By JIM MAURER
The business community voiced support Tuesday for renewal of an existing Hancock County sales tax, but did not support a 0.25 percent increase or the 20-year length being considered by the Hancock County commissioners.
During the second public hearing on the 0.75 percent sales tax being proposed for the Nov. 7 general election ballot, John Haywood, president and chief executive officer of the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance, read a letter endorsed by 13 city and business officials.
Voters approved the current 0.50 percent sales tax in 2009. It will expire at the end of next year. Half the revenue is used for flood-reduction expenses and the remainder for the county’s general operations.
Haywood’s letter said the July 13-14 flooding “leaves Hancock County with no other choice but to continue efforts to implement flood-mitigation solutions.
“In June, the Economic Development Advisory Board (an economic development support organization) unanimously passed a resolution in support of continuing the 0.25 percent sales tax earmarked for flood mitigation. With this letter, the undersigned businesses support the county commissioners including the 0.50 percent sales tax on the November 2017 ballot, renewing the existing sales tax that will expire at the end of 2018 for another 10 years.”
“The business community cannot support the commissioners’ proposed increase to 0.75 percent sales tax for the next 20 years, due to a lack of clarity in the information provided to justify the increase,” the letter said.
“We would be happy to assist the county commissioners over the coming months to collect this data and outline the county’s future operating and capital needs. When this information is ready, funding options can be presented to county officials and ultimately the public for review and consideration.”
The letter was signed by Haywood; by Katherine Fell, University of Findlay president and chair of the Alliance’s board; and by Tim Mayle, director of Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development.
The letter also was signed by Mayor Lydia Mihalik, and by representatives of ACI Construction, One Energy Enterprises, Marathon Petroleum Corp., Fifth Third Bank, Ohio Logistics, Ball Beverage Packaging, Blanchard Valley Health System, National Lime & Stone, and Cooper Tire.
During Tuesday’s 90-minute hearing, attended by about 35 individuals — less than half the number who attended a similar meeting last week — Commissioner Brian Robertson gave a computer presentation which outlined county finances and the need for additional funds.
The extra funds would pay for jail expansion and additional staffing/operational costs, and a county office building to house probate/juvenile court and other county departments.
Then the commissioners took comments from the public for about an hour.
The proposed tax is 0.25 percent more than is currently being collected. The current tax expires at year-end 2018. In recent years, the 0.50 percent tax has collected about $7 million annually, with half being used for flood-reduction expenses and the remainder for the county’s general operations.
Those allocations would continue with voter approval of the proposed tax.
The additional 0.25 percent tax, which would generate an extra $3.5 million annually, would be used for county jail expansion. Currently, 25-30 prisoners daily — mainly misdemeanor offenders — are taken to neighboring counties for incarceration because the Hancock County jail is full.
The jail has 96 beds. The jail population often is more than 100 and can rise as high as 145 individuals.
Sheriff Michael Heldman said a previous jail report — several have been done since 1999 — about inadequate jail space indicated 254 beds would be needed by 2040. But at current rates, that figure will be reached by the mid-2020s, he said.
The additional sales tax also would provide funds for the additional jail staff required, for construction of a county administrative building to house probate/juvenile court and other county departments, for ongoing capital projects, and to cover increased costs, such as medical costs for jail inmates.
The county has been leasing space for several county offices since the 2007 flood displaced some departments. It would cost $5 million to $10 million to construct a new county building, Robertson estimated, but the county would save about $4.4 million by not paying leases over the next 20 years.
The additional tax funds will offset reductions from the state, too, Commissioner President Mark Gazarek said. In the past six weeks, the county has been notified of $1.3 million in state reductions, he said, which were unknown to the county and will adversely affect the nearly $23 million county budget.
If approved, the tax will be effective Jan. 1, 2019.
If the tax is approved, the county’s total 7 percent sales tax would be lower than 53 other Ohio counties. Of that total, the county would receive 1.25 percent, because it already collects another half-percent sales tax.
The remainder is retained by the state.
The commissioners have until 4 p.m. Aug. 9 to submit a resolution to the county elections board for ballot consideration.
As Tuesday’s meeting, several people, mainly rural residents, spoke against the tax issue because of the impact flood-control efforts could have on the southern portion of the county, where floodwater storage basins are proposed that could flood farm fields.
Some said the commissioners should ask for renewal of the existing tax “or you’re going to have failure.”
Doug Staas of Findlay said the problem is where the Blanchard River joins the Auglaize River in Putnam County. If that area was cleared, river water would flow better, he said.
“It’s a self-inflicted situation,” he said. “Everyone should have to pay. It’s up to each family to care for themselves.”
He suggested the commissioners start spending money “like it’s out of your pocket,” and not the public’s pocket.
“There has to be a trade-off,” he said. “You can’t keep coming back and asking people making $10-$15 per hour to cover it.”
Send an E-mail to Jim Maurer