ELYRIA – County voters overwhelmingly shot down a sales tax hike Tuesday, defeating by a 4-to-1 margin a measure that county commissioners insisted was vital to avoiding budget cuts and layoffs in the coming years.
“You can talk until you`re blue in the face, but some people aren`t going to be receptive,” Commissioner Betty Blair said.
The tax failed by a vote of 46,280 to 11,568, or 80 percent to 20 percent, according to unofficial election results.
The 0.25 percentage point sales tax increase would have generated about $7.4 million annually and would have gone to helping the county deal with the loss of $3.5 million in state funding, increased costs in the county`s justice system and other rising expenses such as health care and utilities.
The county had made sweeping budget cuts earlier this year, but restored most of those after numerous one-time sources of revenue materialized. But the commissioners warned that money won`t be there again next year and the county will have to dip into its dwindling carryover to keep its current level of services.
The commissioners said they will now have to take a hard look at what – if any – cuts will have to be made to keep the county afloat.
“We`ll just do the best with what we have and hope the money we`ve invested in economic development continues to bring jobs to Lorain County,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said.
But just because the tax hike failed doesn`t mean it won`t be before voters again. Commissioner Ted Kalo said he would be willing to ask voters to support a 0.5 percentage point tax hike next year to help county services and fund construction of a new county jail.
The defeat of the increase, which commissioners approved in March, was a victory for Amherst Councilman Nick Brusky, R-at-large, who led a petition drive to place the tax hike on the ballot.
“There was just some deafness from the commissioners about what the residents of Lorain County want,” he said.
Brusky and other opponents, including county Auditor Mark Stewart, have questioned whether the county actually needed to impose the sales tax hike this year or could have delayed.
“The residents of Lorain County are just fed up,” Brusky said. “They had expected some sort of justification for this sales tax.”
The commissioners also had come under fire because they initially didn`t agree on how to spend all of the money the tax would bring in, but more recently they had agreed to spend the money to deal with the overcrowding at the county jail.
“We just needed to get the message out that it was a safety issue and we didn`t do that,” Kokoski said.
Phil Brumley, of Elyria, wasn`t buying the argument that the county was in desperate financial straits.
“We pay enough taxes on everything. If I knew what the money was going to be used for, and it was something good (I would have supported it) ,” he said. “But I know they`re not spending the money properly.”
Bill Kester of Lorain said he voted in favor of the sales tax because the county needs the money to operate.
“If they put the money in the right place, it`ll be fine. You`ve got to have money to run things,” he said.