Hearing on sales-tax raise for roads draws low turnout

Staff photo / Ed Runyan ... Austintown resident Lola Simmons, right, addresses Mahoning County commissioners and county Engineer Pat Ginnetti during a public hearing on a proposed sales tax hike to pave Mahoning County roads and improve bridges. The commissioners are, from left, David Ditzler, Anthony Traficanti and Carol Rimedio-Righetti.

YOUNGSTOWN — Eight Mahoning County residents heard a 35-minute presentation Thursday on a proposed quarter percent sales-tax increase for roads and bridges from Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti and then gave their opinion on it.

It was the last of two public hearings on the issue. The county commissioners are expected to vote at their July 29 meeting on whether to place the issue on the ballot.

Lola Simmons of West Webb Road in Austintown said she appreciated the presentation because her road “is notorious for being one of the roughest roads.” She said, “I am praying we will be on a list (of roads to be paved) so I don’t have to go out of my driveway and drive into a crater on Webb Road.”

She said she thinks the “public needs to be more aware and in attendance to have a better understanding so that when they do go to the polls, they will know which way to vote and vote the way that is best for our county and our city and our township.”

Ginnetti said he appreciated the chance to talk about Webb Road because it’s an example of the type of road that does not get paved often because of low traffic counts.

“That’s the struggle we have. Roads like yours that need paved. Yea, you’re an urban township, but because of the low traffic counts, we struggle to get funding. We need roads like this to get done.

“We have roads in every township that unfortunately don’t have a lot of cars. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be placed on a high priority. These are a part of my goal in getting every road done regardless of how many cars are on it.”

The next speaker was Carol Geise of Boardman, who said, “I get your need for the sales tax, but … do you promise it will be a temporary tax. Because every time we go for a temporary tax, it doesn’t stay temporary. It always stays forever.”

Geise mentioned that Mahoning County now has a 7.25 percent sales tax rate.

Commissioner David Ditzler asked Geise if she knows how much of the 7.25 percent goes to Mahoning County.

When asked to guess, Geise said “half.”

Ditzler said, “1.25 percent comes to Mahoning County. Five and three quarters is taken by the state of Ohio. One quarter of one percent” goes to the Western Reserve Transit Authority.

“We’re frustrated like you are because people look at our sales tax as a whole as 7.25 percent because that’s what we’re paying, and the state imposes sales taxes with no vote, no explanation, no ability for the residents to speak their mind,” he said.

He thinks the commissioners all agree, “We are putting this on for a five-year period to give us a shot in the arm. That is the intent of all of these meetings is to decide whether we are going to put it on” the ballot, Ditzler said.

At Thursday’s meeting and one held Monday, Ginnetti talked about funding for his office being “relatively flat for a little over two decades,” saying the county engineer’s budget was $10.6 million in 1999 and was $10.8 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, the cost of paving nearly doubled between 2003 and 2019. Again Thursday he explained that his office receives its funding from gas taxes and license plate fees, not property taxes, income taxes or sales taxes.

He also reiterated that money from the sales-tax increase could not be used for salaries, equipment or buildings, but only roads, bridges, match money for grants and loans, and safety issues such as lighting, signage and signals.

The quarter percent is expected to generate between $8 million and $9 million per year. Of that, $4 million would be used on county roads, $4 million on township roads and $1 million for infrastructure maintained by the county engineer’s office in cities and villages, such as bridges.



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