April 20, 2014

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Voters reject Issue 4 sales tax hike

SHEFFIELD LAKE — Voters overwhelmingly rejected a 0.5 percent sales tax hike that Lorain County officials insisted was necessary to avoid additional cuts to county services.

“It’s a tough economic climate and we knew that,” county Prosecutor Dennis Will, who served as co-chairman of the committee pushing the sales tax, told a crowd of county workers gathered at the Amber Oaks restaurant. “I think people voted their pocketbook.”

According to unofficial returns from the county Board of Elections, 57.7 percent, or 48,074 voters, cast their ballots against the sales tax increase, while 42.3 percent, or 35,302 voters, voted to approve the increase.

Charles Jubick of Lorain said he voted against the sales tax increase because he doesn’t trust county officials to spend their money wisely when times are good – or to remove the tax from the books if times get better.

“At this point in time, the economy is hurting and everybody is hurting so when everybody gets back on their feet they won’t rescind that tax,” Jubick said. “I need money, everyone needs money. I’m all for helping people, but I’m voting ‘no.’ ”

The tax increase went into effect in April but has raised less money than the commissioners anticipated when they enacted it earlier in the year after making $6 million in cuts across county government.

Those cuts led to the layoffs of more than 75 county workers, including sheriff’s deputies.

County Administrator Jim Cordes said more cuts will be necessary and will go deeper than those that already have been imposed.

“Last time was crippling, this time it’s going to be fatal,” he said.

Dan Strohsack, one of the laid-off deputies who is now working at the county jail and as a part-time officer in Kipton, said he hoped the levy would pass so he could return to a job he loved.

“It’s not only the county employees who will suffer, the whole county will suffer,” Strohsack said.

Cordes and Commissioner Ted Kalo estimated that the additional cuts, which will likely take effect at the beginning of 2010, will run between $2 million and $4 million. The final figure and where those cuts will be made have not yet been determined, they said.

“We don’t look forward to these sorts of things,” Kalo told the crowd at Amber Oaks.

Among the likely places that will face cuts are non-mandated services such as Lorain County Transit, the Lorain County Regional Airport and the county’s economic development apparatus.

When the commissioners made the $6 million in cuts for 2009 it was across the board, this time Cordes said the cuts will be more targeted. But he warned that it could still affect every department in the county, even those that already have been hard hit.

“The sheriff and the jail can’t take any more cuts,” he said.

The commissioners have been setting aside the money that’s been brought in so far by the sales tax, which the county will continue to collect through April 2010. They resisted calls to spend the money, which must be spent on the criminal justice system, to restore the cuts that were imposed this year arguing that if the sales tax increase was shot down they would need the money to stop deeper cuts.

Because of how the commissioners enacted the tax increase, they can’t attempt to raise the sales tax again until 2011.

In 2007, the last time the commissioners tried to raise the sales tax, voters rejected the 0.25 per-cent increase by a 4-to-1 margin.

In 2007 the commissioners had imposed the tax without declaring exactly what the money would be used for and hadn’t planned to present it to the voters, but opponents obtained enough signatures to force the issue to the ballot.

This time the commissioners and other county officials launched a massive campaign that spent about $99,000 by the time pre-election campaign finance reports were filed Oct. 22. Tax supporters expected to spend even more before Election Day.

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