July 25, 2014

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Commissioners say they are honing pitch on sales tax campaign

WELLINGTON — Although county voters will be asked to pass a 0.25 percent sales tax hike in November, they aren’t hearing much about it at the Lorain County Fair.

Lorain County commissioners Ted Kalo and Tom Williams acknowledged that they and fellow Commissioner Lori Kokoski are still honing their sales pitch to voters and don’t have a dedicated presence at the fair to talk up the need for the increase.

Kalo said he and Kokoski spoke about it during the fair’s kickoff breakfast on Monday, but there aren’t any informative leaflets being handed out and no booth where voters can stop by to learn more.

Both Kalo and Williams defended the decision not to have an active pro-tax increase presence at the fair because they said they don’t yet have all of the answers voters are going to want.

“What are we going to stop doing? I think the public wants to know that,” Kalo said.

The commissioners have been holding budget hearings for county departments and their fellow elected officials for the past few weeks. A larger meeting is planned for Aug. 31 to discuss exactly what cuts will be made to county government if the sales tax — which is expected to generate between $7 million and $7.5 million annually for the five years it would be in effect — fails to pass.

“Everybody knows that there’s a shortfall, but we don’t know yet what we’re actually going to lose,” Kalo said.

The county is anticipating a budget deficit of roughly $6.2 million next year due to cuts in state funding and other declining revenues. The commissioners and other county officials have said county government can’t deal with the budget gap with cuts alone.

Williams said he wants to make sure voters know exactly what they will be giving up if they reject the sales tax in the fall. He said he doesn’t want to have different people giving out different information on what would be cut if the increase fails.

“What’s most important is to have a consistent message,” he said.

Williams also said that, traditionally, campaigning doesn’t begin until after Labor Day.

“It’s too early,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people are considering political activity right now.”

Another issue, county Administrator Jim Cordes said, is that the county can’t spend government money on a campaign. In 2009, the last time the commissioners asked voters for a sales tax increase — which was resoundingly defeated at the polls — a massive fundraising and campaign effort was undertaken. That hasn’t happened this year.

“It takes money to be at the county fair and we don’t have it,” Cordes said.

Kalo said there will be a fundraising effort and he hopes there will be enough money brought in to pay for mailers and other standard campaign tactics in addition to having conversations with individual voters and various organizations.

Williams said personal interactions are going to be key to passing the sales tax.

“I think the most effective way is going door-to-door,” he said.

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