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TRUMBULL COUNTY Officials impose one tax, seek 2nd



Published: Thu, April 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The state's sales tax increase is scheduled to end when the county taxes begin.

WARREN -- One additional sales tax in Trumbull County is a certainty; a second additional tax is left to the will of the people for the next 30 days.

The money could ease the county's financial problems at year's end; the full benefit will come in 2006 and thereafter, officials said.

County commissioners on Wednesday:

U Unanimously imposed an emergency, additional quarter-percent tax, for a continuing period, for criminal justice services including the sheriff, jail, prosecutor, coroner, clerk of courts and common pleas and county courts.

U Voted 2-1, with board Chairman Daniel Polivka opposed, on a nonemergency resolution for a second, additional, continuing quarter-percent tax for general county functions.

"Basically my focus right now is the safety of the county. A quarter-percent is not a cure-all," Polivka said. For the long term he said the other quarter-percent is needed -- but he would have preferred it having a set time limit, or being placed directly on the ballot.

The taxes are on retail sales. Each quarter-percent tax would generate about $400,000 per month, or about $4.8 million if collections remain steady. Their combined take could be as much as $9.6 million, but Auditor David Hines said the county budget commission likely would certify a more conservative figure.

For this year, collections on both taxes would generate $3 million, commissioners said.

Collections on both taxes would begin in July with the money being received from the state tax commissioner's office in October. That will be too late to negate the layoffs and reduced hours already in place for offices such as the sheriff, recorder and treasurer.

The tax approved 2-1 is subject to voter referendum within 30 days if any organized opposition gathers 10 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's election. That would force the issue to November's ballot.

The county already collects a half-percent sales tax; the two new taxes would make the county's total sales tax rate 1 percent.

State sales tax

By summer, however, the additional taxes and the state income tax could wash out each other.

Ohio's sales tax went from 5 percent to 6 percent July 1, 2003. The state budget bill that upped the sales tax rate also calls for the increase to end on July 1. On that date, the Ohio sales tax rate is scheduled to return to 5 percent.

The county's $32 million general fund budget for 2005 is $6 million short, officials said. Along with the layoffs, court funding has been kept at 2004 levels.

In 2003, voters rejected making permanent another half-percent tax the county had been collecting for a year. This created the current budget crunch.

Also, Commissioner James Tsagaris during his first term in office worked to repeal a previous quarter-percent county sales tax. Wednesday, he voted for both.

"They need the half [percent] very badly," he said of county operations. He said people will support the commissioners' actions if they look at the economic picture for county government as closely as the board did over the past four months.

"We saw a clear need for a quarter [percent] on an emergency basis, and in my view, we have a clear need for another," said Commissioner Paul Heltzel. "It's not the optimum, but at least it keeps us from going the way Mahoning County is going."

Jail

Trumbull County does not want to release violent criminals from its jail but has reduced its bed space there from 286 to 188.

Ernest Cook, sheriff's chief of operations, said the department has 72 open positions including those on layoff.

"For us at our current level of operations, we're running $500,000 short by the end of the year," he said. The department would need that amount to prevent further layoffs or closing additional parts of the jail, he said.

Commissioners' votes will have "very little additional effect this year. Next year, we anticipate having the jail open and having our patrol division back in service," Cook said. He couldn't say whether northern Trumbull County patrols can resume this year.

Also next year, Heltzel said, the county could set aside some of the new money for capital improvements needed at the Wean Building, board of elections, courthouse and county garage.

If one of the taxes is brought to the ballot and defeated, the remaining quarter-percent won't generate enough money and the county's budget commission could recommend a fiscal watch by the state auditor. With just a quarter percent, "there's a problem," said Hines, a member of the commission that also includes the treasurer and prosecutor. The budget commission had recommended a half-percent tax




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