Voters in no mood to spend money

The Salem income tax increase and county sales tax renewal were both rejected.

By D.a. Wilkinson

LISBON — Salem Mayor Jerry Wolford believes the economy “pretty much ruled this election.”

He wasn’t kidding.

Salem voters smashed the plans of his administration and council to seek a half-percent hike in the city’s income tax that would bring in about $2 million a year for four years. The money would have been used on road, water and storm-sewer projects.

A whopping 71 percent of city voters said no to the proposal.

The results were based on returns from 101 of the county’s 103 precincts. Two memory cards were left in voting machines in Salem and Liverpool Townships.

County voters also voted down the five-year renewal of the 1-percent sales tax that brings in $8 million a year for general county operations, or about 44 percent of its general budget.

Commissioners Jim Hoppel and Penny Traina said that when they were campaigning by meeting with groups to promote the renewal,no one made any negative comments about the tax.

But voters turned it down by 62 percent.

While the tax had been approved by voters twice, new ballot language said the issue was an “increase.”

Kim Meek, director of the county board of elections, said the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office sent sample ballot language to the elections board, which forwarded it to the commissioners.

Traina said, “I think the [ballot] wording was confusing.”

The commissioners said that if they put the issue on the May ballot and it passes, the county would not have any break in revenue. If they have to place the renewal on the ballot in November 2010, the county could lose a quarter of its revenue from the 1-percent sales tax.

Hoppel said that the county’s spending has remained about the same in recent years as county officials have found different ways to save money.

The county also collects a half-percent sales tax that was not up for renewal this year.

The commissioners were looking for support for the sales tax, voters indicated they wanted to see it as a five-year renewal instead of a continuous tax.

Hoppel said that meant they wanted to have some control over spending.

Hoppel said he had proposed the idea in 2001 to ask voters to approve the sales tax in return for the county not collecting 2 mills of property taxes. It worked. This was the third effort to renew the sales tax.

In Salem, the city has battled with storm sewer flooding during heavy rains, including in the center of the city.

The city compiled a number of studies of the storm sewers, but little work was done.

In pitching his plan to council, the mayor said, “Someone had to speak up. You can’t finance sewers in different decades.”

Salem City Council approved the proposed increase but some members were concerned that the poor state of the national economy made this the wrong time to ask voters for more money.

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