Mahoning commissioners discuss sales tax options

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — After a stinging defeat of a sales tax renewal in the May primary, Mahoning County commissioners already are working to get another issue on the ballot this fall.

On Thursday morning, commissioners approved plans to advertise a pair of public hearings for a new tax levy for later this month.

While there has been a lot of discussion about asking voters to approve a sales tax increase, possibly a three-quarter percent levy, there does not seem to be a consensus. Commissioners are trying to avoid a projected $6.5 million shortfall in 2015.

“At this point, we are looking at various different things. We have not permanently decided what we are going to do,” said Commissioner Carol Righetti.

But at least one member of the board is pressing to have the tax specifically earmarked.

“And my concern is the public safety and the justice system of Mahoning County. And I think that focus needs to be pointed in that direction,” said Commissioner David Ditzler.

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene realizes that means he and his department will have to lead the charge to get the issue passed since his department also has the most to lose if it fails.

“The history of the sheriff’s department and the jail has been on-again, off-again sales tax, which causes layoffs, it causes overcrowding, it causes federal consent decrees to take place,” Greene said.

Ever since last month’s defeat, commissioners and others have openly questioned why the half-penny renewal failed by just a few hundred votes.

“We thought it was something that people just understood. It has been in effect for forever. I don’t know when the 1 percent came into effect in Mahoning County, but it’s always been here. So we kind of thought people understood and it was a miscalculation on our part,” Ditzler said.

They do not want to make the same mistake in the fall, so commissioners are looking for a donor to pay for polling research to see how much taxpayers will actually support. By law, Commissioners are not allowed to spend tax dollars on a poll.

Officials could use the research to determine whether voters prefer earmarking the tax for specific purposes, such as criminal justice services.

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