Charter commission repeals basic service fee proposal; chairman criticizes ‘outside political pressure’

The reconvened Columbus Charter Review Commission voted 15-0 today to remove from the November ballot its proposal to empower Columbus Council to impose a $500 basic service fee on local property owners.

Following the vote, commission Chairman John Shinkle criticized “political pressure and outside influences” that swayed the commission to change its collective mind. It had voted 15-5 in December to approve the proposal.

“There were a lot of phone calls made by an influential person who must not think this commission could do its job,” Shinkle said. “It sets a bad precedent for future charter review commissions. It was very inappropriate.”

Asked if he was speaking about Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who had publicly called for the reconvening and reconsideration, Shinkle said, “I would just as soon not discuss who it was.”

Tomlinson asked Shinkle publicly at a recent Council meeting to reconvene the commission and reconsider the proposal. Less than an hour after the meeting adjourned, Tomlinson said she was puzzled by Shinkle’s reaction to the vote.

She said she didn’t know whether Shinkle was talking about her, but said she knew of no one else who had been working to get the proposal removed from the ballot.

Tomlinson said she was pleased the commission removed the proposal, but “disappointed” by Shinkle’s reaction. She said she would characterize her input as “education” rather than pressure.

“I’ve had many conversations with many people on charter review about a lot of issues and certainly this one too. But I consider that to be good governance,” Tomlinson said. “They found out about this information because I drew it to their attention. Obviously it was important to them and it was something they wish they’d known earlier, or it wouldn’t have been 15-0.”

Commission member Alton Russell, who voted against the proposal in December and voted today to remove it from the ballot, also criticized outside political pressure.

“I was against it then and I’m against it now,” Russell said. “But we’re letting outside forces tell us what to.”

The commission’s proposal would have allowed Columbus Council to impose a $500 basic service fee on all city real estate, ostensibly to address property owners who pay little or no property tax of the property tax assessment freeze. The fee would apply only to those properties that pay less than $500 a year, and would only make up the difference between those taxes paid and $500. A property owner who paid $200 would be charged a $300 basic service fee, for example.

Like all commission proposals, it would have been placed on the November ballot for public approval.

Tomlinson objected to the proposal for several reasons, she said.

One, it addresses a problem caused by the tax freeze instead of addressing the freeze itself.

She is also concerned that of the 23,918 properties that pay less that $500 in property taxes, 19,958 have a fair market value of less than $108,000, which is the “tipping point,” at which a home would be taxed at $500 under Columbus’ tax structure.

“So 83 percent of those will be paying more than fair market value tax,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson also said the homeowners who would be unfairly taxed are overwhelmingly minority and lower income citizens