October 22, 2014

Elyria
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Sales tax hike may go on ballot again

ELYRIA – If the county commissioners try again next year for another sales tax hike, they plan to do a better job selling it to voters, who resoundingly shot down an increase Tuesday.

The commissioners already have started discussing the possibility of trying again in a year and, this time, they would likely tie the increase to the county`s safety forces and justice system.

“I kind of wish we had done it that way originally,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said.

Commissioner Ted Kalo said he would be willing to ask for a larger increase next time out.

The 0.25 percentage point increase defeated by a 4-to-1 margin this week would have brought in about $7.4 million annually – adding 25 cents to the bill for every $100 residents spend. Kalo said he would like to do two 0.25 percentage-point increases, one for general safety and the other to fund construction of a new facility to replace the chronically overcrowded county jail.

“It`s a matter of if I can sell it,” Kalo said. “I couldn`t sell it this time.”
But Kokoski – who will face re-election next year along with Kalo – isn`t convinced that the commissioners can sell a 0.5 percentage-point increase or that it`s even a good idea.

“We should start with 0.25 percent and see how that goes,” she said.
Commissioner Betty Blair said she`s open to trying again for a sales tax, but isn`t convinced that it`s a good idea yet.

“If we`re going to ask the voters again, we need to package it differently,” she said. “We need to have more specificity.”

Kalo said he wants a 0.5 percentage-point increase because not only will the county be hurting for money in part from a loss this year of $3.5 million in state funding, but also from the ever rising cost of the county`s justice system.

And while a consultant`s report on the jail situation isn`t complete yet, most county officials expect that it will recommend a new jail.

Kalo said that would mean that if the commissioners passed a 0.25 percent sales tax increase next year, they`d have to go to the voters again in a few years for another.

“I`d like to get it all in one fell swoop than have to go back to the public again,” he said.

There also are political concerns for Kokoski and Kalo.

Tax hikes are never popular and both have said they realized that trying for another increase in an election year could hurt their chances of keeping their jobs.

“It`s a hard thing to do, but I have to stand on what I believe is right,” Kokoski said.

Meanwhile, the commissioners will begin looking at the 2008 budget in the coming weeks and have said they may have to make deep cuts if they want to keep the county in good financial shape.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.