The sales tax brings in about $12.5 million a year.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners will put a 0.5 percent sales tax renewal on the ballot in May, rather than wait until November.
They want the tax in place as soon as possible so they can better make long-range financial plans, said Commissioner Ed Reese.
"It comes down to the ability to plan, as much as anything else," Reese said.
The county has two 0.5 percent sales taxes on the books. One expires at the end of this year and the other expires in December 2004. Both bring in about $12.5 million a year. Their combined total makes up about 52 percent of the county's overall general fund revenue, said county Administrator Gary Kubic.
Reese said commissioners could have waited until the November general election to seek renewal, but opted to move now in light of comments made Wednesday by Ohio Auditor Jim Petro.
What auditor said: Petro noted in a performance audit of county government that the county's tax base has been unstable because the sales taxes have been voted on and off the books several times since 1996.
"No major operating body can take a financial hit like that," Petro said while discussing the audit Wednesday. He said commissioners have handled their money well and stumped for continuation of the taxes.
Petro's comments give credence to commissioners' stance that the tax revenue is crucial to efficient operation, said Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock.
"This tax is so important to sustaining county government and the level of service we are able to provide," she said.
Sherlock said commissioners have made good on their pledge to set aside 25 percent of revenue from the other half of the sales tax, which is distributed to townships and subdivisions for community development projects.
"People are seeing their sales tax dollars reinvested in their own communities," she said.
Reese said the decision to put the tax on early is not out of concern over opposition.
"No matter if it's in May or November, there is going to be opposition. There always has been," he said.
Public hearings: Kubic said commissioners must hold two public hearings before voting to place the measure on the May ballot, which must be done by Feb. 23.
Reese said commissioners would like to have the tax in place permanently, but said voters have said they want it in five-year increments to ensure accountability.
"We understand that and we are ready to campaign for it," he said.