Cleveland City Council has a chance to do the right thing as it reviews tax abatement policy
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2020) Cleveland City Council announced in a July 23rd press release that it plans to hear a presentation from the Department of Community Development on a tax abatement study at its July 29th meeting. The release noted the City of Cleveland’s current tax abatement policy expires in mid 2022.
Cleveland City Council members and the whole Community Development infrastructure in Cleveland have come to believe the abatements and the development fees that go to local development corporations from developers of new projects are vital to revitalization of the City of Cleveland.
As has been argued before in the pages of the Plain Press, the abatements drain significant resources from the city’s schools and libraries. Schools and libraries have programs and services that directly benefit Cleveland’s children. With Cleveland having the highest childhood poverty rate amongst big cities in the United States, that should be of significant concern to Cleveland City Council members.
If City Council members are not inclined to end the tax abatement program, perhaps they can be persuaded to hold the school system and libraries harmless. Take funds from the payroll taxes generated by these new developments and make sure the schools and the libraries are reimbursed dollar for dollar for the amount of property tax that would have gone to them if not for the abatement.
Thus, if City Council so firmly believes in handing out tax abatements to developers and new homeowners, they can do so without harming the schools and libraries. While they may have to trim the City of Cleveland’s budget to do so, it is only just if the City Council and the City Administration are giving away the tax dollars. The City budget should suffer the consequences – not the schools and libraries.
City Council is good at passing progressive sounding legislation, while providing little in the way of resources to follow up with action. Council has an opportunity to change that pattern. If Cleveland City Council wants to have a significant impact on the lives of children living in poverty in Cleveland, directing dollars from the General Fund to make up for abating taxes that should be going to the schools and libraries would be a good place to start.
While the school system plans to ask for a new levy this fall that includes an increase in property taxes, we all know that will not be enough to do justice to meeting the many needs of our students. When Cleveland students are finally able to go back to school, they will need smaller class sizes and more teachers, teachers’ aides, school counselors, school nurses and health resources. They will also need to have their own computers or devices they can take home and also to have access to the internet.
The libraries also make a significant difference in the lives of Cleveland’s children, offering a whole variety of programs and resources that children and families depend upon. Depriving these programs of crucial resources that our property tax base should be supporting results in stifling opportunities for our children. Let’s see if Cleveland City Council will step up to the plate for Cleveland’s children. We await their decision on tax abatement.