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Clark leader wants sales tax extended

Some residents say they shop elsewhere because of higher rate in Clark County.Administrator says ending tax could mean up to 120 layoffs.

Clark County staff recommended extending the half-percent sales tax without putting it before voters, and some residents voiced their concerns about government waste in an hour-long public hearing by county commissioners Tuesday.

County Administrator Nathan Kennedy recommended continuing the sales tax for 10 years, which would allow the county the time to offset debt created by planned capital projects. He also recommended against placing the issue on the ballot because the county would lose $2.4 million, even if it passed, because of a delay in collection.

Kennedy said that, if the sales tax is not extended, the county will lose $7.2 million, or 20 percent of its approximately $36 million annual general fund budget.

“It’s a huge cut to the county’s general fund,” Kennedy said.

In the worst-case scenario, Kennedy said approximately 100 to 120 people could be laid off, the majority from the criminal justice system.

“It would be quite catastrophic,” Kennedy said.

Cuts would also need to be made across the board, while employees could also receive furlough days and pay 15 percent of their healthcare costs. The county would also consider eliminating capital improvements, economic development and the county extension office.

Clark County resident Mary Ann Schmidt voiced her concerns about the county’s use of taxpayer dollars for job creation, specifically the Community Improvement Corporation’s development of Prime Ohio II and the downtown ice rink.

Schmidt said the threats of reducing law enforcement and other services is the same scare tactics schools use to pass levies. She said she shops mostly outside of the county because the sales tax is too high.

“It is obvious that our commissioners have become financial gluttons, feasting on and demanding more and more of the personal private property of the very people who elected them to office simply to manage the day-to-day business of the county,” Schmidt said.

The total sales tax paid in Clark County stands at 7 percent, including the temporary half-percent commissioners extended in February 2011 for 30 months. Five-and-a-half percent of the money goes to the state, while the rest goes to the county.

One percent of the county’s portion of the sales tax is permanent. The other half-percent tax is set to expire on Dec. 31.

If the sales tax is extended, Kennedy said basic services can be maintained. Kennedy said the county needs approximately four-tenths of a percent, but the state requires sales tax to be implemented in half-percent increments.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the issue in October. The next hearing will be held on Aug. 13 at 10 a.m. at the county offices, 50 E. Columbia St., in the fifth floor public chambers. Commissioners will also consider moving the Aug. 20 meeting to the evening to allow more residents to speak on the issue.

Resident Laura Rosenberger believes with a lower tax rate, more people will shop and more businesses will open in Clark County. She said she does all of her shopping in Greene County.

“The county will actually bring in more money by competing with its neighbors, Greene, Miami and Madison counties, which have lower rates,” Rosenberger said.

Residents were concerned about the lack of hearings held in the evenings for people who cannot attend during the day.

County resident Robert Riley believes the continuation of the tax should be put before voters. Commissioners shouldn’t decide the future of the sales tax, Riley said.

“Why can we not put this in front of the voter?” Riley asked. “It’s not logical. It’s not democracy.”

Wynette Carter-Smith, Clark County Juvenile Court administrator, told commissioners any loss in funding would “dramatically impact” services provided for youth.

Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly believes sales tax is the fairest tax of all because everyone pays it.

Kelly said any loss in funding would have an effect on services. Through July 17, the sheriff’s department has had 22,788 calls for service this year. The department has also seen a 10-percent increase in criminal reports through July, Kelly said.

Kelly estimated the cuts would cost the department about $1.2 million of its $12 million budget, which would mean cutting about 12 employees.

“Right now would be the wrong time to take this half-percent away and to hurt this community,” Kelly said.

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