Opponents should promote voter turnout instead of opposing a May election, a county official said.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Criticism of Mahoning County commissioners for seeking renewal of a 0.5 percent sales tax in May is unfair, Auditor George Tablack said.
The tax, which brings in about $12 million a year, expires at the end of the year. Commissioners plan to place it on the ballot in May instead of waiting until November.
The Accountability Tax Force, a self-appointed watchdog group, has said it will try to repeal the tax if it's approved by voters in May. Commissioners should have waited until November because a general election would draw more voters, spokesman Gary Brant said.
He said the group has not taken a position for or against the tax itself, only on the voting date.
County Administrator Gary Kubic said there is nothing in Ohio law that allows referendum of a tax approved by a majority of voters.
Response: Tablack said there is nothing to prevent more people from going to the polls in May and having the tax on the ballot then is legitimate. He said the ATF should encourage people to vote instead of trying to work against the tax.
He also questioned why the group is against the sales tax's presence on the May ballot but hasn't spoken out against any property tax levies that are also on the ballot.
"I don't think the county government should be singled out and put through Chinese water torture," he said.
Commissioners were surprised at the low turnout at Friday's public hearing, the first of two required before the tax can be placed before voters. The next one will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Greenford.
Nearly all the 25 or so people who attended Friday's hearing in the courthouse were county officials or employees. Of the five people who addressed commissioners, all but Brant supported the tax.
Prediction: Commissioners think that's a sign that people are satisfied with county government and opposition will be less extreme than in past elections. Creation of a community development fund has been crucial in building that bridge between voters and commissioners, said Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock.
"I think that has made a world of difference," Sherlock said. "People are seeing that money invested back into their communities."
The county has another 0.5 percent sales tax which expires in December 2004. Ten percent of its proceeds is set aside for distribution among townships and subdivisions for development projects.
Money is also earmarked for roads and funding of discretionary agencies such as the Ohio State University Extension Agency and the soil and water conservation agency, among others.