In November, Summit County voters may be asked to consider a sales tax increase to build a $76 million downtown arena, better equip and staff the county jail and improve the 911 dispatch system.
Summit County Executive Russ Pry next month will ask the county council to place a 0.25-percent sales tax on the ballot in the hope of raising about $20 million a year. He said the measure is necessary for the ongoing financial health of the county.
For consumers, that would be an additional 25 cents on every $100 in taxable purchases.
Of the $20 million in additional revenues, $7 million — or about a third of the proceeds — would go annually into the 8,500-seat arena to be used by the University of Akron and financed and managed by the county development agency over 23 years. The $7 million would cover the cost of construction bonds and provide a reserve for repair and maintenance.
The university would have to cover operating losses, but also would benefit from profits.
The balance of the sales-tax increase would go into other county projects that are related mostly to public safety. The greatest need, county officials said, is for operating funds at the county jail. The sheriff repeatedly has warned that staffing levels at the jail are so low that deputies and inmates are at risk. Other expenditures would include improvements to the 911 dispatch system and the 900 MHz emergency radio system, which will cost an estimated $20 to $30 million over the next five years.
Spending cuts during the deep recession also pushed some other expenditures back, among them building repairs and voting machines.
Pry said the county tightened its budget after the state legislature and governor cut state support to local governments and property tax revenues suffered during the recession. The county payroll tumbled 20 percent from 3,696 employees in 2008 to 2,939 employees today, achieved through layoffs, early retirements and not filling positions.
The budget has been cut from $576 million in 2008 to $478 million in 2014.
Current tax rates
Summit County consumers now pay a sales tax of 5.75 percent to the state, 0.5 percent to the Metro Regional Transit Authority and 0.5 percent to the county for a total of 6.75 percent. Among Ohio’s 88 counties, Summit and Stark are tied for the lowest county sales tax rate of 0.5 percent. Only three others — Wayne, Lorain and Butler — collect less than 1 percent.
“We are one of six large urban counties in the state, so Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Franklin, Lucas, Montgomery get 1 percent or 1.25 percent of their sales tax, which is still more than what the county would be proposing,” said Jason Dodson, Pry’s chief of staff. “Even if the sales tax increase passes we would still have the lowest sales tax in an urban county. If you spend $100 at the store it would cost an additional quarter.”
If voters approve boosting Summit’s rate to 0.75 percent, the total sales tax in the county would go to 7 cents on the dollar.
State law requires that county sales taxes be changed in increments of 0.25 percent.
Pry said he plans to introduce legislation to the county council on May 12 to put the issue before Summit County voters. The deadline to place it on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election is Aug. 6.
A majority vote of the council is needed to place it on the ballot, and according to the county charter, any sales tax increase proposal must be approved by the voters.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or email@example.com.