Two years ago, in the midst of major political bloodletting, the voters of Mahoning County took an objective view of government and decided to approve a 0.5 percent sales tax. That action prevented the financial collapse of the county.
It is our opinion that a major selling point was the pledge by commissioners Vicki Allen Sherlock, Edward Reese and David Ludt to set aside 25 percent of the revenue generated by both the 0.5 percent sales taxes that would be on the books for use by political subdivisions to pay for capital projects or attract federal and state grants.
Critics of the commissioners and other naysayers of government belittled the pledge, saying the amount of money would be inconsequential. They have been proved wrong.
Don't take our word for it -- just ask officials in Youngstown, Campbell, Struthers, Boardman, Poland, Canfield, New Middletown, Washingtonville, Beloit, Ellsworth, Milton, Green, Smith, Berlin, and on and on.
Ask the folks in Springfield Township, where commissioners kicked in a $50,000 grant to help fund a $300,000 renovation of the fire station. The station had fallen into disrepair and township residents wanted trustees to do something. They did: The first floor of the station was converted into a shelter for the community during storms and other emergencies, while the second floor houses the township's volunteer fire department.
Performance audit: We point this out because the recent performance audit by Ohio Auditor Jim Petro has given voice to detractors of all things county government. While we have urged the commissioners and other officeholders to begin implementing the recommendations contained in the audit, we do not agree with residents who say that the only way change will occur is by punishing the individuals in charge of the public treasury. And the punishment they advocate? A repeal of the sales tax.
We strongly disagree with them -- and we're confident that a majority of the voters share our view. The distinction must be made between the revenue generated by the two half-percent sales taxes and the individuals who spend that money to provide the myriad services residents have come to expect.
We say that because in May, commissioners will be asking county residents to vote "yes" for the renewal of one of the sales taxes. The other was approved three years ago and will expire in December 2004.
The decision to place the issue on the primary election ballot, rather than on the November general election ballot, has been publicly criticized. However, we would simply point out that Auditor Petro, a Republican who enjoys strong support in the predominantly Democratic Mahoning County, has discussed the need for long-range financial planning and for stabilizing the tax base. Since 1996, the sales tax has been voted on and off the books several times, leading to financial instability.
Endorsement: More significantly, Petro endorsed the renewal of the sales tax and said the commissioners had been good stewards of the public treasury.
The arguments we put forth in 1999 for the passage of the 0.5 percent sales tax still apply today. The money is used to pay for vital county services, especially the sheriff's department, the jail, 911, the prosecutor's office and the courts.
From a broader perspective, the money generated by the two taxes are strengthening our communities and are improving our quality of life.
The need for renewal of the 0.5 percent sales tax in May is self-evident.