The first of four public hearings on the renewal of a half-percent sales tax that Mahoning County commissioners say is needed to prevent county government's financial collapse was held Monday and attracted about 100 residents. While that isn't a shabby number as far as public participation in government-sponsored events go, it does reflect a troubling level of apathy on the part of the voters.
We happen to think that there are a lot more county residents who are willing to objectively analyze the tax issue than the small, but vocal, group that attracts media attention with its government-waste mantra. It is worth remembering that the 0.5 percent tax issue that will be on the November general election ballot was defeated by just 558 votes in the May primary.
That is why attendance at the public hearings hosted by county commissioners Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt is important. The naysayers in our community need to be drowned out by those who recognize the great strides that have been made in county government to eliminate waste and deliver services more efficiently.
Indeed, Mahoning County needs to pay attention to individuals like Austintown Township Trustee David Ditzler, who praised the commissioners for creating an economic development fund by setting aside 25 percent of the revenue generated by the two half-percent sales taxes now on the books.
"It's given money back to the local communities," Ditzler said during Monday's hearing at the Poland Township Government Building. "In Austintown alone, we built a new 911 dispatch center with the additional community development funds. We've also seen a park educational program being put into Austintown. We've also had numerous roads repaved that we would never have had paved without the half-percent tax."
Make no mistake about it, every community that has benefited or stands to benefit from the tax-sharing plan, and there are many of them, will be hurt if the tax on the November ballot is rejected. That's because the loss of $12 million a year in revenue will necessitate a revamping of the spending priorities. Services mandated by the state and federal governments must be provided first.
A sales tax is the least punishing of all taxes because an individual has a choice in the matter. If you don't make a purchase, you don't pay the tax. In addition, in Mahoning County, about 40 percent of the sales tax revenue is derived from people who do not live in the county, but choose to shop here.
The renewal of the half-percent tax should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately thoughtful residents of Mahoning County have allowed the critics of all things government to call the shots.
That must change. The schedule for the three remaining public hearings is as follows:
Friday at 7 p.m. in the Campbell Municipal Building; Monday at 10 a.m. in the Commissioners' Hearing Room in the Mahoning County Courthouse; and Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Sebring Municipal Office Building.