High property taxes burden low income homeowners
by Amy Barnhart

(Plain Press, January 2005) With the failure of Issue 112 in the recent election, the Cleveland Municipal School District approved a five-year budget on November 16th which forecasts less money and more cuts at the expense of our children’s educations.  The Cleveland Municipal School District’s five-year plan projects total funding to be reduced by over $28 million between now and the 2009 fiscal year.  Meanwhile, total expenditures will be likewise reduced by twenty-two percent.  These financial declines accompany the existing $100 million deficit of the Cleveland Municipal School District, as well as the planned elimination of some 1400 employees of the district in the next fiscal year.  These disparate conditions of Cleveland public schools funding undoubtedly hinder our children from reaching their full potential.

The neighborhood of Hough, like many in Cleveland, is feeling the effects first hand.  According to the last United States Census Bureau report in 2002, residents of Ward 7 earned a median household income of $15,727.  Records within the state’s Department of Taxation archives show that roughly $1,000 per household before reductions, or seven percent of the median household income, was collected annually in the form of property taxes from the ward’s residents at this time (see table below).  This phenomenon is not isolated within Ward 7.  Advocates of the existing school funding program insist on attempting to minimize the impact of such taxes, through statements such as, ‘it’s only 55 cents per day.’  But for some members of the community within the nation’s most impoverished city, every cent counts and these taxes may come at the expense of other essential necessities.

On the other side of the coin are the increasing numbers of tax-abated properties in areas such as the Hough neighborhood.  In accordance with local and state laws, construction projects and new homeowners are awarded such abatements as incentives for their role in the city’s ‘revitalization’ efforts.  The abated households pay no property taxes on new construction, contributing nothing to the Cleveland Municipal School District, for a period of ten to fifteen years.  According to the Metropolitan Policy Program of Washington DC, over two thousand tax abated homes have been built within the Cleveland area since the 1990s.  At present, twenty-three abated homes are being constructed in the neighborhood of Hough alone.  Given that many of these homes are priced at ranges exceeding $150,000, this is a largely untapped revenue resource for the Cleveland Municipal School District.  

The city’s schools desperately need additional financial resources. Yet, at the same time, the City of Cleveland, through programs such as tax abatements, is actively nullifying property tax revenues which could be used in our public education system.  The issue is only compounded by the fact that the construction of these new abated homes increases the property values of the surrounding area, thus increasing the property taxes paid by non-abated homeowners.  The Cleveland Municipal School District could greatly benefit from the additional property tax revenues.  However, as no reconsideration of abatement programs in Cleveland have come to the forefront as of yet within the halls of City Council, the school board intends to further cut funds from the already thread bare school funding budget.

Ward 7 
Ward 17
Cuyahoga County
Median Housing Value 
Median Property Tax Rate 
Median Property Tax Paid 
Median Household Income
Median Property Tax Paid as % of Income  

(Figures for 2003)           

Sources: Census statistics from a CSU NODIS database.
The property tax information was retrieved from the Ohio Department of Taxation and the Plain Dealer website.

Amy Barnhart wrote this article special for the Plain Press as part of her coursework in City as a Classroom at Case Western Reserve University. The course, taught by Professor Rhonda Williams, focused on public education this semester.


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