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Officials right to let voters decide on tax

It’s been said there is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax. We hope that’s not true in the case of plans by Mahoning County officials to seek an increase in that county’s sales tax — but we aren’t convinced.

Still, commissioners promise it will be up to voters to make that decision. For that, we are pleased.

During public hearings held in recent weeks to discuss the possibility of increasing the Mahoning County sales tax rate by a quarter percent from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent, commissioners and Mahoning County Engineer Pat Ginnetti have been adamant that if the increase were to pass, the tax would be viewed only as “temporary.”

Frankly, every tax without the label “continuing” is “temporary.”

In other words, if the levy passed, it would last only a set length of time before coming up for renewal. Officials would decide then whether to seek the renewal, or simply allow the tax to lapse.

In our experience, that seems unlikely.

As planned, this one would last five years, and if passed, the tax hike would generate between $8 million and $9 million annually. After five years of relying on those additional funds to pave roads, realistically, it would be very difficult for officials to let it lapse.

The good news is, however, that even though commissioners could attempt to impose the tax unilaterally, they are adamant they will not. Instead, they have vowed to let the voters decide.

And, if it passes, it again would be up to voters to decide whether to renew the tax in five years.

“The voters would have five years to grade how the county road engineer does paving

the roads,” Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said.

During recent meetings in which the tax was discussed, Ginnetti said his budget for road repairs has remained “stagnant” for 20 years, even though the costs of materials has doubled. The office is funded with the gas tax — which is divided evenly among the 88 counties no matter how many miles of road a county has — and license plate fees. Even though Mahoning County has nearly 500 miles of road to pave — the fifth largest in the state — Columbiana County with under 200 miles of road gets the same amount in funding, Ginnetti said.

No property tax, income tax or sales tax funds the office’s activities, Ginnetti said. And Traficanti tells us the incoming $44 million in COVID-19 relief funds cannot be used to pave roads.

If voters were to pass the tax, the increase in funds would allow Ginnetti to decrease the time it takes to cycle through road improvements. Now, the cycle takes about 15 years to repave each road, but with the added dollars expanding the number of projects that could be completed in a year, the cycle could get closer to the recommended seven to 10 years, so each road would get paved sooner, he said.

At the end of the day, it’s the voters who must decide. Commissioners are doing the right thing by allowing them the opportunity to make that decision.

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