Mahoning officials unite for vote in May



YOUNGSTOWN — Two county commissioners and the county treasurer want the county’s half-percent sales tax, defeated by a 57-43 percent vote margin Tuesday, put back before voters in May.

Commissioner John A. McNally IV said Wednesday he agreed with his colleague, Anthony T. Traficanti, chairman of the commissioners, that the voters should see the tax renewal again on the spring ballot.

When he conceded defeat of the tax Tuesday evening, Traficanti had said the voters would see it again in next year’s May primary.

County Treasurer Lisa A. Antonini said that she, too, favors, a new vote in May, which would be the last chance for passage to ensure uninterrupted collection of the tax.

“We need every dime to operate our criminal justice system, the jail, juvenile court, and our administrative agencies,” she added.

McNally said he believes the tax may have failed for a multitude of reasons. He cited voter confusion over ballot language. “The economy might have something to do with it. There might be some people who are just taxed off and don’t want to have anything to do with any taxes,” McNally said.

He noted, however, “Except for a few folks at our second public hearing, we didn’t hear much opposition to the idea of the second half percent being on a continuous basis.” The voters renewed the first half-percent sales tax on a continuous basis in May 2007.

The sales taxes generate about $14 million each in annual revenue for the county’s general fund. The county commissioners put the failed sales tax renewal issue on Tuesday’s ballot as a continuous measure.

Although Traficanti believes the words “additional revenue” in Tuesday’s ballot language hurt the tax, McNally noted that the words “additional revenue” also appeared in the successful 2007 measure.

Antonini said the economic recession is a possible explanation for Tuesday’s failure. “People are suffering and can’t get a job, and maybe they see it as county government wanting more. It wasn’t more. It was just continuing what we already have,” she said.

McNally said he will insist on reviewing the ballot language before the tax returns to the ballot in May and said he thinks the county’s Web site should provide more sales tax and election information. Passage in May will require a concerted effort of all county elected officials in support of it, he said.

As to whether the tax failure should trigger any immediate additional cuts in county government spending, McNally said county officials will soon begin discussions and a series of hearings on next year’s budget.

“I think that’s something we’ll work on in the next couple of months. I’m not going to make any immediate calls for anything to change,” he said.

Without renewal, collection of the second sales tax will stop on Sept. 30.

McNally and County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino said, however, the county would continue to receive money from it through the end of 2010 because of the lag between collections at retailers’ cash registers and the county’s receipt of the money from the state.

When asked about the consequences of a sales-tax failure in May, McNally recalled the commissioners needed to borrow more than $7 million against future sales-tax receipts to fund the county government during the lag between the voters’ May 2005 sales tax reinstatement and the resumption of collections of that tax.

A failure in May would likely bring immediate large cuts in the sheriff’s department and the criminal justice system, with possible closing of parts of the county jail, Antonini said.

Employees of several county departments that get money from the general fund already have taken concessions in the form of unpaid floating holidays, including the sheriff’s department, the clerk of courts, facilities department, commissioners and treasurer’s office.

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