Officials present case for sales-tax increase

A sales tax reduction four years ago saved consumers $20 million, officials say. By STEPHEN SIFF VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF WARREN -- Trumbull County is lean, fiscally responsible, and more careful with cash than neighboring counties. And taxes here are low, too. That's the message Trumbull County commissioners plan to deliver as they seek public support for a sales tax increase. The second public hearing for a tax increase was to take place this morning. Commissioners have not yet announced how much they would like to increase the 0.5 percent county sales tax, or whether they will first ask for voter approval. Argument for increase But at a meeting with Vindicator editors and reporters Wednesday, commissioner Michael O'Brien outlined an argument for why a tax increase is the best way to bridge the county's $8.5 million 2003 budget shortfall. "Trumbull County taxes are the lowest around," O'Brien said. He said he favored a 0.5 percent tax increase, to 1 percent. Trumbull County's sales tax was 0.75 percent from 1993 to 1998, when it was reduced to 0.5 percent. The reduction gave Trumbull a lower sales tax rate than 82 of Ohio's 88 counties, and has saved consumers about $20 million at the cash register, officials said. The reduction has also resulted in the gradual expenditure of about $13.5 million from the county's savings, largely from the Hillside Hospital sale, over the past four years. For at least a year, the commissioners knew that they were approaching a point when they could no longer make ends meet, O'Brien said. But the commissioners thought it wouldn't make sense to talk about a tax increase until all the Hillside money is gone, he said. More expenses Trumbull County has been providing more services, and encountered new expenses, even as it has made do with less money, O'Brien said. Over the last decade, the county has poured $3.5 million into the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, added a fourth common pleas court judge, expanded the jail and put $2.2 million into a no-longer-existent public transportation system. It also created and supported a 911 system, at a cost of $13.8 million. The county has also been forced to pick up the slack as Ohio has cut back support for the county child support enforcement agency and public defender's office, he said. Commissioners will also argue to voters that they run the county on a lean budget, and have already made cuts. The county will save $500,000 this year by making employees pay a monthly fee for their health-care insurance, and 12 employees were laid off at the Child Support Enforcement Agency earlier this year. Trumbull County's general fund budget of $39 million is significantly smaller than budgets for Mahoning, Lorain and Lake counties, O'Brien said.

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