Attend hearings on need for renewal of justice tax
Primary elections in odd- numbered years are notorious in Ohio for generating shamefully high levels of campaign apathy and dismally low levels of voter turnout. Two years ago, for example, only about 15 percent of the Mahoning Valley’s electorate showed up at the polls.
We’re confident, however, that sleepy scenario won’t rerun this spring in Mahoning County. Firing up the countywide ballot and animating the electorate will be one of the hottest- potato local issues of the year: renewal of the 0.75 percent Mahoning sales tax for criminal-justice operations.
Sales taxes, by their very nature, attract controversy and debate as their impact touches virtually everyone every day directly and immediately.
Also by their very nature, sales taxes represent one solid check the electorate wields over their local elected leaders. They stand as one concrete tool that voters can use to register support or opposition to the spending practices and accountability of local government operations.
As such, county leaders owe it to their constituents to present a strong and airtight case for implementing or renewing a tax, to demonstrate that revenue from the tax has been spent in a fiscally responsible fashion and to prove that the need for the tax remains critical.
Mahoning County leaders, including commissioners Anthony Traficanti, Carol Rimedio-Righetti and David Ditzler, say they are poised to do just that at a series of public hearings on the justice-tax renewal next week. The first hearing will take place at 10:30 a.m. Monday in the commissioners’ board hearing room on the bottom level of the county courthouse, 120 Market St. in downtown Youngstown. The second forum is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Boardman Township Government Center, 8299 Market St.
RESPONSIBILITY TO ATTEND
Mahoning County residents, especially those who believe that county government is a giant sponge simply soaking up public dollars, have a responsibility to attend one or both hearings.
Once there, they should give county officials the chance to make their case and then be given opportunities to voice any concerns they may have about the operation of government or management of the approximate $25 million in revenue the justice tax generates annually.
Attendees also should be well-versed on what the tax is and is not. The measure does not, for example, seek an increase to the tax that was first implemented four years ago. Currently, the justice tax accounts for 75 cents on every $100 spent in the county on applicable goods and services.
The question facing county voters May 7 simply will be whether county government should be given the right to collect the tax for an additional five years into 2025.
The tax is also dedicated exclusively to the county’s criminal justice fund, which finances operations for the sheriff, prosecutor and coroner offices.
Though we will wait for the outcome of the hearings and a fuller analysis of the tax issue before making any formal recommendation to voters, one would be hard pressed to disagree with Sheriff Jerry Greene’s assertion that the issue is critical.
“The criminal justice sales tax in and of itself is our entire funding,” he said.
Indeed, we based our strong endorsement of the tax five years ago based largely on that critical need. We were also pleased and continue to be pleased that leaders have chosen not to seek a permanent renewal, thereby robbing constituents of their legitimate right to review the caliber of public services periodically.
In addition, several indicators appear to show Greene and others have been responsible stewards of the public purse.
Just last week, a Mahoning County grand jury issued a glowing report on the operations of the justice center. It was particularly impressed with the sheriff’s ability to seek and receive millions of dollars in outside funding to help lessen the burden on taxpayers.
At the hearings and through the campaign, we call on county leaders to enlighten the electorate further on the difference the tax has made on improving services and efficiency since 2015 and to construct a convincing case for its ongoing need over the next five years.