Springfield Township Area Residents Take a Stand!

How our township officials lied to us – fully explained…

I am a business owner and a resident in Springfield Township.  Back in September of 2013, I received a letter notifying me that the board of trustees were considering creating a Joint Economic Development Zone (JEDZ) earnings tax in Springfield Township.  I was immediately outraged because we already pay the second highest property tax in Hamilton County behind Delhi Township, and a township is not allowed to levy an earnings tax under Ohio law.  The JEDZ is legal, however it is meant for economic development purposes, where the businesses paying the tax get a new service or at least have the money spent in the areas in which it is collected. The township was proposing this new tax for funding day to day operations and the money collected would go into the general fund.

I immediately set out to campaign against this new tax.  With the help of some other business owners and residents in the township, we created a political action committee (PAC) called “Stop The JEDZ.”  We went around to all the business owners in the township, explained what was going on and solicited funds for our PAC so that we could campaign against this taxation without representation.  We raised almost $15,000, purchased a billboard next to Brentwood Plaza, purchased 500 yard signs, distributed flyers door to door and sent out a mailer to residents.  We also had many appearances in various forms of the news media including TV, radio and newspaper articles.

Before doing any fundraising or spending anything from the PAC, we fought the township in any way we could find with the legal system.  Originally the township officials had planned to place the issue on a February special election ballot.  This was perplexing because apparently the township was low on funds, yet was willing to spend upwards of $60,000 on holding a special election.  We felt this was very wrong.  Also, the township did not follow the proper procedure to put it on the ballot.  The way the process works is they must put the documents (JEDZ contract, map of the JEDZ zone, economic development plan, etc) on display for 30 days available to the public to view prior to a public hearing.  They take comments at the public hearing and then they are able to make changes to the contract and vote to put it on the ballot.  They did all this, but one week prior to the public hearing, they changed the JEDZ contract from a 10 year term to a 40 year term with three 10 year renewals.

We called them out on this, filed a protest with the board of elections, paid an attorney $2600 and the board of elections determined that this did not fall under their jurisdiction since all the paperwork filed with them to put it on the ballot was correct.  They said they could not determine whether the proper process was followed to get to that point.  There were hearings in Columbus for HB 289, a bill that would eliminate this loophole in the Ohio Revised Code, and I went to Columbus to testify in favor of the bill.  The same day I was there, Joe Honerlaw and Mike Hinnenkamp from the township were there as well. One of the arguments they made during the hearing was that even if they laid off all 8 people that work at the township administration building, they would only save $800,000 per year.  I thought to myself, “Only?” The committee echoed my comments when I went up to testify.

We decided that the timing was going to be very close with the passage of HB 289, and the bill had changed several times to remove the teeth from the legislation, so we would have to fight this thing.  We decided to file a motion in Hamilton County court to have the measure stripped from the ballot because they did not follow the proper procedure. We had gathered all of the evidence to show that this was the case.  The township, knowing that we were likely to win the case, and since it would look bad in the court of public opinion if they were to lose, or if they were to spend $60,000 on a special election, held a special meeting the day we were set to file the motion in court, and rescinded the contract with Mount Healthy.  They immediately scheduled another public hearing 30 days out so they could go through the entire process again and put it on the May primary ballot.

We campaigned very hard, had a lot of volunteers and really thought we had this thing beat. We had yard signs all over the township and were really building some momentum.  About a month before the election, we caught wind of a pro-JEDZ PAC called “Citizens for the Future of Springfield Township.”  They claim not to have spent or raised enough money to put them over the threshold required in order for them to have to file a pre-election campaign finance report, so we had no idea who was behind this PAC.  After the primary election, we found out that major contributors to the PAC were none other than Gwen McFarlin (trustee), Joe Honerlaw (trustee), Mark Berning (trustee) and Dan Berning (fiscal officer).  They also received a large contribution from PRUS Construction, which is the contractor that does most of the road repairs in the township.  They started having meetings with the civic associations in the township, senior groups, etc and began raising money.  They put out about the same number of signs as we did and it was on.  Their signs were very misleading and claimed that the JEDZ “won’t increase your tax burden,” but this was untrue.  The campaign ran down to the wire and we knew it would be close.  We heard stories about the township intimidating employees of the service department, police and fire departments to get them to go along with it and to not speak out publicly against it.  We ultimately lost by 290 votes out of more than 6,300 votes cast.

The township and the pro-JEDZ PAC, while claiming that we were spreading misinformation and half-truths, were actually doing that themselves.  They claimed that if the JEDZ did not pass, they would have to cut police and fire, we pointed out that those departments are funded under their own levies and would not be affected and eventually they dropped that argument. They told the seniors that they would have to close the senior center and Grove Banquet Hall even though they admitted that both were self-sustaining and would probably even turn a profit in 2014.  They said that roads wouldn’t get plowed, they would have to close parks, dissolve the arts and enrichment council (which shouldn’t be paid for with taxpayer money anyway) and it would cut down on the amount of road repairs they would be able to do even though they have a 1 mil road district levy already.

