the Beacon Journal editorial board

In discussing whether to support Issue 12 on Tuesday’s ballot, members of the Green City Council recently found themselves at odds. The council ended up managing a 4-3 vote in favor of raising the Summit County sales tax by one-quarter of 1 percent.

The largest beneficiary of new revenue (45 percent) would be the much understaffed Summit County Jail. Although the tax increase, which would generate about $20 million a year, would expire in 10 years, county officials estimate that careful budgeting would keep the jail operating with adequate revenue for 20 years.

Has the county budgeted carefully up to this point? Chris Humphrey, the chairman of the Green Finance Committee, wondered as much, saying the county has made choices to fund priorities other than “basic safety.” The jail has indeed taken a hit, down more than 40 deputies and civilian workers as a result of budget cuts.

But actually, the county has directed much of the pain of recent cuts elsewhere, keeping the jail a higher priority than most administrative offices. Even the probate court and county prosecutor’s office have shouldered larger cuts, in terms of percentage reductions, than has the sheriff’s office, which has been reduced about 13 percent since 2008. The elections board has been slashed 37 percent; the fiscal office, 24 percent.

Because running the sheriff’s office is by far the biggest item in the general fund budget (about 30 percent of expenditures), it is unrealistic to expect no cuts there at all. But personnel reductions have fallen hardest in other areas. Sheriff’s deputies have been cut by 14 percent (from 2007 to 2013).That compares to 24 percent for nonbargaining employees and 20 percent for union workers.

The sheriff’s office also has received the largest portion of new money from the clerk’s title fund, with almost $500,000 budgeted for 2015.

Summit County has coped with revenue shortfalls from the recession and cuts to local government funds by the state, to help pay for ill-considered tax reductions. Since 2008, the county general fund budget has been slashed by nearly $20 million, from $122 million to $103 million. In all, the work force is down 757 positions.

Given the difficult situation, Russ Pry, the county executive, and the County Council have spared the sheriff’s office as much as possible. Now, along with other pressing safety priorities, there is nowhere else to turn other than a temporary sales tax increase to keep the jail functioning safely. To suggest otherwise ignores year after year of tough budget decisions.