By DENISE GRANT
There’s still no consensus on the best way to govern Findlay’s controversial practice of allowing certain individuals and businesses to skip estimated payments of city income taxes, or even agreement on whether the practice should continue.
The city’s tax board has been working to write a policy for about a year now, but at Wednesday’s regular board meeting, members were no closer to an agreement.
Findlay has been allowing skipped estimated payments since 2009, at the discretion of the tax administrator. There are currently 52 businesses and two individuals permitted to skip the estimated payments, without penalty. Altogether, the skipped payments total an estimated $2.2 million.
As the practice now stands, Andrew Thomas, tax administrator, decides when to refuse estimated payments from individuals or businesses, based on if they have a history of overpayment or difficulty estimating their taxes.
Thomas said the practice protects the city against over-collections that must be repaid.
However, city Auditor Jim Staschiak is adamantly opposed to the practice and wants it to stop altogether. He said the practice lends itself to politics.
For example, he said the most recent report on city income tax collections shows a $680,763 drop in employer withholdings for the year to date. As of May 3, the city has collected $6.7 million from employer withholdings, compared to $7.4 million collected during the same period last year.
Thomas said there is no clear reason for the drop.
Overall, the tax collection report shows the city income tax down by about 4.6 percent year to date, but Staschiak said that’s not true. Tack on the $2.2 million in skipped estimated payments and collections are actually up, he said.
As of May 3, collections from employer withholdings, individual and business taxes totaled $9.2 million, compared with $10.1 million during the same period last year.
With the city’s police and fire unions agreeing just this year to have future pay raises tied to the performance of the income tax, Staschiak said the practice allows the city to manipulate that number, which he called unfair.
Findlay’s nonunion employees are typically given the same raise negotiated by the unions.
Staschiak is a member of the tax board, as is city Treasurer Susan Hite, Law Director Dan Rasmussen and Councilman Grant Russel, R-at-large, who serves as chairman of council’s Appropriations Committee.
Russel carefully picked several questions he has on the draft policy currently being debated by the board. Most of his questions focused on language in the policy, but not the policy itself. He called the draft a good start.
However, Councilwoman Holly Frische, R-1, said the policy doesn’t go far enough to ensure the city’s taxpayers are being treated fairly. Frische wants an application made available online. She also wants the applications brought before the tax board, not approved or disapproved solely by Thomas.
As the practice now stands, she said, there is no transparency.
When Frische began to question Mayor Christina Muryn about her plans to try and correct the proposed policy, Russel quickly moved to curtail the conversation.
He called for a vote to table the policy, and when that deadlocked, he called for a vote and the proposed policy was defeated. He then hastily left the meeting.
The vote effectively ended the debate, and the board adjourned.