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Village Council —  Expand voting to noncitizens?

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Local 16- and 17-year olds and noncitizen legal residents could vote in local elections as early as next year.

That’s if Council decides to put a Village Charter change on the ballot and if local voters approve the measure.

Council members briefly discussed the proposal at its June 17 regular meeting. No votes were taken.

In previous meetings, Council President Brian Housh aired an idea to lower the local voting age to 16.

Last week, Housh broached the subject of, at the same time, extending the franchise to noncitizens who are legal permanent residents, calling it a “more inclusive look at voting.”

“Permanent residents are active parts of their community,” Housh said. Both moves are gaining steam in communities in Maryland and elsewhere, Housh added.

If approved, both populations could vote for municipal offices such as Council and mayor and on local measures, but not on state or federal races or issues.  

Council members Lisa Kreeger, Marianne MacQueen and Kineta Sanford supported moving ahead with a charter change affecting both groups of residents.  Kevin Stokes was absent. 

Regarding noncitizens, Sanford said the voting change would show “how welcoming our community is.”

“We want to show their voices matter,” Sanford said. “They don’t have to be a citizen in the U.S. to be a resident in our community.”

Lawful permanent residents include immigrants who hold green cards, also known as permanent resident cards. From the floor, incoming Village Manager Josue Salmeron said DACA recipients with deferred legal action would also be among those who would qualify for, and benefit from, the vote.

“This is a way to bring them into greater participation in their community,” Salmeron said.

The Village Council clerk would keep separate voter rolls if the measure passes, as the groups are not eligible to register to vote with the state of Ohio. 

Because no municipality in Ohio has taken either step to expand voting, Housh worried aloud whether addressing both groups at the same time was the right strategy.

“This hasn’t been done in Ohio, so ‘Vote 16’ may pass under the radar, but [voting for] noncitizens may not,” Housh said.

“If we try to do both, one may suffer because of the other,” he added.

There are many reasons to lower the voting age to 16, Housh said. Principal among them is the impact on longterm civic participation.

“Research shows the earlier you start voting, the more likely you are to continue voting,” Housh said. “For every year there’s a delay, the likelihood decreases.”

Housh added that research shows that 16- and 17-year olds are as sophisticated as older young adults when it comes to understanding issues, and are often more engaged.

“The percentage of 16- and 17-year olds voting is vastly higher than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Housh said. “They are excited to participate.”

There were 102 Yellow Springs residents aged 16 and 17 in the U.S. Census’ 2017 American Community Survey estimate.

The number of noncitizen residents here is unknown, but Housh said he could think of “a dozen people right away who live in our community and would qualify.” There were 13.2 million green card holders living in the U.S. in 2014, a report last year from the Department of Homeland Security noted.

In 2016, Tacoma Park, Md., became the first locale in the U.S. to lower the voting age to 16. Similar measures were approved in Berkeley, Calif. (for school board elections), and in two other Maryland cities.

Nationally, the voting age was most recently reduced from 21 to 18 with the ratification of the 26th amendment in 1971. Ohio is currently one of several states that allows those 17 years old who will turn 18 by election day to vote on candidates in primaries. 

In terms of noncitizen suffrage, more than a dozen jurisdictions now allow the practice, including 10 towns in Maryland. Noncitizens can also vote in school elections in San Francisco and Chicago.

A 1996 federal law prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections, but does not appear to preclude state or local governments from extending the franchise.

Housh said he would like the Village solicitor to take a closer look at the measure, but that, by his reading, it is not contra-indicated by state or federal law.

“This is within our Charter rights,” Housh said.

In another possible Charter change, Council discussed lengthening the mayor’s term from two to four years. If voters approve that measure, it would take effect following the 2021 general election.

Council member Lisa Kreeger said that because the “learning curve” is steep and the responsibilities significant, it makes sense that mayors serve longer than two-year terms.

Council plans to make decisions on any ballot measures by mid-July.

In other Council business—

Pool rate hike halted

A proposed increase to local pool rates stalled after Council was split 2–2 on enacting the ordinance. It was the second reading.

