MEDINA — The county is moving forward with its plan to place a 0.20 percent sales tax on the May 8 ballot.
Commissioners have conducted two required public hearings on the matter, the last of which was Tuesday morning. Following the hearing, commissioners approved a resolution to place the issue on the primary ballot. The county has until Feb. 9 to file with the Medina County Board of Elections.
Commissioners stressed to a crowd of about 25 at the hearing that the tax is needed. The sales tax is earmarked for criminal justice services and only can be used to cover the cost of operating the courts, Medina County Sheriff’s Office, including jail operations, and other expenses related to criminal justice services.
County Administrator Scott Miller said the combined yearly expenses for the county court system and sheriff’s office totals $25,445,278, which is
63 percent of the county’s general fund expenses.
The court budget alone for 2017 was $5.5 million. That includes the costs of common pleas, juvenile, probate, Wadsworth municipal and Medina municipal courts, and other departments. The judges in those courts set their own budgets.
“Medina (County) is a great place to live in part due to the services provided by the sheriff’s office and court system,” Miller said. “These services provide residents with a safe environment in which to live and raise their families, and this tax will help keep deputies safely on the streets, the jail open, and provide the necessary funding to ensure due process is given to those being processed through the courts.”
The sales tax rate in Medina County is 6.75 percent. It’s broken down this way:
- 5.75 percent state sales tax;
- 0.5 percent county sales tax;
- 0.5 percent school sales tax.
If it passes in May, the county sales tax rate would increase to 6.95 percent, and Miller said the rate still would be lower than 66 of the
88 counties that have sales tax rates at 7 percent or greater.
Medina County falls in the middle of what residents pay in sales tax compared with neighboring counties — Cuyahoga, 8 percent; Ashland,
7 percent; Lorain and Summit counties, 6.75 percent; and Wayne County, 6.5 percent.
The 0.20 percent would add an additional 20 cents to a $100 taxable item. Sales tax is not charged on rent, mortgage payments, groceries, utilities, health insurance, auto insurance, gasoline and other miscellaneous services and nontaxable items.
Miller estimates this tax would generate approximately $5.3 million annually.
If the sales tax increase is successful, “It allows us to put money toward our capital improvements and maintenance, which we’ve been lacking the last couple of years,” Miller said.
He said one benefit of a sales tax vs. a property tax is that individuals from outside the county visiting Medina County pay sales tax when purchasing items from local businesses.
Criminal justice expenses are paid for out of the general operating fund of which the greatest revenue sources are property taxes and the sales tax. By providing a specific revenue source to cover the cost of criminal justice services, other tax revenues could be used for senior services, children’s services — which also is experiencing increased costs due to the opioid epidemic — mental health services, capital improvements and maintenance of county buildings.
Miller explained the county is mandated to provide certain services, such as criminal justice services, including the sheriff’s office, court system, prosecutor’s office and coroner. Miller said the county can’t stop purchasing vehicles for the sheriff’s office, close the jail or eliminate the common pleas court. The cost of operating these services has increased substantially since 2008 due to state mandates and the opioid epidemic, he said.
Miller said these costs continue to increase and the county is at a point where additional funding is necessary to stay in compliance with state and federal mandates and provide services necessary to keep the public safe and address the needs of county residents.
If the levy passes, Miller said it would take effect Oct. 1.
“We need to get it passed,” Commissioner Pat Geissman said in December. “We need to take care of our buildings. We’ve been putting it off. We need to take care of the opioid crisis.”
The most recent tax levied by commissioners for general operations was a 0.5 percent sales tax implemented 46 years ago in 1971, Miller said.
During the recession, the county had to cut its budget by $4.9 million — 12 percent — in 2008-10. In order to balance its budget, the county reduced its workforce through layoffs or attrition by approximately 177 full- and part-time employees, closed a jail pod, cut capital spending, froze salaries, eliminated a department and eliminated or froze certain expenses.
Contact reporter Bob Finnan at (330) 721-4049 or firstname.lastname@example.org.