2007-12-01 / News

Council still split on income tax administrator post

By Charles Prince

Council still split on income tax administrator post

BALTIMORE - It's not over until it's over, Yogi Berra reportedly said. Council member Robert Hankison demonstrated that Monday night.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Robert Kalish voted to break a 3-3 tie, approving an amendment to an ordinance that would authorize a three-year contract with Winfree, Ruff & Associates to serve as the village's income tax administrator. The third and final reading of the amended ordinance was Monday night. But what appeared settled November 12 when three council members - Hankison, Judy Landis and Chuck Keller - favored retaining long-time administrator Armand L. Houze and three council members - Jim Hochradel, Tony House and Dwayen Mohler - plus Kalish wanted to award the contract to Winifree Ruff, suddenly wasn't when Hankison decided to abstain on the vote to adopt the ordinance.

That made the vote 3-2 with the rest of council members voting as they did Nov. 12. Hankison didn't give a reason for his change of heart and rules adopted years ago by council allow him to keep his reasons to himself. Council rules state, "No member shall be questioned concerning the necessity of an abstaining vote. A decision to abstain is a matter personal to each member and under no condition may this action be challenged."

In some cases, abstentions are considered to go along with the majority, but that isn't the case in Baltimore. Council rules state, "Each vote (abstention) shall be treated as neither a positive nor negative vote and a member who casts an abstaining vote shall not be recorded as voting on either side of the question." Hankison's abstention means Kalish couldn't vote; there was no tie to break. It also means the motion failed for failure to achieve the two-thirds majority required to approve legislation.

Village Solicitor Jeff Feyko said the village is a non-charter statutory village which means it must follow the procedures outlined in the Ohio Revised Code. The ORC allows statutory villages to set council rules. As long as those rules don't conflictwith the ORC, they set the procedures. Since the ORC doesn't specificallyaddress the details for an abstention, "Council rules control," Feyko said.

Hankison's abstention upset Kalish. "It is a sad day when we can't support local business," he told The Beacon after the meeting. "That abstention was nothing but to block my 'yes' vote."

Houze has served as the village's independent income tax administrator for 18 years. Last year he formed a "strategic alliance" last with The Fentress Group LLC of Columbus. In June, Winfree, Ruff & Associates, with an officein Baltimore, asked to submit a proposal to serve as income tax administrator for a three-year period beginning January 1, 2008. Both Winfree Ruff and The Fentress Group submitted proposals. The Winfree Ruff proposal, as of the Nov. 12 council meeting, represented a $1,260 savings over the three year period.

The Fentress Group submitted a revised proposal, dated Nov. 20, after the Nov. 12 council meeting. The revised proposal addresses several issues raised during previous council and committee meetings. One of them concerned the phone line for residents to call the income tax administrator. Kalish had recorded a call to the line that was answered in the name of "The Fentress Group." The "Village of Baltimore" wasn't mentioned until second on a phone menu. Kalish also left a message and said at the Nov. 12 meeting that he had been waiting about two weeks for a return call.

The Nov. 20 letter said a phone line would be designated for Baltimore calls and that every effort will be made to return calls within 24 hours except over weekends.

Fentress had originally proposed increasing its charges annually during the new contract. Now Houze is pledging to subsidize the new agreement $350 per month for the threeyear term. That cuts the contract cost by $12,600 which now represents an approximately $10,000 savings over Winfree Ruff.

A special council meeting has been set for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 5 to discuss the issue. Kalish asked Hankison in the meeting notice to ask all his questions of both parties so he can make an "informed vote" the next time the issue comes up for a vote. Kalish added that any more abstentions could only be viewed as obstructionist.

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