Commissioner Sherlock said the tax campaign should mirror past successful ones.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners are banking on a history lesson to help them get a county sales tax renewed in November.
The panel voted unanimously Thursday to seek voter approval of a five-year extension of the tax, which will expire at the end of this year.
In doing so, commissioners went against the wishes of many business and labor leaders who'd implored them to impose the tax.
They said revenue from the 0.5 percent tax is too vital to the county's economic future to leave it subject to a vote where it could be defeated, as it was in May.
But Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock said she's confident that county officials can persuade voters to approve the tax by mounting an aggressive, informative campaign.
She pointed to past campaigns that led to successful sales-tax votes, and said commissioners must look back at how they were run, then emulate them.
"Let's take a little history lesson," Sherlock said. "We did it before; we will do it again."
She said commissioners will mount a grass-roots campaign and will not employ a paid consultant.
Commissioner David Ludt was vacationing in Florida earlier this week but said he returned to Youngstown for Thursday's meeting so he could be heard on the matter.
He agreed with Sherlock that the tax can be passed, but said it will take more than commissioners' and county employees' efforts to be successful.
"If everyone in this room steps up to the plate and explains to the public how important this is, we will pass the tax," Ludt said.
Commissioners also voted 2-1, with Ludt dissenting, to advertise public hearings for a possible, eventual imposition of the tax. Sherlock said that doesn't mean imposition will happen, or that she's in favor of it.
"I just think that the discussion those meetings would generate is a good idea," she said. "We need to be able to hear from people about what's going to happen if the tax doesn't pass."
Specifically, she said, county Auditor George Tablack will be asked to weigh in on the prospects of the county's facing a fiscal emergency if the tax is rejected, taking some $12 million a year with it.
Ludt said if commissioners successfully campaign for this tax, there's a chance they could also persuade voters to make the county's other 0.5 percent sales tax permanent when it comes up for renewal in 2004.
Business and labor leaders had urged commissioners to impose the tax permanently instead of for five years. Commissioner Ed Reese said they could not do that because they hadn't had public hearings, as required by Ohio law.
Likewise, they could not seek to make the tax that expires this year permanent because previous public hearings were based on its being a five-year renewal.