Council members Sanford and MacQueen voted to move ahead with the rate hike, the first at Gaunt Park pool since 2009. But Council members Housh and  Kreeger voted against it. 

The proposed rate increase would have largely impacted those purchasing nonresident season passes and daily admission users. Council members had said they wanted to address the revenue shortfall at the pool, while keeping it accessible to village taxpayers and low-income households. 

Later in the meeting, Housh and Kreeger said they wanted more information on those who opt for daily admission rates, as both residents and nonresidents pay the same price at the door.

“I’d like more clarity on the day-rate users,” Housh said.

Village Public Works Director Johnnie Burns told Council that pool staff had recently begun asking users their ZIP code to learn who uses the pool. He also reported that this year season passes were purchased by 105 local households and 10 nonresident households.

Council will revisit the possibility of a rate hike at the end of this swim season.

No room for more solar?

The Village is nearing its cap on residential solar photovoltaic capacity, Burns reported. As of June 17, only 116 kilowatt-hours remained after the Village received nine interconnection applications in May.

“It’s first come, first served,” Burns said.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Burns said that the remaining 116 kilowatts had been accounted for, and there was no longer any room left for new solar installations.

The Village passed a measure several years ago that capped residential solar installations at 1% of its total electricity portfolio due to Village commitments on existing power contracts. The residential solar allotment amounts to about 284 kilowatts, or 1% of current Village use of 373,573 kilowatt-hours, Burns said on Tuesday. 

The local law also limited commercial solar projects to 4% of local electricity use, an amount produced entirely by Antioch College’s 1-megawatt solar array, Burns said.

Some, including local climate change activist group Mothers Out Front, are pushing back on the Village’s limit on local solar generation.

Council plans to address concerns at its next meeting on July 1, when a representative from the Village’s municipal electric provider, AMP, will present on the Village’s electricity portfolio.

Outgoing Village Manager Patti Bates also clarified the Village’s net metering policy in response to question raised by a solar energy producer at a previous Council meeting. The Village does reimburse local solar producers at the same rate they pay for the Village’s electricity, Bates said. In addition, while the Village calculates solar credits on a monthly basis, residents can use credits they receive during summer months to pay for electricity in the winter, she said.

TLT returns funds 

The Tecumseh Land Trust has returned $69,000 to the Village, TLT Executive Director Krista Magaw announced at Council. Council had designated the funds in 2017 from the Village Greenspace Fund after an auction of what was called the Arnovitz Farm, located within the Jacoby Greenbelt, just west of Yellow Springs. Individual donors, the Village and TLT provided a total of $112,000 to help local nonprofit Community Solutions purchase the property. After a grant with the Nature Conservancy came through to pay for the conservation easement, the money was returned,  Magaw explained. 

Magaw also reminded Council about the Jacoby Partnership, a $3.2 million federal/state/local grant, which includes $200,000 of Village Greenspace Funds for conservation easements. Federal and state funds  can additionally pay for the restoration of natural areas and the demonstration of conservation practices in the Jacoby and Yellow Springs Creek watersheds, which encompass the entirety of the village and Miami Township. Magaw called the partnership “the best chance we will ever have” to improve local water quality by improving farming practices.

“Thanks to your help, in the next four years, we have an opportunity to do a great job of conservation, not just preservation,” Magaw said. “Our water will not get better by itself.”

Other items

• The Village is looking to use $500,000 in unused grant funds from the water plant to purchase and install remote-read water meters across the village.

• An economic development revolving loan fund is closer to being reinstated via a nascent partnership with the YS Community Foundation.

• Sanford is leading an effort to interview Justice System Task Force members about their experience on the group ahead of the formation of a new Justice System Commission later this year.

• Village utility workers will be able to provide aid to other communities during natural disasters through a new mutual aid agreement.

• Council agreed to continue to purchase its internet services from local firm MVECA.

• Brown water is expected villagewide starting July 9.

Next meeting

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, July 1, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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