TRUMBULL COUNTY Likely vote on sales tax could avert layoffs

A residents group hopes to force any sales-tax increase onto the November ballot.
WARREN -- Trumbull County commissioners are expected to approve a sales-tax increase Wednesday, likely to reduce the need for layoffs.
At the Monday meeting where layoffs were announced, commissioners distributed a letter from the county budget commission calling for a 0.5 percent sales-tax increase to be passed as an emergency measure. That way, money from the tax could begin rolling into the county in about three months.
Commissioners have been supportive of this idea in the past and have defended it in public meetings, but they are refusing to say what exactly they will vote for Wednesday.
Budget provisions
The budget passed by commissioners Monday slices $8 million off the $39 million general fund. If put into effect, the cuts could result in more than 100 county workers' losing their jobs.
The sheriff's department got hit the worst, with a projected loss of $2.5 million from its $9 million budget of last year. "This is $500,000 more than I thought I was going to be cut," said Sheriff Thomas Altiere. "I have no idea how many people I will have to lay off."
Salary appropriations for many departments, such as the auditor's and commissioners, were cut 40 percent.
Money for salaries at the maintenance and vehicle maintenance department was cut 70 percent.
Salary funding for the prosecutor's office and courts was cut 12 percent.
The budget is likely temporary and could change within a matter of days if a sales-tax increase is approved.
Impact of tax
A half-percent sales-tax increase would generate an additional $8 million a year, but because it would go into effect midyear, 2003 revenue would still fall about $3.5 million short.
"There will be less, but there will still be cuts," said Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, a member of the county budget commission.
To force a ballot vote on the tax increase, residents would have to collect 7,200 signatures of registered voters. Don Manning, head of the Trumbull County Citizens Action League, has pledged to do just that and get the tax on the November ballot.
"I believe the people have a right to vote on this, and I am going to make sure the residents of Trumbull County get that chance," Manning said.
The budget commission's letter also states that commissioners should appoint a residents panel to review county spending and the need for the additional sales tax. The panel would report to commissioners before the November election.
The county could need an additional quarter-percent sales-tax increase in two years, Watkins said.

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