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Published: 8/16/2005

Hancock County voters link tax support, safety

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FINDLAY - The handful of people who spoke out about a proposed 0.25 percent sales tax hike yesterday agreed they'd support the tax but said they wanted it earmarked for law enforcement.

Hancock County commissioners plan to decide Thursday exactly what form the tax request will take on the November ballot.

"We're going to work it out, and whatever we do it will be a consensus," Commissioner Ed Ingold said after the public hearing at the county's Agricultural Service Center, the second hearing commissioners held to get input on the tax proposal.

Commissioners are eyeing a five-year sales tax increase to try to keep the county's budget balanced. It could be allocated specifically for the criminal justice system, which actually costs the county some $8.5 million a year, or it could be placed in the general operating fund, which pays for all county operations including the courts and the sheriff's, prosecutor's, and clerk's offices.

"I would be in favor of a quarter percent if it's designated for the criminal justice system, but not if it goes into the general fund," said Frank Parcher of Findlay. "I feel if it goes for the general fund, it will go down to defeat."

For some, it seemed to be a matter of trust. McArthur Gilley of Findlay said the previous board of commissioners used general fund dollars to purchase some downtown buildings that are not being used. He asked what the commissioners planned to do with the property.

"That's a lot of money setting there," Mr. Gilley said.

Mr. Ingold, who was not on the board when the real estate was purchased, responded that commissioners do not know what will be done with the property. He said the board is in the process of looking at all the county-owned buildings and the costs to bring them up to code.

Todd McCracken of Findlay said Hancock County has been successful at attracting new businesses because of its work force, its schools, and its safety record. He said he will support the sales tax hike - even more so if it was designated for law enforcement.

"I moved back here after a five-year absence to raise a family in a safe community," he said.

Hancock County, which attracts retail shoppers from surrounding counties, has one of the lowest sales tax rates in Ohio at 6 percent. Even with a 0.25 percent increase, it would still have the lowest rate in northwest Ohio.

In 2003, Hancock County voters approved a 0.25 percent increase in the local sales tax to rescue the sheriff's office from making drastic cuts in personnel and jail space. The two-year measure expired June 30, and commissioners say the new request could be for up to five years.

"Two years just wasn't long enough to see the effects of the tax," Mr. Ingold said. "It also wasn't a long enough time frame to judge the direction of the economy."

Sheriff Mike Heldman said after the meeting he was glad to hear that people want to see the income tax directed toward his office and to the courts.

"I think that says a lot for our office and our people who work there - that they are doing their jobs," Sheriff Heldman said.

Prosecutor Bob Fry said earmarking the tax for criminal justice is an assurance to some people that their tax dollars will be spent wisely.

"They want that guarantee that regardless of what happens to the economy, they know the deputies will be on the road, the jail will be open, and the courts will be operating," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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