The Hancock County commissioners’ 180-degree turn on a proposed sales tax increase was a surprising but logical move, considering the public response at two recent public meetings.
At both, critics suggested the commissioners hadn’t made their case to justify an increase of a temporary county sales tax from 0.50 percent to 0.75 percent.
Had the tax proceeded to the November ballot at 0.75 percent, it would have likely failed.
On Tuesday, the commissioners demonstrated they heard those concerns and wisely split the tax proposal into two issues.
One quarter-percent sales tax would go toward capital improvements, for a county office building, a jail expansion, and existing jail upgrades. The other quarter percent would go to general operations, but would be directed to flood reduction, as it is now.
The commissioners also boldly took the remaining quarter percent off the table, making it a permanent tax for general county operations. Such moves are allowed by law.
While the end result will be the same if the two ballot issues are approved by voters, breaking the original proposal into pieces will allow the public to chew on it in smaller pieces and decide the merit of each issue separately.
Still, each component will need a fuller explanation than has yet been made, and the commissioners and other officials must get to work immediately to better make the case why each piece is needed.
Early voting, after all, begins in less than two months.
A better plan of action, for example, will be needed on the capital improvement piece of the sales tax pie.
While there have been hints of building construction ideas in recent years, there has been little talk of cost, and which project, the county office building or jail expansion, would be the first priority.
Then there is the question of why a 20-year period is needed for that portion of the tax.
Judges, prosecutors and police could help the commissioners make the capital improvement argument if the ongoing opioid epidemic is driving jail demand.
There may be less public interest in a new county office building unless officials can show that there will be greater efficiency and a cost savings in consolidating county offices that are now spread throughout the city.
The proposed sales tax that is earmarked for flood control, meanwhile, will also need to be sold to the community, even though that need remains just as urgent as it did when it was first passed.
Many people have grown frustrated with the slow progression of flood-control projects and the apparent waste of time and money spent dealing with the Army Corps of Engineers.
The community’s first major project, a widening of the Blanchard River west of downtown Findlay, won’t begin until 2018 — more than 10 years after the flood that generated the first flood-related sales tax, which runs out at the end of 2018.
Even today, much remains uncertain about future flood projects. Will the community move forward with the three dry floodwater basins that have been proposed for rural areas south of Findlay? If not, what are the alternatives?
While no one is assuming the widening project is all we need, some voters may demand more answers before saying yes to a continued flood tax.
The commissioners shouldn’t think voters are going to write a blank check, not knowing where sales tax proceeds are going.
Mark Gazarek, Brian Robertson and Tim Bechtol and those on the front lines of the criminal justice system and flood-control efforts have legitimate funding needs. Adjusting the sales tax is the best way to fund them. Even if the two taxes pass, Hancock County’s total sales tax will be 7 percent, which is lower than 53 of the 88 Ohio counties.
The sales tax issue may no longer be an all-or-nothing proposal, but it is still going to take a concerted effort if both measures are going to pass Nov. 7. Let’s get started.
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