TRUMBULL COUNTY Officials call for a second sales tax
Treasurer's and auditor's office hours have been trimmed.
WARREN -- Trumbull County's top fiscal officers are urging county commissioners to impose a second half-percent sales tax to generate $6 million to $8 million annually.
That's because the $32 million certified for the county's general fund this year is $6 million short of what's needed, the officials said.
"It's a tough decision to make, and as you go through life you have to make decisions that are unpopular," Auditor David Hines said.
The county budget commission is sending a letter to commissioners making the request.
The county already has one half-percent sales tax in effect. In 2003, voters soundly rejected another half-percent sales tax the county had been collecting, creating the present budget crunch.
The budget commission is Hines, Treasurer Christ Michelakis and Prosecutor Dennis Watkins.
Meeting on Monday, James Misocky, assistant prosecutor, filled in for Watkins.
"I would encourage the commissioners to look seriously at enacting the half-percent sales tax," said Hines, who made a motion that carried unanimously. "Impose it."
The budget commission made the same motion to commissioners last February and it went unheeded.
Commissioners would have to schedule two public hearings 10 days apart before voting on a tax.
Making the tax effective July 1 would not bring new money to the county until October, because it takes three months for the proceeds to be distributed by the state, the officials explained.
"The current $32 million budget leaves very little room. There's no capital budget. At $32 million, you're just basically paying the bills," said Adrian Biviano, chief deputy auditor. Any kind of upgrades, including the courts' computers, are on hold.
Biviano urged commissioners to have the tax hearings "and move forward on making the county whole."
Obstacles and loose ends
Commissioners haven't discussed the sales tax question during this year's budget hearings. One obstacle to imposing it could be Commissioner Daniel Polivka, board chairman, who has stated that a sales tax is an option of last resort.
Biviano had argued the budget certificate should have been a more conservative $31.5 million.
Hines, however, said he "squeezed it up to $32 million, and that was squeezing pretty hard."
There are still some loose ends, however, to the county's budget -- the biggest being what will happen when Gov. Bob Taft presents Ohio's budget. The state budget could reduce the amount of Local Government Funds received by counties. Trumbull County now receives $5.4 million.
Also, seven county funds haven't been finalized, because the commissioners are still working to determine how much general support will be given to Jobs and Family Services, Child Support Enforcement Agency, Emergency Management Agency, 911 emergency service, Office of Elderly Affairs transportation, Soil and Water Conservation and Trumbull County Metro Parks.
These, other than Job and Family Services, are not mandates for the county to provide, Hines noted.
Tim Gladis, Trumbull's 911 center director, has told the commissioners he doesn't have enough money to pay the staff he needs. Already there is talk of meeting with Mahoning County, Youngstown and a handful of Trumbull County cities regarding merging 911 services.
A county unable to provide 911 service for the public, Hines said, "is sad."
Gladis and Sheriff Thomas Altiere also support a sales tax, but earmarked especially for safety services.
In the meantime, Michelakis said the treasurer's office, effective today, will close from noon to 1 p.m. and at 2:30 daily to process checks, paperwork and mail. His 14 employees are taking a week off per month on a rotating basis to help the office save money.
Michelakis urged taxpayers to use the drop box at the front entrance of the county administration building.
Hines' staff of 14 is working four days a week on a rotating basis, and closing at lunch.
The county may lay off more than 150 of the 400 general fund employees this year.