Voters approve justice sales tax



Mahoning County’s 0.75-percent sales tax for justice services will continue for another five years, voters said Tuesday.

Voters approved the primary ballot measure to renew the justice tax with 11,062 affirmative votes, 64 percent, and 6,175 votes against, 36 percent, according to unofficial results from the Mahoning County Board of Elections.

Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said she feels the strong majority passage signals voters believe in the county’s justice system.

“There’s confidence from the voters with their elected officials, and I feel that’s the case with this passing with such a great margin,” she said. “They believe what we’re doing is the best for Mahoning County.

“We want to thank them very much because without them voting for us, we would not have this victory today.”

The tax is projected to generate $25,168,000 for the county justice system this year, said Audrey Tillis, executive director for the board of county commissioners. That makes up the majority of the funding for the county sheriff, prosecutor and coroner’s offices, and for 911 dispatching services.

Consumers will continue to pay 75 cents on every $100 spent in the county on sales tax-applicable goods and services. Necessities such as most foods and prescription drugs are not taxed.

“I’m ecstatic that I don’t have to look at this for November, to say the least,” Tillis said Tuesday. “It is something that’s needed for our county. It’s something that is totally restricted for the purposes it’s set for.”

Tillis has said if the measure ultimately failed, officials would be expected to make $12.2 million in cuts to justice services by 2021, most of which would have come out of the sheriff’s department and the Mahoning County jail.

County officials are currently fighting an “uphill battle” for revenue with the loss of about $5 million annually from a tax on Medicaid-managed care organizations cut off by the state in 2017. To also lose the justice tax would have been disastrous, she said.

“You have to play catch-up at that point, and it would not have been any good,” Tillis said. “I wouldn’t even want to deal with that. [The justice tax is] something that’s really needed to be there.”

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene lit a celebratory cigar outside the county election board’s Oakhill Renaissance Place headquarters. He said he’s felt like a “broken record” in recent months, using any public podium time to harp on the importance of the Tuesday measure.

“I couldn’t stress enough the importance of this tax – how much it meant to the safety of the community and especially the way it’s set up to fund the criminal justice system,” he said. “I hope this was a reflection of the type of job we’re doing. ... It’s a big relief off the shoulders.”

Previously, the justice fund was supported by two half-cent levies and other general-fund money. In 2014, voters denied a permanent renewal of one of the half-cent levies. They later revised the tax request to a 0.75 percent levy dedicated to criminal justice, to be renewed every five years.

Greene, who was with the department when budget cuts under the previous sheriff forced a partial jail shutdown, said he’s seen how a scale-back of justice services negatively affects crime rates, and how it takes years to recover from that.

“I just can’t explain how pleased I am with the results and how grateful I am to the people who voted for it,” Greene said. “Because they did the right thing, truly.”

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