Mahoning commissioners place tax for public safety on ballot

Published: Thu, July 3, 2014 @ 12:10 a.m.

By Peter H. Milliken


The Mahoning County commissioners have placed a three-quarter percent sales tax dedicated to public safety on the Nov. 4 ballot.

On Wednesday, the three commissioners voted unanimously to place on the ballot the version of the tax that restricts use of its revenues to the sheriff’s, prosecutor’s, and coroner’s offices and 911 emergency dispatching center.

The commissioners had presented at the recent sales tax hearings in Youngstown and Canfield both the restricted version and an alternative version that would have allowed unrestricted use of the revenue in the county’s general fund, which is its main operating fund.

The measure would renew for five years an existing half-percent sales tax that generates about $16 million a year and add a quarter-percent tax of the same duration that would generate about $8 million annually, for a combined total of about $24 million.

Of the county’s $53.3 million 2013 general fund budget, $39.1 million, or 73.43 percent, went to public safety and court functions.

“Going with an extra one-quarter percent is not a popular decision, but you show unity and that you’re doing the right thing and you care about the criminal-justice system,” Sheriff Jerry Greene told the commissioners after their vote.

“This will be the first time that the voters in Mahoning County will actually have a chance to vote for a sales tax that they know exactly what the money is going to be spent on,” he added.

“It is certainly going to add stability to the criminal-justice system,” Greene said.

“It says that we are serious about the safety of this community,” Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said of the commissioners’ selection of the public safety option. Traficanti said the tax will allow the county jail to remain fully open.

“When that jail is fully open, the homicide rates in the Valley are down, and I think it’s important to our families and our children that that remains that way,” Traficanti said.

The only way to maintain economic development, create jobs, and increase the local population “is to maintain a safe community,” said David Ditzler, chairman of the county commissioners.

The county has another half-percent sales tax the voters made continuous in May 2007.

Each of the current half-percent sales taxes generate about $16 million a year, for a total of about $32 million.

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

Audrey Tillis, county budget director, said the county needs the $8 million a year from the extra quarter percent to compensate for recent losses averaging $8 million annually in income from state funding, investments and the housing of federal prisoners in the county jail.

The county’s general fund budget this year totals $54.1 million, including nearly $2.6 million carried over from 2013 into 2014.

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