The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News November 4, 2005

Oberlin gears up to vote
Citizens get to know the facts

Next week on Nov. 8, citizens across the state of Ohio will cast ballots voting on issues at the state, county and municipal levels. The issues specific to Oberlin are two Oberlin School District tax levies, an Oberlin Public Library tax levy and a proposed charter amendment to establish a living wage in Oberlin.

The proposed public library tax levy, Issue 28 on the ballot, is a replacement of an existing three million dollar valuation levy with an increase of a quarter million, effective for a period of five years. The tax would pay for new books and books on tape, DVDs, the salaries of library employees, programs to encourage reading among community youth and wireless internet access at the Bridge, Oberlin’s community technology center.

The proposed school district tax levies are divided into two separate issues. Issue 47 is a vote for the replacement of an expiring five-year levy costing two million dollars, one that funds Oberlin public schools. Issue 48 asks for a five million dollar increase in addition to the replacement levy in issue 47.

In his presentation at the Oberlin Community Candidates Night on Nov. 1, Oberlin School Board President Dennison Smith emphasized the poor financial state of Oberlin schools.

“Schools have gone through tough times,” said Smith, referring to a $600,000 loss of state funding and a three million dollar budget cut since 2003.

Even though the tax increase may challenge Oberlin families, Smith argued that the benefits were worth the costs. “New monies must be paid,” he said. “It’s an investment for our kids.”

According to College junior Charlie Sohne, co-chair of the Oberlin College Democrats, “the level of educational attainment has jumped phenomenally, but the schools still need more money. The levies are necessary to keep education at the level it’s at.”

City council candidates David Ashenhurst and Tony Mealy support the library and school tax levies. [Full disclosure: Ashenhurst is the father of Review Commentary editor Casey Ashenhurst.]

“The money will go to educating youth,” said Mealy. “Both levies should be supported.”

Ashenhurst agreed that the new tax revenue would be well spent. “I have no problem with public spending until you get to the state level,” he said.

Possibly the most controversial Oberlin issue on the Nov. 8 ballot is the proposal for a living wage amendment to the city charter. The amendment would establish a minimum hourly wage of $10.50 for employees with health care benefits, and $12 for employees without health care benefits.

The law would be applied to businesses that have contracts with the city amounting to at least $25000 or those that receive financial assistance of at least $75000. Oberlin College, along with for-profit businesses with fewer than 25 employees, not-for-profit businesses with fewer than 50 employees and students aged 23 or younger would be exempt from the law.

According to Oberlin Citizens for Responsible Development, the living wage would significantly increase the quality of life for workers in Oberlin by reducing the downward trend in wages, promoting sustainable government by preventing the creation of short-term, low wage jobs and providing an incentive for Oberlin businesses to provide worker benefits.

However, many community members are skeptical about these changes. Some common concerns include the inflexibility of using a charter amendment instead of an ordinance to implement the law, the possibility that Oberlin would be less able to attract new businesses and questions about whether or not Wal-mart would be required to comply.

Council candidate Mealy said of the amendment, “I’ll be candid, I’m going to stay neutral on the living wage,” he said. “I support living wage legislation, but I am not certain about how it would affect those it portends to benefit.”

Council candidate Ashenhurst expressed similar misgivings.

“I am for living wage legislation and against a charter amendment,” said Ashenhurst. “I would support consideration of a living wage ordinance that would include Oberlin College and not only government contract businesses.”

For more information, the League of Women Voters of Oberlin website (www.lwvoa) has the complete list of ballot issues with non-partisan arguments for and against each proposal.


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