October 25, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
47°F
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County officials hit trail hard for tax hike

ELYRIA – Lorain County officials and employees continue to campaign heavily to convince voters that a 0.5 percentage point sales tax increase that went into effect in April is crucial to keeping the county safe.

Laid-off sheriff’s deputies and others are pounding the pavement this weekend in Lorain, knocking on doors and talking with voters.

County Commissioner Ted Kalo said the campaign committee running the effort to support the sales tax also will continue to work the phones.

Television and radio commercials and direct mailings are also in the works for the final days before Election Day next month, he said.

Kalo said the tax is vital to the county so that cuts to safety forces can be restored. The commissioners slashed

$6 million from the county’s 2009 budget, which has led to more than 75 county workers, including deputies, being laid off.

County Sheriff Phil Stammitti said he fears what will happen if voters reject the sales tax. Although the tax would be continued to be collected through April 2010, the commissioners have said that additional cuts will be necessary if the tax proposal is shot down.

The jail alone takes between $12.3 million and $12.5 million annually to operate, and if further cuts are necessary, there’s a real possibility that a wing of the jail could be shuttered and an early release program for inmates implemented, Kalo said.

The situation is made even worse, Stammitti said, by the closing of the Elyria City Jail, which means more inmates for him to deal with at an additional cost.

He also worries about the safety of residents in the townships that rely on deputies for police protection. If more cuts come his way, he’ll be looking for additional cuts but doesn’t know where to find them.

“No stones are left unturned,” he said. “We’re already down to a skeleton crew.”

Stammitti – who along with county Prosecutor Dennis Will is chairing the committee supporting the tax – said the people working the phones and knocking on doors have received a mostly positive response from the voters they’ve talked to. But they’ve also been told, he said, that if the sales tax weren’t dedicated to safety, many voters wouldn’t even consider supporting it.

The other problem, he said, is convincing voters in cities with their own police departments that his deputies provide services to them as well. Deputies are responsible for registering and monitoring sex offenders, 98 percent of whom live in the cities, he said. And 96 percent of the jail population is sent there by arrests made by municipal police departments, he said.

Stammitti also said deputies are on the front lines of the foreclosure crisis. Of the 2,158 foreclosures his deputies dealt with last year, 2,108 were in the cities, he said. Fifty were in the townships.

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