Summit County Council heard from a mix of people Monday advocating for and against a proposed 0.25 percent sales tax increase.
At a public hearing that lasted more than two hours, proponents spoke about how the $20 million a year raised would improve conditions at the county jail, upgrade emergency radios for safety forces and boost economic development in downtown Akron by building a $76.8-million arena.
“This proposal will help to build a better future for both my families — my family at home and my family in the hospitality community,” said Gregg Mervis, president and chief executive officer of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Meanwhile, many opponents questioned the need for the arena, with several saying they could support an increase for public safety.
“Let me be clear about this. If this arena is attached to the safety forces, it will not pass, remember that,” Cuyahoga Falls resident Adam Miller said.
Akron resident Ken Burkins described himself as a season ticket-holder for University of Akron basketball games but noted that the current on-campus arena rarely sells out for games now.
The arena issue should be separate from the public safety portion, he said.
It was the council’s second public hearing on the issue. At the first hearing, no one spoke against the tax increase.
The council is expected to vote Monday on whether to place the issue before voters in November.
During the hearing, Councilman John Schmidt announced that he would vote in favor of putting the issue on the ballot and letting voters decide.
He also said that issues affecting Akron also affect its suburbs.
County Executive Russ Pry has recommended boosting the sales tax from 6.75 percent to 7 percent. The county’s share is now 0.5 percent, which is tied for the lowest in Ohio.
The county administration estimated that a permanent 0.25 percent increase would cost each taxpayer less than $50 a year.
In addition to the arena, jail and radios, money also would be earmarked for 911 dispatching, capital projects and other expenses.
Summit County Jail administrator Greg Macko said the sheriff’s office is trying to figure out what to do if a sales tax increase isn’t approved by voters.
He noted that the jail is now staffed with 166 full-time deputies. A few years ago, there were 199.
The sheriff’s office will look at shutting down portions of the jail, he said.
Dan Rice, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition, said he doesn’t want to see what would happen to the community.
“What if we don’t address these critical issues?” he said. “…To me the risk is so great. It is not worth it.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.