A ballot issue to raise the Summit County sales tax will face opposition from two grass-roots groups.
The Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase and Defeat the Arena Tax have formed to campaign against the proposed 0.25 percent increase, which will appear on the November ballot.
Their main beef? County taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be funneled to build a new 8,500-seat downtown arena.
“We feel a new $161 million taxpayer-funded basketball arena for the University of Akron is not an appropriate allocation of funds when so many people in our county/surrounding communities are struggling financially, especially in Akron, where almost 30 percent of the residents live under the poverty level,” said Adam Miller, who formed the Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase.
County officials and many business leaders are backing the issue, which would raise $20 million a year if approved by voters. In addition to the arena, the money would go toward the county jail, public safety and other county expenses.
The county — which has stressed that public safety needs are its top priority — would set aside $7 million annually for 23 years to pay for the arena.
If approved, the local sales tax would go from 6.75 percent to 7 percent. The county’s share would rise to 0.75 percent — still one of the lowest county shares in the state.
Supporters estimate the increase would cost people less than $50 a year.
Neither opposition group says it’s against providing more money for public safety and that’s not what they are campaigning against. They wish the arena wasn’t part of the sales tax vote.
“It’s about the county government going all in into the entertainment industry,” said Ken Burkins, who co-founded Defeat the Arena Tax. “It’s not going to be a cost-effective way to manage taxpayer dollars. It will be a loss proposition.”
The other co-founder, David Culp, said he prefers that the arena be built on campus, as opposed to downtown. He said lumping the county’s public safety needs with the arena “smells like a 10-day-old fish.”
Both groups likened their efforts to a David vs. Goliath situation.
“We have the message, they have the money,” Miller said.
Miller, 28, a landscaper, Kent State University student and Marines veteran, has plenty of issues with the sales tax proposal.
“It raises taxes on the already taxed-out citizens of Summit County,” he said. “We believe it targets and hurts the working-poor and middle class.”
Other reasons include the tax increase being permanent and there being no arena contract in place among the city, county and university.
Miller also questions why county taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for new 800 megahertz radio upgrades for Akron Public Schools, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Akron-Canton Airport and other government entities.
Those entities should be paying for the radios themselves, he said.
The Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase is a political action committee and can raise money for its campaign. Miller hopes to raise $5,000.
Donations can be made to Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase, 100 Alameda Ave., Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221.
Miller has launched a Facebook page — www.facebook.com/NoNewTaxes2014 — and is working on a website.
He also plans to use door-to-door canvassing, yard signs and phone banks.
Defeat the Arena Tax
Burkins and Culp — both UA graduates and season ticket-holders for UA basketball — teamed up to form their own group after they spoke before the County Council last month.
Burkins, 60, of Akron is a vice president at a local manufacturing company.
Culp, 63, of Akron is a retired social worker.
They bleed blue and gold, the UA colors. Neither is opposed to a sales tax increase — just not one dedicating money to a downtown arena.
Building such a facility would be a misuse of taxpayer money, especially when you can throw a grenade inside the on-campus arena now and not hurt anyone during a men’s basketball game, Burkins said.
Culp wants to see an arena built, but he wants it on campus near the football stadium. And he said the university should pay for it.
They said it’s silly that the county says the arena will turn a slight profit in its first year.
“When pigs fly,” Culp said.
Burkins and Culp will campaign through social media, traditional media and speaking engagements. They also are considering yard signs.
Burkins and Culp anticipate that proponents will paint them as anti-public safety and anti-progress. But that’s not true, they said.
“I love the area and I think it’s a great place to grow up,” Burkins said. “I think it’s a great place to raise a family. I think the standard of living is great.
“But don’t keep throwing this kind of expense on the electorate on top of the income tax for the schools in the city of Akron and what we’re going to be dealing with with our sewer system.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.