property tax levy to fund expansions in staffing and facilities for the local police department in the Ohio primary on May 3.
The measure is structured as a permanent tax levy with a total request of 2.822 mills, amounting to an estimated annual revenue of $790,000. Mayor Kim Maggard, a co-proposer of the levy, has increased Whitehall’s police spending by 46% since her 2012 election. The levy, alongside this increased spending, comes at a time when many in the Columbus community are questioning police spending.
Deana Hutchison, a longtime resident of Whitehall, believes the increase in police spending is necessary, but she’s against it being funded through a permanent tax.
“Our police are amazing and I appreciate that,” Hutchison said in a message. “It’s the forever tax that isn’t appropriate…they [sic] should have to live within our means.”
In addition to annual revenue from the levy, the Whitehall Division of Police will also continue to be funded by the City’s budget. The approved 2022 city budget allocates 23% of the annual expenditures to the police department, a total of nearly $8.3 million. That amounts to an increase of 8.8% from 2021 to 2022, without the levy.
Hutchison reports receiving four mailers about the levy alone, with two being funded by the city and two by a local car dealership. She said plainclothes officers have also knocked on her door, asking to discuss the levy’s details.
According to Maggard, if passed, revenue from the levy will fund the hiring of six new police officers as well as a 9,000 square foot renovation and 13,000 square foot expansion of the local police station. There are currently 54 full-time officers on staff, according to Chief of Police Mike Crispen.
The levy was proposed by the mayor’s office and city council and was sent to the ballot during a city council meeting on February 1 through an emergency measure.
If passed, the levy will cost the average Whitehall homeowner an additional $8.23 monthly, or about $100 annually, in property taxes, according to the City. Homeowners receiving a senior exemption will pay $6.17 a month, or $74.04 a year.
Despite the national conversation surrounding concerns about police brutality, most of the council members have not publicly raised concerns regarding the levy. In fact, many of them have repeatedly endorsed Issue 10.
“We have a growing city…and we know from our survey that safety is the number one aspect of our city. Therefore, I’m a proponent for Issue 10,” said Councilperson Lori Elmore at a city council meeting.
The lone member of Whitehall City Council sharing a dissenting opinion on the levy is also one of the newest, Gerald Dixon. Dixon was elected in 2021 and began his council term the same month that the levy was introduced.
“There’s a sentiment that if you vote ‘no’ you’re anti-police,” Dixon said. “That’s not the case, I’m pro-police and pro-fiscal responsibility.”
Dixon said he fears that passing Issue 10 could normalize permanent property tax levies. While the prospective revenue from a passing levy will fund some permanent expenses, such as officer salaries, a large portion of the fund is being raised to support a one-time capital investment in the renovation and expansion of the police station.
Maggard addressed the permanence of the property tax levy at a town hall meeting on April 21, stating that levy revenue that has been requested to fund the one-time capital expenditures would be shifted to cover building maintenance and officer salaries after the station’s renovation and expansion investment is paid off.
Whitehall citizens are also facing a new monthly surcharge to cover sewer and water main repairs, based on a fee proposed and approved by city council in 2021. The surcharge costs single-family homeowners an extra $7.52 a month.
A community member at the April 21 town hall meeting hosted by the Division of Police voiced concerns about the impact the potential tax increase would have on fixed-income residents, potentially displacing long-standing residents or seniors in the community who cannot afford the increased property tax costs alongside the sewer and water main surcharge.
In response to Councilperson Dixon’s concerns regarding the permanence of the levy at a Whitehall City Council meeting on April 19, Maggard stressed that levy revenue would be combined with city and grant funding to meet future needs of the Division of Police.
“I have voted ‘yes’ on issues before that I may not have fully agreed with—maybe I only agreed with a part of it—but I looked at the bigger picture of the good that it would do the community,” Maggard said.
Several factors — including increased financial support from the mayor, the hiring of Crispen and the implementation of the Safer Whitehall Strategic Plan — have allowed Whitehall Police to boast recent public safety successes, such as a 46% decrease in burglaries and a 27% decrease in violent crimes from 2017 to 2020. However, while burglaries have continued to decline — to a 54% decrease from 2017 — violent crimes have increased overall from 2017 to 2021 in Whitehall.
While these statistics show that Whitehall’s crime and arrest rates have widely decreased in recent years, the mayor’s office and police department still feel that additional taxpayer funding is needed. Even without the proposed levy, Whitehall has increased spending 8.8% from the estimated expenses for 2021 to the budgeted expenses for 2022.
Issue 10 is positioned as the “Safer Whitehall Levy.” While the namesake Safer Whitehall Strategic Plan includes crime diversion elements such as a youth diversion program and the placement of school resource officers, such efforts are absent from promotional materials and published plans regarding Issue 10.
The levy will be on the ballot for Whitehall residents on May 3. For more information on registration, polling locations and what’s on the ballot, visit the Franklin County Board of Elections.