Six months after Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry started lobbying for a local sales tax increase, the proposal is still simmering out of public view.
County leaders haven’t spoken publicly about the issue since the sheriff first raised it as a way to hire more deputies and improve conditions at the county jail.
But the proposal is far from dead.
“We’ve heard the concerns by the sheriff and we’re determining if a sales tax increase is a warranted venture,” said Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry.
Barry recommended a 0.25 percent hike, which would raise about $19 million a year. Not all the money would go to his department.
At the time, the sheriff said officials were looking at putting the issue before voters in the spring.
But the deadline for placing an issue on the primary ballot is in early February, and County Council hasn’t even addressed the proposal.
If it does go before voters this year, it more likely would appear on the ballot in November.
“We haven’t had any formal discussions on it as a council,” Vice President Sandra Kurt said. “And the one thing that I do want to say is we want to do our due diligence before we ask the taxpayers for additional funds.
“We know things are still tight,” she said.
The overall sales tax in Summit is 6.75 percent, but only 0.5 percent of that goes to the county itself. The remainder is earmarked to the state and another portion to the Metro Regional Transit Authority.
The county percentage, which generated $38 million in 2012, hasn’t changed since 1995 and is tied with Stark for the lowest rate in the state.
The sheriff’s office is the county’s largest general fund expense at $29.6 million this year. The bulk of the money — $19.5 million — goes to operate the jail.
Barry said he hasn’t backed off the proposal.
“Nobody wants a sales tax increase, including us, but we pretty much have no choice,” he said. “This is definitely one of the few options we have left.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.