MAHONING COUNTY Officials weigh taxing options

Today is the deadline for placing issues on the November election ballot.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners will decide today whether to impose a 0.5 percent sales tax or let voters decide its fate -- or both.
"We have some options available to us," said Commissioner Ed Reese. "It's going to be interesting. I don't know what will happen."
One of the county's two half-penny taxes expires at the end of this year; the other expires in 2004. A five-year renewal was defeated at the polls in May.
Commissioners announced immediately afterward that they'd try again in the Nov. 5 general election, and they had the required public hearings to put the measure back on the ballot.
Want tax imposed
But at a commission meeting last week, several business and labor leaders implored commissioners to bypass the election and impose the tax permanently. Commissioners took no action, saying they'd make a decision today.
Today also is the deadline for submitting resolutions to the county elections board for placement on the ballot.
The agenda for the commissioners' meeting has both options on it. There's a resolution to advertise public hearings for an imposition, and a resolution to place the renewal on the ballot.
"I don't know which way it's going to go," Reese said.
Commissioners David Ludt and Vicki Allen Sherlock could not be reached to comment late Wednesday afternoon.
Opposition movement
A movement is already under way to push for a repeal if the tax is imposed.
"The petitions are ready to go," said Debbie Taylor, president of the Accountability Tax Force. "All I need is the text of their resolution."
Under Ohio law, such an initiative must be on the ballot in a general election. Because there is no way the group could collect the required 8,200 signatures by the end of today, it could not be voted on until November 2003.
Taylor pledged that she would see that the signatures are collected and the matter presented to voters.
"I pray they don't impose that tax," she said. "The last thing I want to do is to be out there collecting signatures, but I'll do it."
Taylor said she's opposed to the tax because she doesn't believe the county needs all of its revenue. If commissioners would seek only a .25 percent tax, she would support it, she said.
Another opponent
The Democrats of the 17th District, a local political club, sent a letter to commissioners, also opposing imposition.
"The defeat of the sales tax in the primary with no organized opposition was a clear indication that the voters of the county still harbor a certain amount of mistrust of government and of some public officials," president Mark Belinky said in the letter.
Reese said he's concerned about the potential loss of tax revenue, which brings in about $12 million a year for operation of county government and discretionary projects such as economic development.
Trumbull waterline
He said Trumbull County commissioners have contacted him, asking if Mahoning County will help provide financial assistance for a waterline improvement project at the General Motors plant in nearby Lordstown.
Last year, Mahoning County commissioners pledged to do what they could to help keep GM in the area. The move came at a time when officials were concerned that the GM plant might be shut down. Company officials have since said they'll expand the plant and build a new small car there.
"Now they're calling us on our offer," Reese said. "But without that tax, I don't know whether we'll have the money to respond."
He said Mahoning County has an obligation to help GM, even though the plant is in Trumbull County, because a large number of Mahoning County residents work there.
But Taylor said the GM waterline project is a Trumbull County problem.
"Let Trumbull County bring their sales tax up to what ours is," she said. "Let their commissioners go out and sell another half-percent tax."
Trumbull County also has a 0.5 percent sales tax.

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