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Cuyahoga County Levy Campaign's Sprint Becomes A Marathon

Just before St. Patrick’s Day, Issue 33 supporters were in the home stretch of the push to raise property taxes for Cuyahoga County health and human services.

Then state officials closed voting places on Primary Day to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Now, the campaign must stretch its resources another month to reach voters who have not yet cast ballots, as voting by mail continues through April.

“We had budgeted a campaign that was scheduled to end on March 17,” campaign manager Jeff Rusnak said. “And now we have to extend that and try and reach voters that aren’t necessarily used to voting by mail, or may not actually want to participate at this time, because they’re facing a crisis or a challenge in their own lives.”

Issue 33 would increase Cuyahoga County taxes by $41.58 per $100,000 of property value. The county plans to spend the additional $35 million in expected revenue on mental health treatment, kinship care, expanded universal preschool and other programs. The community needs those services even more now than it did a few months ago, according to Rusnak.

Levy supporters raised nearly $931,000 for the campaign, spending almost three quarters of it by the end of February, according to the latest available unaudited financial disclosures. That spending included a radio and TV ad campaign.

The campaign now plans to reach likely voters with mailings and digital ads, but doesn’t have the money to go back on TV, Rusnak said.

Contributors to the levy campaign include hospitals, foundations and corporations, many of which may now be facing new pressures from the coronavirus.

“It certainly is a challenge for us,” Rusnak said of the campaign’s funding. “But the challenges our community is facing are much greater at the moment, and resources need to be going to services and to helping people.”

As of March 15, voters had cast almost 74,000 absentee ballots, according to the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections.

The state legislature extended voting to April 28. Ohioans who haven’t voted yet must turn in an absentee ballot request form to county boards of election by noon on April 15. Then, voters will have until 7:30 p.m. April 28 to return completed ballots. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked April 27 or sooner.

The campaign to get Issue 33 passed now has a difficult task to pull off: persuading voters who typically cast ballots in person to do so by mail, and under unusual circumstances.

“There’s nothing to really compare this to, no precedent for this,” Rusnak said.

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