Commissioners will make their final decision next week.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County commissioners do not plan to impose a sales tax, and will instead let it go to a vote of residents.
"If I'm going to take money out of someone's pocket, I think they have a right to vote on it," said Commissioner David Ludt.
One of the county's two 0.5 percent sales taxes expires at the end of this year; the other expires in December 2004. A renewal effort was defeated at the polls in May and commissioners have placed it back on the ballot for a second try in November.
But in response to pressure from business and labor leaders who pressed them to pull the measure off the ballot and impose a permanent tax, commissioners held four public hearings last week and this to hear from voters on that possibility.
Commissioners have scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the courthouse to decide what to do, but apparently the decision has been made.
"The issue is on the ballot and I'd like to see it stay there," said Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock. "I think the consensus is to have a vote of the people."
Commissioner Ed Reese would not say whether he favors imposing the tax, but said it's a moot point given Ludt's and Sherlock's positions.
"If one has already said she's against imposing it and the other one voted against even holding public hearings to talk about it, I don't think it looks good for a 3-0 vote at this time," Reese said.
Ludt voted "no" when commissioners decided to advertise the meetings.
A unanimous vote would be required to impose the tax as an emergency and begin collecting it immediately, Reese said. If opponents circulated petitions to have it placed on the ballot for repeal, Ohio law would require that the vote wait until the next general election, which would be in November 2003.
If commissioners voted 2-1 to impose the tax, it would be subject to referendum, meaning collection of the tax would be frozen until the November 2003 vote.
"The county would be paralyzed if that happened," Reese said.
He has asked the county prosecutor's office to rule whether the recent public hearings will be sufficient if the tax fails at the polls in November and commissioners decide afterward to impose it.
Law requires hearings
Under Ohio law, commissioners are required to hold hearings before taking such an action. The hearings were open-ended, meaning commissioners did not specify whether they were talking about a permanent tax or a time-limited one, and did not specify an amount.
"I just want to know whether those public hearings will be meaningful," Reese said. "Hopefully we will know by the time we have our meeting Tuesday."
Sherlock agreed that the county would be financially crippled without the tax revenue, but said it's unlikely she'd vote to impose it even if voters reject it. "Right now I'm not inclined to do that," she said.