That’s the offer Lorain County commissioners are making to voters. Wednesday morning, all three commissioners voted to place a 0.5 percent temporary sales tax increase on the ballot that would be in place for three years. In exchange, commissioners intend on suspending the collection of 1.4 mills of inside millage, which is a property tax voters have no say in, for that same three-year period for 2014 to 2016.
The plan may seem a little farfetched to some — the reduction of property taxes in favor of more sales-tax revenue — but commissioners did not mince words in talking about how the increase was the only thing that could stave off a looming deficit. It also would shift some of the financial burden of supporting county government off homeowners and onto everyone who shops in the county.
“This is our last opportunity to do anything, and I hope we get there,” Commissioner Ted Kalo said.
A $6 million hole in the 2014 budget is being projected. “If we don’t get this, we will be in dire need,” Commissioner Tom Williams said.
The sales tax in Lorain County is 6.25 percent with 5.5 percent going directly to state coffers. The remaining 0.75 percent is split between the county general fund at 0.5 percent and the Lorain County Jail at 0.25 percent.
“I got a call just recently from a woman who bought a car and was surprised to see how much sales tax was included in her purchase. She asked us not to raise the sales tax,” Commissioner Lori Kokoski said. “We hear what our residents are saying, but when we’re asking for a sales tax, I hope residents know we’re asking because it’s their neighborhood, their justice system and their jail. We are one of largest counties in Ohio with one of the lowest sales tax rates with the state getting most of that money.”
If voters approve the temporary 0.5 percent increase, the move would bring in roughly $16 million annually. It will be enough to recoup $8.3 million that will not be collected in property tax, fill the $6 million budget hole and provide some revenue for capital improvements.
It is yet to be determined if language telling voters about the suspension of inside millage will be included on the ballot, but that is absolutely the intent of county officials who want voters to know explicitly what they are getting in exchange for their support.
“I think it’s important that when someone reads the ballot they know exactly what we are trying to do,” said County Administrator James Cordes. “Let’s face it. This is a Hail Mary pass. We are trying to raise the sales tax and reduce the property tax. We are putting everything we have out there, and we want voters to know our intent with no questions.”
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said a few different ballot wordings will be submitted to the Lorain County Board of Elections and it will be up to the secretary of state’s office to determine the legality of the language used on the ballot that voters will see in November.
Williams said a lot of residents have told him that they want to see the property tax suspension included in the ballot language.
“They’ll trust it if it’s there,” he said. “A lot of people have not seen a reduction in their property taxes, so they’re a little skeptical we are really willing to do it.”
Kokoski said it will be too expensive to wage a full-fledged campaign for the sales tax, so supporters will have to be hit with a very basic strategy.
“It’s the three T’s — teaching, trust and transparency,” Kokoski said. “We have to educate voters and be very transparent in everything we do so they trust us.”