Commissioners plan to fight hard for passage of the tax in the November election.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ed Reese is tired of being laughed at, going backward, and putting up with personal attacks from political foes.
"That's why I'm going to fight like hell to make sure this sales tax passes in November," said Reese, a Mahoning County commissioner.
County voters narrowly rejected renewal of a 0.5 percent sales tax in Tuesday's election. The tax, which brings in some $12 million a year for general operating expenses, expires at the end of this year.
"The campaign starts now for November," Reese said Thursday at the commissioners' regular meeting. The panel has already said it will take the measure back to the polls in the general election.
Reese said commissioners were criticized after the election for not mounting an aggressive campaign beforehand.
"But when you have five elections in six years for a sales tax, it's hard to keep momentum, and it's hard to raise money to promote a campaign," he said.
In addition to the tax that expires this year, the county has another 0.5 percent sales tax that expires in December 2004. Both taxes have been voted down at one point and have had to be brought forth again.
"In progressive counties, the sales tax is permanent. Once it's on, it's not voted on," Reese said. "It's time for people to decide what kind of county we want to be. Do we want to be progressive, or do we want to be regressive?"
Reese promised a more aggressive campaign to promote the tax next time around.
Leaders in other counties across the state see Mahoning County as a laughingstock because of its frequent financial problems brought on by the on-again, off-again status of the sales taxes, Reese said.
"It's getting old," he said.
Although the tax is still on the books until the end of the year, commissioners are already bracing for a future without it, just in case it fails again in November.
County Administrator Gary Kubic said commissioners could lay off hundreds of employees, some before November. He noted that the county has about 700 employees, including 250 in the sheriff's department and 110 in the juvenile justice center.
Kubic also said commissioners will curb all travel except for trips required by state law or for employees who require specialized training.
"If it doesn't fall into those parameters, don't even bother sending it forward for approval," he said.
Commissioners also asked that officials whose departments are outside the general fund not fill any personnel vacancies yet. Instead, they asked that those departments prepare to absorb employees who might be laid off from general fund departments in the wake of looming budget cuts.
Reese said commissioners can't wait until after the November election to make financial plans for next year.
"We have to start looking ahead now. And with this tax off the books, we have to consider the worst-case scenario," he said.