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County considers asking for sales tax hike

Trustees, engineer propose .25% sales levy increase for roads and bridges

YOUNGSTOWN — Members of the Mahoning County Township Trustees Association and Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti approached the county commissioners Thursday to ask them to place a quarter-percent sales tax increase on the November ballot.

The funds would be used to improve bridges all over the county — including those in the cities and villages — and county and township roads.

A benefit to people who don’t live in the townships is that everyone uses county roads, Commissioner David Ditzler said. All of the major roads in Austintown, for instance, are county roads, he said.

Smith Township Trustee Scott Showalter said the township trustees association created a committee last November to generate ideas for increasing revenue for the townships and the county in partnership with Ginnetti.

The rural townships struggle to raise money to address failing infrastructure, especially roads, he said. It is difficult for such townships to acquire grants for their projects because grants are awarded based on traffic volume of the roads involved, he said. Some roads need work but have low traffic volume, he said.

Showalter said a campaign by the 14 townships in Mahoning County would be carried out if the commissioners put the proposed sales tax increase on the ballot. It would be to show the number of roads that can be paved over a five-year period with the roughly $8 million per year that the sales tax increase would generate.

He said the funding “is going to make a huge difference. The bang for their buck is going to be astronomical.”

Showalter noted that about 40 percent of sales taxes are paid by people living outside of Mahoning County.

The plan for using the money involves paving every road in the county over the five-year period, Showalter said.

Ditzler said some roads have not been paved in 40 years because the volume of traffic using them is low, and this funding would address such roads.

If the commissioners agree to put the levy on the ballot, public hearings would be held to fully explain how the funds would be used, Ditzler said.

The funding the sales tax would generate could be used for roads, bridges, storm sewers, culverts “things like that that affect the roadway,” Ginnetti said.

“It would benefit everyone in the county,” Ginnetti said. “People are oftentimes confused on how we are funded,” Ginnetti said of the county engineer’s office. “Everybody thinks because we are a county (office), we get property tax or income tax. We don’t. Every county engineer in Ohio is funded through gas tax and license plate fees.

“Even with the 10-cent increase the governor passed two years ago, it doesn’t affect our budget very much because of the way it is distributed across the state of Ohio. The gas tax is distributed evenly to every county engineer’s office across the state of Ohio. Every county engineer gets the same amount of gas tax.

“Our only option for getting more roads done is to have an alternative source of funding, and this is one of our only options,” he said. “It’s important to recognize it’s not only county roads in counties that need it. Townships have a need as well.”

Ditzler said he supports putting the sales tax increase on the ballot.

The current sales tax rate in Mahoning County is 7.25 percent, which includes a 5.75 percent Ohio sales tax and 1.5 percent local sales tax. The increase would make Mahoning County’s sales tax 7.5 percent. Columbiana County also has a 7.25 percent sales tax, but Trumbull County’s sits at 6.75 percent.

erunyan@vindy.com

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