November 21, 2014

Elyria
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County sales tax soundly rejected

SHEFFIELD TWP. — Lorain County voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected a measure to raise the county’s sales tax by 0.25 percentage points.

Unofficial returns from the Lorain County Board of Elections showed that 61,567 voters, or 68 percent, voted against the sales tax hike, while 29,585 voters, or 32 percent, cast a ballot in favor of it.

County Commissioner Tom Williams said although he fully expected the tax increase to be shot down, he was surprised by just how lopsided the defeat was.

He said now the commissioners will have to begin making cuts to implement the voters’ desire to change how county government operates.

“The voters have spoken and said they want smaller government,” he said.

Had the increase been approved, the county’s sales tax would have risen from 6.25 percent, the second-lowest rate in the state, to 6.5 percent and generated an additional $7 million to $7.5 million annually for the five years it would have been in effect.

That was money the commissioners had planned to use to stave off massive cuts to county government. The commissioners have said they would need to cut around $2.5 million to balance the budget in 2012, but that figure will need to be even higher if the county is to have any sort of carryover into 2013.

Williams, a Republican, estimated that the cuts will likely need to be in the neighborhood of $8.5 million by the time 2013 arrives if the county is to remain in the black.

Commissioner Ted Kalo, a Democrat, said the cuts that will be necessary will decimate the services that county government provides.

“We’re going to have to do a total breakdown of county government,” he said.

Although Kalo said it’s too early to say what cuts will be necessary, Williams estimated that more than 100 county workers likely will need to be laid off in the coming year to balance the budget. Kalo said he doesn’t know where Williams got that figure, but he agreed some county employees will be out of a job.

“I feel sorry for the employees who are losing their jobs and even sorrier for the residents who will lose services,” Kalo said.

Kalo said he still believes the commissioners should impose a sales tax increase next year to avoid massive cuts, as the commissioners did in 2009, when the sales tax was raised by 0.5 percentage points, allowing the county to collect roughly $14 million during the year it was in effect. Voters rejected making that measure permanent.

But Williams said he made a promise when he was running for commissioner last year not to impose a tax and has no intention of going back on his word, particularly not after voters so strongly rejected a sales tax increase this year.

“They gave us a clear message right now that they don’t want a raise in the sales tax,” he said.

The commissioners can impose the sales tax only if all three commissioners vote to do so. Kalo said he would be willing to ask voters again next year to raise the sales tax and launch a more aggressive campaign.

The county barely mounted a campaign in support of the sales tax hike this year, Kalo said, because of how long it took to bring Williams up to speed on the county’s finances and get the issue on the ballot.

He said the campaign committee backing the sales tax hike had less than $15,000 to work with during the month in which it pushed the increase to voters.

If the commissioners were to approve it returning the issue to the ballot next year, Kalo said the county would have months to convince voters of the necessity of passing such a measure.

Both Kalo and Williams said they will begin the task of imposing the $2.5 million or so worth of cuts they had already identified would be implemented, including cuts to the 4-H program and reductions to the offices of the auditor, coroner, prosecutor and others, if the sales tax increase failed.

The cuts could formally be approved as early as the commissioners’ meeting today.

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