CRAIG BEACH INCOME TAX Citizens group heads petition drive

The 1 percent tax would cost $250 a year for a resident earning $25,000.
CRAIG BEACH -- Although Mayor Camillo Gaia says the passage of a 1 percent income tax measure is crucial to the success of the village, the head of a citizens group calls the proposed tax an unnecessary burden to residents.
Gaia said such a tax would generate about $70,000 to $75,000 annually and is vital to provide community services that are lacking, including the police road services. Without it, he said, the village will end the year in debt.
But Lawrence Christopher, who spearheaded a petition drive to require the village council to place the measure on the ballot, said the village needs to tighten its purse strings.
"We're a low-income area in the village," said Christopher, chairman of the grass-roots Citizens for Good Government. "I believe we have to learn to live within our means."
Voters will decide if they will pay the tax, which would cost, for example, $250 annually for a resident earning $25,000.
Opposing arguments: Gaia said the tax is only on earned income, not on government benefits or entitlements. If a resident working in another community pays a local income tax there, that worker's Craig Beach income tax responsibility would be reduced. The tax would be collected from residents 18 and older. Of Craig Beach's 1,354 residents, 965 are 18 and older, according to Census 2000 statistics. Gaia estimated that the average income of village residents is about $24,000.
Christopher would not be required to pay the tax but said he opposes it because he believes the administration is fiscally irresponsible and could operate the village successfully without the tax.
Gaia said that, without the tax, the village will end the year in debt to the tune of roughly $22,000 and some accounts are already dry. The council will meet later this month, he said, to examine the budget and re-appropriate funds if possible.
"How do you run any business in the negative, especially today?" Gaia asked.
The income tax was enacted by the village council earlier this year but its imposition was halted after Christopher's petition drive forced the issue to be placed on the ballot for a referendum vote.
Gaia has said a 1 percent income tax generated about $68,000 a year in 1998, the last time it was collected before being repealed. The village receives most of the money for its operating budget from property taxes.
Christopher said the tax is just a guise to build up a large police force that is unnecessary in what he considers a low crime community with 13 miles of roadway that measures less than one square mile.
But Gaia said the police department consists of only a chief, and the road department is a backlogged one-man crew. He pointed to a rash of recent break-ins, fights and vandalism to support the need for a larger police force. And he said he has plowed roads himself and will help patch potholes next week.
Citizens for Good Government members collected 81 signatures to place the income tax issue on the ballot after council had voted to start the tax by a 3-2 vote at an emergency meeting May 31. Voting in favor of the tax were council members George Meleski, Catherine Finney and Yvonne Andrews. Voting against it were Councilmen Dennis Champion and Larry Ellis. The tax was slated to take effect July 1.
In 1998, a 1-percent village income tax collection was repealed. As a result, council laid off all non-elected employees except for the village solicitor. Let go were about 13 police officers and two road workers, Gaia said. Christopher claims the village has done "quite well" since the repeal, meeting all of its bills.
Other levy issues: Craig Beach voters will also consider two other ballot issues. They will vote on a replacement levy of 1.5 mills for fire protection and emergency medical services. The five-year fire levy would continue to generate about $14,000 a year.
Also on the ballot is a 3-mill, five-year replacement levy for street maintenance, which would continue to generate about $28,000 a year. Gaia said money collected through this levy is earmarked for road projects that are contracted out. The funds cannot be used to support the village street department.
As replacement levies, the street and fire levies have lower millage than the levies they would replace, but they will generate about the same amount of revenue as the existing levies because the valuation of village property has grown over the years, the mayor has said.