Legal advice will be sought regarding ballot language.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- If a proposed 0.5-percent increase in the Columbiana County sales tax is voted on in the May 7 primary election, commissioner Chairman Jim Hoppel wants voters to see on the ballot precisely how the increase would be spent.
But it's unclear whether state law would allow the ballot to contain such specific language.
Hoppel said Tuesday he intends to check with the county prosecutor's office.
Breakdown: Hoppel wants the ballot to state that 54 percent of the increase would go toward paying for housing prisoners at the county jail, 23 percent toward paying off a loan to build the county jail several years ago and the remaining 23 percent toward the county's share of operating a multicounty juvenile justice system.
Elections Board Director John Payne said he's seen some tax-issue ballot language that states which governmental operations and fiscal obligations would receive the revenue.
But none that he has seen is so specific as to offer percentages, Payne said.
"I've never seen it done. But that doesn't mean it can't be done," he added.
"The more information you can give the voters, the better off you are," Hoppel said.
If election law doesn't allow revenue-distribution percentages on the ballot, or if fellow commissioners Dave Cranmer and Sean Logan don't want to put percentages on the ballot, Hoppel said he will ask the panel to adopt a resolution specifying how the increase would be spent.
Hoppel said he wants the money to be designated to the three areas because they are crucial expenses.
Expenses: The county spends about $2 million annually paying a private company to run the county jail, and the county is often behind on the payment. It owes about $390,000 from 2001.
The county also is behind by about $417,000 on its 2001 payments to the multicounty juvenile justice system, which costs about $930,000 annually.
The county is caught up on the jail construction loan, on which it pays about $734,000 annually.
Commissioners imposed the 0.5-percent sales tax increase in December, saying they needed the nearly $3 million it would produce annually to properly operate county government.
But last week they rescinded the increase in the face of a referendum effort mounted by county residents opposed to having a tax imposed. A successful referendum would have blocked collecting the increase.
Commissioners will hold hearings to discuss putting the increase on the May 7 ballot.