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Life After Death Tax?

The state’s repeal of estate taxes could strike a lethal blow to local communities



Good luck finding a parking space in the Cleveland Heights Community Center's vast parking lot on some evenings. When armies of young hockey players from around the region schlep their gear through the center's big glass doors, ready to go to war on the center's two well-maintained ice rinks, cars are parked up Monticello Boulevard almost to the intersection with Lee Road. They join the regular contingent of after-work basketball players, Pilates class participants, workout buffs, and others attending community meetings.

Now imagine those big glass doors locked. That's how the city's finance director sees it.

"Last year it cost us $780,000 to run our community center," says Tom Malone. In 2010, Cleveland Heights received $977,335 from the Ohio estate tax, which is paid to the city when a wealthy resident dies. It's an unpredictable tariff that brings in an average of $1.2 million annually for the inner-ring suburb, whose budget — like that of most cities — is stretched thin in a time of unemployment, declining wages, sinking property value, and foreclosures.

But that revenue stream appears bound to dry up soon thanks to a push in Columbus, where efforts to balance the state books have left cities, townships, and counties across the state facing what seems to be a new budget crisis every day. Back here in Northeast Ohio, the threat of losing the estate tax has some communities in a panic.

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