What’s next for Mahoning sales tax?

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How low did it go?: County boards of elections directors predicted poor turnout for Tuesday’s primary.

But even their low expectations were too high.

Turnout in Mahoning County was 22 percent. The prediction was 28 percent.

It was 20 percent in Trumbull County, where the prediction was 25 percent.

In Columbiana, turnout was 15 percent. The prediction was 20 percent.

Statewide turnout was about 17 percent. Ohio secretary of states in recent years have declined to predict turnout.

These percentages are of registered voters — people who took a few moments to sign up to be eligible to vote — and not those who are at least 18 years old.

After Mahoning County voters rejected making a 0.5-percent, five-year renewal sales tax permanent, commissioners are pondering a new strategy: ask for even more money in November.

The vote in Tuesday’s primary was close. Unofficial but complete totals — with 180 provisional ballots needing to be verified and potentially counted — had the sales tax defeated 16,742 to 16,223. That’s a difference of 519 votes, a 1.58-percent margin of defeat.

There was nothing wrong rolling the dice in the primary seeking the tax to be permanent — or in political-speak “continuous” — losing and then coming back in November for another five-year renewal. The county has done it before.

Voters in May 2007 approved putting the county’s other 0.5-percent sales tax, which raises about $16 million annually, on permanent status so the possibility exists they’ll do the same with this other sales tax at some point. Though the results were close Tuesday, it’s obvious this is not the right time.

After the results came in, Commissioner David Ditzler told reporter Peter H. Milliken: “I look at it as an opportunity, not a defeat. I look at it as an opportunity to come back in November with what I think the people are looking for, which is specific earmarks for the tax to be identified for certain uses.”

He continued: “So, we come back and we look at identifying it specifically for criminal justice, for the prosecutor, the courts, and the sheriff’s department,” and have a full 1 percent, which would raise about $32 million a year for the justice system.

Since that statement, the commissioners also discussed a 0.75-percent sales tax proposal to raise about $24 million annually.

Ditzler can look at Tuesday’s results any way he chooses, but the reality is county voters rejected the tax measure. That’s called a defeat.

Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said, “It’s unfortunate that it failed. It was a renewal.”

That’s only partially correct. The tax would have gone from being renewed every five years by voters to never being on the ballot again.

As for what Ditzler thinks people are looking for, shouldn’t that have been done before putting the sales tax on the ballot? It seems as if county officials are confused about taxes.

Initially, commissioners gave strong consideration to having a new 0.25-percent sales tax on this ballot to go with the proposed continuous 0.5-percent tax. After realizing that was a train wreck waiting to happen, they chose not to put that new tax proposal on the ballot.

Now they’re considering asking voters for a full 1-percent, or is it 0.75-percent?

The county’s general fund is $50.2 million, and everyone could use extra cash to pay for some of the cuts that have been made — and let’s not forget those 3-percent “cost-of-living” raises.

Do commissioners seriously believe voters who just said no to a permanent 0.5-percent sales tax to collect $16 million will be cool supporting a ballot issue that would raise an additional $24 million to $32 million?

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