YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mahoning County voters decided in Tuesday’s primary not to continue a half-percent portion of the 1 percent county sales tax.
The current tax will expire in September of 2015. The half percent generates about $15.5 million a year for the general fund budget.
At Thursday’s commissioners meeting, officials were using words like “back to the drawing board” and “disappointing” after the renewal effort failed. They had hoped voters would have renewed the half-penny levy on a permanent basis, meaning it would not have to come up again for referendum.
Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti said Wednesday that the county cannot operate without the sales tax and will be operating on a $6.5 million deficit in 2016 without it.
“It is very crucial. This is the general fund budget, which funds justice, the Sheriff’s Department, prosecutor’s office, 911, courts, judges, everything that deals with the judicial system or the law part of Mahoning County,” said Rimedio-Righetti.
Audrey Tillis, director of Office and Management Budget for Mahoning County said the general fund is mandated by the Ohio Revised Code and there are certain services that are required, so not providing those services is not an option.
“The jail has minimum staffing, juvenile courts, justice systems also have minimum staffing requirements in order to keep these facilities completely open,” said Tillis. “We don’t have any options with not having it.”
Commissioners said Thursday their efforts were hampered by problems with other county agencies, such as the Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities, even though those agencies do not receive money from the county’s general fund and commissioners have little control over them.
“I’m not throwing stones at other boards, but I’m just identifying where other targets have been shown and in effect pointing at the sales tax, which has nothing to do with the sales tax or the general fund,” said Commissioner David Ditzler.
Commissioners said they plan to bring other officeholders together to rethink their sales tax strategy and come up with a new plan.