They convinced the Finneytown Civic Association and also claimed on both an official mailer from the township and a mailer from the PAC that the money from the JEDZ would be used for road repairs. The civic association bought into this and themselves began to promote passage of the JEDZ, putting out online postings, flyers and also yard signs that said “Fix our roads, Vote FOR JEDZ.”  They also sold this thing by telling the public that they would rather pass a JEDZ than raise property tax.  They claimed that if the JEDZ didn’t pass, raising property tax would be their only option, they were unwilling to make cuts to wasteful and unnecessary spending of taxpayer dollars.  Only recently did these groups and the general public find out that they had been hoodwinked, even though this is what we had been telling people the whole time.

They made us out to be a bunch of crazy whack jobs that didn’t know what we were talking about, but finally, at a trustee work session meeting this week, the township officials admitted what we had been saying the whole time.  The JEDZ money will not be used for repairing roads, and now they are going to propose a 4.5 mil tax levy for the road district, which would cost an average homeowner that owns a $100,000 home almost $500/year.  On top of that, they said another option if a levy doesn’t pass, or if they decide to get the funds through alternative means, they would simply re-pave the roads anyway and assess the homeowners on those streets for the cost.  So basically, if they can’t get the money from the taxpayers voluntarily, they will simply assess their property and take it by force.

Enough is enough.  We are fed up, and we aren’t going to take it anymore.  Gwen McFarlin (trustee) and Dan Berning (fiscal officer) are up for re-election in 2015.  Gwen already has a liberty-minded, fiscally responsible candidate running against her, and there are a few folks that might be interested in running against Dan.  Joe Honerlaw and Mark Berning (the other two trustees) are up for re-election in 2017 and we are working on getting someone to run against them as well.  We need to replace all of our elected officials, because in order to change the policy, you have to change the people.

I hate to say “I told you so…” Trustee Work Session Meeting September 24, 2014

Ok, no I don’t.  I’m actually relishing in the fact that we were right, about everything… There was a trustee work session meeting tonight, and right after starting the meeting, they went into executive session to discuss a collective bargaining agreement and the discipline of a public employee.  Normally they would do the regular business first and then do the executive session, but tonight was different, I knew something was up.  So after they adjourned to go into executive session, rather than packing up my camera and walking out, I asked if there was additional business after the executive session. Neither of the two trustees that were present responded (Gwen McFarlin was “sick” and I can only assume she was not there so that she would have some political cover for what was about to transpire since she is up for re-election in 2015).  Dan Berning, the fiscal officer, said that yes, there would be additional business after the executive session, so I stuck around while they went behind closed doors.

When they came out of executive session, all of our predictions about the JEDZ came true. The JEDZ was sold to the public as a way to raise the funds needed to pay for infrastructure projects such as repairing roads, etc, without the need to raise property taxes.  That was all a lie.  The wool was pulled over everyone’s eyes, and had I not stuck around to see what would transpire after the executive session, no one would know what was going on because no one else ever attends the work session meetings and they are not televised on Waycross local access like the regular trustee meetings are.  You can thank me later, but the information that came out of this meeting is quite astounding…

  1. The township sold the JEDZ as a way to pay for roads, they admitted tonight that little to none of the JEDZ money will be used for this purpose.  They admitted that it will be strictly used for operational funding.  Even if they did use it for roads, that goes against what the JEDZ law was intended for, economic development…  But they said they were going to use it for roads and tonight they admitted they will not use it for that purpose.
  2. They pushed the JEDZ as a way to avoid increasing property tax.  Well, tonight, less than 6 months after the JEDZ passage, they decided to explore just that, a 4.5 mil property tax for roads.  This will cost homeowners of the second highest taxed area in Hamilton County almost $500/yr on a $100k home.
  3. If they can’t pass a property tax, or if they decide they are not going to levy an additional tax, they are looking at doing assessments on homeowners when they fix their streets…  Classy.  If they can’t get the voters to pay more tax voluntarily, they’ll just take it from us.

This is EXACTLY what we said would happen.  No one believed us.  Now the proof is in the pudding.  This whole board needs to be replaced and we need some new leadership.  Our current trustees have proven over and over again that they cannot be trusted.  It’s time for them ALL to go.  Gwen McFarlin will have a liberty minded, fiscally conservative challenger next year, we can only hope that Mark Berning and Joe Honerlaw will have someone to run against them in 2017 as well.

