By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's three down, one to go for Mahoning County commissioners in their quest to hear what residents think about having a sales tax imposed on them.
The third of four scheduled public hearings was Monday at the county courthouse. The last one will be at 7 p.m. today at the municipal building in Sebring.
Few of the people among the 50 or so who attended the hearing said they favor commissioners' imposing the tax. Most said they're in favor of the tax but would rather vote on it. A handful were against the tax, no matter what.
About half of those in attendance were either county employees or officials.
Richard Billak, chief executive officer of Community Corrections Agency, urged commissioners to impose a permanent tax and end the cycle of having to stump for passage of a tax every two years.
The county has two separate 0.5 percent sales taxes on the books. One expires at the end of this year, and the other expires in December 2004.
Commissioners have already voted to place the expiring tax on the ballot for renewal in November. They are holding this series of public hearings in response to a request from local labor and business leaders to impose a permanent tax.
Billak acknowledged that imposing the tax would likely not be popular among voters but said it's the best thing to do for the community.
Struthers Mayor Dan Mamula also encouraged commissioners to impose the tax. He said losing the tax revenue if voters reject it in November would cause severe damage because commissioners would have to make sweeping cuts of important service programs.
He also chastised tax opponents who've said commissioners should tighten the budgetary belt and learn to operate without the tax revenue.
"I defy the most ardent critics to sit [in a commissioner's seat], take a $13 million hit and then do what you say you're going to do," Mamula said.
Gary Brant of Austintown said if commissioners impose the tax, the Accountability Tax Force will lead a petition drive to have it placed on the ballot for repeal. The ATF is a self-appointed government watchdog group.
Andrew Hamady of Youngstown said he has opposed past sales taxes but now is convinced that the county needs the money and supports the tax. He also thinks it should be voted on, not imposed.
But Tom Anderson of Youngstown, who said he campaigned on behalf of the tax in 1999, said he's against this one because of controversy last year over use of government credit cards and travel costs.
"I don't believe in rewarding poor performance with tax money," Anderson said.