TRUMBULL COUNTY Officials set hearings on sales tax

The townships' lawyer and the deputies union support increasing the sales tax.
WARREN -- Public hearings on an additional Trumbull County sales tax will be held at 10 a.m. March 18 and 6 p.m. March 22.
Both will be at the county administration building, 160 High St. N.W.
County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to set the hearings, putting in motion a strict timetable that could lead to their imposing an additional half-percent sales tax.
Proceeds from the tax, if enacted, would be used to maintain functions of county government, where layoffs and reduced hours are affecting the sheriff, 911 Center, treasurer, auditor, recorder and other offices.
Commissioners approved a resolution to advertise the two public hearings "to be held in regards to the consideration and adoption of a county sales tax and a county use tax."
'The right thing'
Applauding the idea was Pete Pizzulo, director of the Ohio Police Benevolent Association and president of the Fraternal Order of Police 137, unions that represent either county deputies and corrections officers or police officers.
He said a tax is "the right thing, not maybe the popular thing."
He also urged the county prosecutor's office to comment on the status of an ongoing probe of purchasing, saying its conclusion is needed "to regain the trust of those paying taxes."
The probe started in August 2002 after it was discovered the county paid millions of dollars for overpriced janitorial supplies. So far, seven people have been indicted and two -- a vendor and the county's former maintenance director -- have entered guilty pleas.
A special prosecutor has declined to comment on the matter.
Are 911 layoffs legal?
Atty. Mark Finamore, vice president of the Trumbull County Township Association and legal counsel for most of the county's townships, thanked county employees for their quality of services and said people should realize the importance of a financially stable government.
But he objected to the 17 layoffs at the 911 Center, effective March 14, that commissioners approved Thursday. Finamore maintained that the layoffs constitute a substantial staffing change to the 911 plan approved by 27 member communities in the early 1990s, and such an change requires their formal approval.
Commissioner Paul Heltzel said Finamore is likely correct and that commissioners are potentially breaking several contracts. "The only defense is a fiscal impossibility defense, which is a certainty in many of the cases," Heltzel said.
Additional tax urged
The county already has a half-percent sales tax in effect. In 2003, voters soundly rejected another half-percent sales tax the county had been collecting, which created the present budget crunch. As a result, the $32 million certified for the county's general fund this year is $6 million short of what's needed, officials said.
The county's budget commission urged county commissioners this month to impose a second half-percent sales tax as county auditor's officials have said a quarter-percent tax won't generate enough money. The budget commission includes the county auditor, treasurer and prosecutor.
Commissioners James Tsagaris and Heltzel have indicated their support to maintain county offices that have started cutting back on hours and laying off staffers. Board Chairman Daniel Polivka has said an additional tax should be an option of last resort.
If approved, the commissioners' tax resolution must be at the state Tax Commissioner's Office by April 26.
July 1 is the first day the tax could be collected, proceeds of which would be available in October. It could mean an additional $2 million to $2.5 million for county government in the last quarter of the year, and $8 million over a full year.

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