The bottom line is, they lied to us, they told us if the JEDZ didn’t pass, police and fire (funded by their own levies) would have to be cut.  That was a lie and we managed to take that argument away from them.  They threatened the seniors that the senior center would have to be closed (even though it is self-sustaining and was projected to turn a profit this year).  They told us if it passed they wouldn’t have to increase property tax and that they would use the money to fix our roads.  It is now clear that none of this was true.  What is it going to take to get rid of these people and elect some new leaders?

Here is the link to the first part of the meeting, before they went into executive session, and here is the link to the second part after the executive session that confirms all of our suspicions…  It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable.  Please show up to the trustee meetings (regular meeting second Tuesday of the month at 5:30pm and work session the fourth Wednesday of the month at 4:30pm).  Let them know that we aren’t going to take this anymore.  Let them know that if they keep lying to us and continue with their tax and spend agenda that we are going to replace ALL of them.  Enough is enough!

Trustee Meeting – September 9, 2014

Here is the video for last night’s trustee meeting.  The township officials announced that they will be allowing another high ranking official double dip, and then they said that it saves the taxpayer money because in his new position his salary will be paid for with grant money.  Not sure where they think the grant money comes from.  Pretty sure that comes from taxes.  The officer in question will be allowed to retire with full pension and then be re-hired by the township as a contractor.  They also passed an emergency measure creating regulations for “teen clubs.”  I didn’t even know we had any teen clubs in the township.  But it’s an emergency…  And apparently you’re not allowed to bring political signs for candidates to the meetings, but it is OK for someone to give a presentation on a ballot issue this fall, and it’s also OK for the township to tell people where they can get signs if it’s for an issue they want to see pass.

Yesterday’s Trustee Work Session Meeting – Technical Difficulties…

We’re having some technical difficulties with the video from yesterday’s meeting.  The video got corrupted and would not export from our camera properly.  There is a section of about 5 seconds where the corrupted data took place and we are having difficulty getting it encoded so that the video player will not die…  Still working on it, and if we can salvage the video we will certainly post it online as soon as it is available.  The meeting itself was pretty non-eventful, so you didn’t really miss anything…

Two trustee meetings rescheduled…

Just received a sunshine notice from the township administration.  The work session meeting scheduled for this Wednesday, August 27, has been rescheduled from 4:30pm to 8:00am.  We will be there with our video camera.  In addition to that, the regular trustee meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 11, at 5:30pm has been rescheduled for Wednesday, November 12, at 5:30pm because November 11 is Veteran’s Day.

Third time’s the charm – Citizens for the Future of Springfield Township

We received the second amended return for the pro-JEDZ PAC, Citizens for the Future of Springfield Township yesterday.  It’s a joke.  It’s become obvious to us that the board of elections isn’t going to do anything about their amateur reporting skills, and the Ohio Election Commission has bigger fish to fry, so we are just going to use the court of public opinion on this one.  Here is a copy of the report.

If you compare this report to the original filing and the first amended report they filed, you will notice that they changed what they needed to change in order to be in compliance. This does not change the fact that it was originally reported wrong and it seems to us that they are still in violation, and all this new amended report does is try to cover their violations up.

First, you will notice that they actually got the date of the election correct, I guess I have to give them kudos for that one.  Second, the original report and the first amended report both showed an illegal cash donation of $200 (donations more than $100 have to be in the form of a check).  So the treasurer, John Allen, now makes it look as if his wife contributed half of that.  Third, on the first amended report there was a check from the township seniors that was dated before the pre-primary filing deadline which would have put them over the $1000 threshold, requiring them to file a pre-primary campaign finance report.  In this new report, they simply changed the date.

It’s all a bunch of BS, but there’s nothing we can really do about it except shine a spotlight on all the shady stuff that is going on, for instance…  A simple search on the Clerk of Court website turns up that at least one of the poll workers they hired is a criminal.  Gojuan Spurling has an enormous rap sheet including theft, drugs, possession of a firearm under disability, felonious assault, you name it.  Over 40 municipal and common pleas cases.

Makes you wonder where they found these people, and what lengths they will go to in order to win an election.  It’s pretty sad…

Potential bad news – City of Mt. Healthy considering tax increase…

The JEDZ tax that passed in May is based on Mt. Healthy’s tax rate.  The contract states that the rate of the JEDZ tax (currently 1.5%, which is Mt. Healthy’s current tax rate) cannot exceed the rate that Mt. Healthy has.  Well, Mt. Healthy is most likely putting an issue on the ballot in November that raises that tax rate to 2%.  If that happens, the JEDZ board, without any voter approval in Springfield Township, can increase the JEDZ tax to 2% as well.

We’ve been ringing this bell for a long time, this is one of the many reasons we said the JEDZ tax was a bad idea.  Didn’t think our predictions would come true this quickly.  It’s a shame…

Here’s a link to an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer about the tax increase…

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