Temporary Clark County sales tax rate may become permanent

The Board of Clark County Commissioners will consider making a temporary countywide sales tax permanent.

The second of two hearings regarding the sales tax is scheduled for 10 a.m. today following the formal session of the weekly commissioners meeting in the Commission Chambers, Room 151 of the Springview Government Center, located at 3130 East Main St. in Springfield.

Clark County has a maximum sales tax rate of 7.25%, with more than 5% going to the state and 1.5% going to the county.

Commissioners are not considering increasing the tax, but making it permanent.

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The county has a sales tax rate of 1%, plus an additional temporary tax rate of a half-percent that commissioners voted in 2016 to extend for five years. The temporary tax was first approved in 2008.

Two community members attended the first public hearing to pose questions about the proposed continuation.

The Rev. Linda Stampley inquired about the longevity of the sales tax rate and why it has remained the same since its start. Clark County Administrator Jennifer Hutchinson explained that the rate Clark County is taxing is the maximum rate it is permitted to tax by the state.

Mary Ann Schmidt, another attendee, voiced that although she finds sales taxes to be the “one of the only constitutional” taxes put on taxpayers, she believes any local government can be restructured to meet a budget, without taxes.

Hutchinson told the News-Sun that she and her administrative team recommended to the commissioners that they proceed with making the sales tax rate permanent. She noted that Clark County’s sales tax rate of 7.25% rests in the median of sales tax rates in Ohio, with more than 50 other counties in the state having the same rate. Another 30 have lower sales tax rates, and less than five have higher sales tax rates than Clark County.

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In addition, the move to make the rate permanent would prepare the county for changes made at the state level, she said. She pointed to the state’s decision in 2017 to cease allowing counties to tax Medicaid services, which she said contributed a big hit to the county’s general fund.

Overall, the sales tax generates roughly $9 million annually, and money collected from tax makes up roughly 60% of the county’s general fund. Services that are paid for using this sales tax revenue, Hutchinson said, are typically public safety services and other community services, such as the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s court system, the prosecutor’s office, and veterans’ services.

The loss of revenue from the sales tax rate would result in a 20% cut in services, Hutchinson said.

“My office is cautious about not making this permanent,” she said.

Hutchinson noted that the temporary rate, introduced in 2008, has been extended ever since its creation.

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When voting in 2016 on the five-year extension of the temporary sales tax rate, county leaders said that lowering or eliminating the sales tax would have resulted in significant cuts to services due to the loss of tax revenue.

Ultimately, county commissioners voted to extend the temporary rate, also pledging to create an economic development plan and a line item in the budget on how the money would be used.

County commissioner Melanie Wilt said during the first public hearing that she wanted to hear community input before casting her vote on the continuation.

“My mind is not made up on this,” she said. “We want to make sure we hear input from the community.”