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Sales tax renewal is critical, county officials say



Published: Sun, April 13, 2014 @ 12:10 a.m.

RELATED: • de SOUZA | To repeat: It's all about the pension

• FRANKO | Cheryy-picking and misleading

By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Renewal of a half-percent sales tax on the May 6 ballot is critical to the future of Mahoning County government, county officials say.

“That is desperately needed to keep county government running,” said David Ditzler, chairman of the county commissioners.

“Without that, you’d turn into a sequester situation with the county government,” Ditzler said, referring to federal budget cuts, known as the sequester.

“We might as well shut it down because we won’t be able to operate,” Ditzler said during a recent county commissioners’ meeting.

The commissioners are seeking continuous renewal of the tax.

Another county sales tax already is continuous.

“Mahoning County cannot exist on less than this percentage,” Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti told The Vindicator’s editorial board.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber has endorsed the sales-tax renewal.

Each of these two taxes brings $15.5 million in annual revenue to the county, which has a $50.2 million annual general-fund budget for 2014.

Except for $1,050,000 going into the county’s debt- service fund this year, the sales-tax revenue goes to the general fund, the county’s main operating fund.

It pays for the county’s justice system, including the courts, jail, prosecutor’s and coroner’s offices and 911 dispatching center, board of elections and central administration of county government.

“Justice and public safety, by itself, is $39 million a year,” said Audrey Tillis, county budget director.

“Basically, our whole general fund is about justice; and our 1 percent does not even cover that,” Tillis said.

Other sources of county general-fund revenue include state monies, investment income and real- estate taxes.

The half-percent “is part of the lifeblood of this county, and it’s not something that we can keep going on and off on,” Tillis said, alluding to the county’s financial woes a decade ago when sales taxes were being voted on and off.

Twenty-two of Ohio’s 88 counties have a 1 percent total sales tax for county coffers, but 61 Ohio counties have a higher percentage going to the county’s budget, Righetti said.

Eight Ohio counties, including Mahoning, also have sales taxes for mass transit. Mahoning County has a quarter percent five-year sales tax going to the Western Reserve Transit Authority.

The first 5.75 percent of the sales tax in all counties goes to the state. The state raised its portion of the sales tax from 5.5 to 5.75 percent last Sept. 1, while reducing state income-tax withholding.

If it isn’t renewed, the sales tax on Mahoning County’s May 6 ballot will expire Sept. 30, 2015, Tillis said.

If it fails May 6, the county would have additional opportunities to renew it at the ballot box this November and in May 2015 without any revenue loss, Tillis said.

“I don’t even begin to know where you cut $15 million out of the county’s general fund,” if the renewal fails to pass before the tax expires, Tillis said.

“When there’s no cash and we have to cut services, I sure hope that I’m not going to be very busy processing layoff notices,” said Karen U’Halie, county human resources director.

Tillis has said the county also needs a quarter- percent additional sales tax to compensate for declines in state funding and investment income, but the county commissioners decided in January not to place the proposed additional tax on the May 6 ballot.

Fearing voters would reject both the renewal and the new tax, commissioners said they wanted to concentrate on the renewal.

When comparing 2008 with 2013, the county’s general-fund revenue losses have included $3.2 million in lost investment income, $2.9 million in lost state funding and a $4.4 million loss in revenue from housing federal prisoners in the county jail, Tillis said.

To manage this decline, the county has reduced staff, frozen wages, re-structured debt and depleted reserves, she said.

In a public hearing on the sales-tax renewal, county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino cited a warning from Standard & Poors that a loss of sales-tax revenue could jeopardize the stable financial outlook rating S&P has given the county.

Sciortino and Righetti are seeking re-election this year.


Comments

1NoBS(1939 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

If it's this critical, then we should have the option to renew for 5 years, just as it has been. Forcing the voters to choose between approving and creating another permanent tax, or turning the tax down altogether, is a dangerous gamble. Taxpayers are already disenchanted with the county's performance. Adding another negative - removing the voters' ability to have any control over the amount of money taken from us, increases the chances the levy will fail. People who might have given the county "another 5 years" might not agree to "forever."

The county's tax levies were set up to allow the voters the choice to renew or not on a regular basis for a reason. Why take our choice away?

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2Photoman(1004 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Without realizing it cities, counties and states have all become welfare recipients just as the feds had planned. The cuts are here for real and now the whining and begging gets serious. No foresight was given to the hard times we now face. We have exercised poor choices in the officials we elected. We now pay the price for our own ignorance.

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3questionreality(266 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Dear Commissioners: Try working with the County Engineer to ensure that the roads that serve the businesses that bring in the all-important sales tax revenue are well maintained. Take a ride along Southern Blvd. - just North and South of 224 - in Boardman for instance. Pothole purgatory! For the average taxpayer, their most frequent exposure to county services is the roads. They are not always knowledgeable about where the funds come from for their maintenance - but do find the overlooked potholes on a road frequently used to go shopping(and pay the sales tax) tantamount to receiving a daily wedgie from the county. Why would one reward that?

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4redvert(2065 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

You covered it Photoman, Obowser's handler's plan is working as planned but his stupid supporters have no clue and in the end, they will suffer the most.. Right now they do okay on the welfare roll but when their support is no longer needed, their handouts will be diminished.

As comedian Ron White would say, "You can't fix stupid"

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5grazor50(56 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Renewal is not correct, this is to be a continuous tax, which means the taxpayer forfeit another control to hold the officials accountable. Ditzler stated correctly: THIS TAX is desperately needed to keep county government running WITHOUT IT, We might as well shut it down because we won’t be able to operate -

perfect statement and solution!

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6Jerry(498 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

As a believer in little “r” republicanism (not to be mistaken for a Republican), I would be very happy to support local government with local taxes for local control of most issues. However, the Democrats who run the local governments here, are also the same people who have cursed us with big government mindless fools like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Schmucky Schumer, Bob Hagan, Sherrod Brown, and little Timmy Ryan; to pick our pockets and control us from a state a federal level.

Get the federal and state governments under control and out of my life; then talk to me about more local taxes.

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7Knightcap(700 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

With all the thousands and thousands of dollars the democrat politicians took from the valley taxpayers, you would think they would have at least contribute 25% toward their health-care. But no, these feeders at the public trough refuse to mirror the private sector in pay, raises and benefit contributions. There is no end in site when it comes to taxing your money. As long as the politicians have their heads buried in the public trough there is no coming up for air.

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8DontBanThisDrone(466 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

“I don’t even begin to know where you cut $15 million out of the county’s general fund,”...Tillis said.

Generally, I would start with the largest expenditure. The budget item that has the most funds available for adjustment.

--------------------------------------------------------------

"When comparing 2008 with 2013, the county’s general-fund revenue losses have included $3.2 million in lost investment income..."

Whoever is in charge of investing, fire them immediately, and commence a criminal investigation. The DOW has more than doubled - MORE THAN DOUBLED - since 2008 at the end of the Bush administration.

(-:

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9Southside_Res(172 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Big fat pay raises for management, and now you want to tell us taxpayers the tax is critical?! Not buying it this time. I'm voting no!

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10uptowngirl(111 comments)posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago

Please vote against this tax because the Commissioners now want to make it permanent. The taxpayers only oversight in the waste of taxpayer money is the ability to vote for/against this tax when it placed on the ballot. In anticipation of the passing the tax, County government has handed out promotions and raises before the vote. The promotions and raises are the sole reason why we should not allow the tax to become permanent. The county will never be good stewards of the tax money when the renewal is guaranteed.

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