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Published: Monday, 4/14/2003

Counties ask voters to approve new taxes

TIFFIN - The work of the new Concerned Citizens for Hancock County group won't be done even if county voters approve the sales tax request it's promoting next month.

The group, made up of about 30 volunteers, has offered to help county leaders by suggesting ways to run the their offices more efficiently.

“We're concerned the economic downturn could last longer than we had anticipated,'' Riad Yammine, committee chairman and a retired Marathon Oil Co. executive.

Hancock County isn't alone with its request to voters May 6 for more money to run its offices, including the county sheriff's office that has faced drastic cutbacks in recent years.

Residents in nearby Seneca County also will be asked to support a sales tax to avoid cuts. Township voters across northwest Ohio will decide on new tax levies to fund everything from general operation to road repairs or cemetery upgrades.

In Hancock County, voters will decide on a two-year, 0.25-percent sales tax that would raise about $2.5 million a year.

The sheriff's office and other county departments had to reduce their budgets by 11 percent in January because of falling investment income and rising health care costs. In late February, commissioners transferred $94,000 to the sheriff's office to prevent the layoff of 11 employees.

If voters reject the sales tax next month, Sheriff Michael Heldman has said he will lay off three corrections officers and at least eight deputies. Road patrols would be reduced, and the jail would close one wing.

Such concerns prompted Mr. Yammine to get involved in the campaign effort. In coming weeks, he said committee members will pass out brochures during walking campaigns across the county.

Mr. Yammine said speakers, both volunteers and county leaders, will be available at certain locations in the county this month to answer residents' questions about the tax request.

A similar effort is under way in Seneca County, where volunteers there have formed the Invest in Seneca County's Future Committee. It is headed by Tiffin resident Jeff Kuhn.

The five-year, 0.5-percent sales tax would raise $2.1 million to shore up the county's budget, retire debt, replace aging equipment, and improve infrastructure.

Commissioners have said the new money would not be used for major repairs or demolition of the Seneca County Courthouse, a topic of debate in recent years.

In a recent plea to the public, the county auditor and clerk of courts urged voters to learn the facts about the sales tax request. Auditor Larry Beidelschies and Clerk Mary Ward said their offices will face more cuts without additional funding.

Mr. Beidelschies said his office has been slashed by about 20 percent and has a backlog of work. He compared his office to other nearby county auditors' offices of similar size, all with larger staffs.

Ms. Ward said her office has seen a jump in the records they handle - things like foreclosures and civil protection orders - but a decrease in the number of employees.

In other elections:

  • Defiance County's Highland Township has on the ballot a request for 3 additional mills for a continuing period.

  • Voters in Hardin County's Blanchard Township will be voting on a request for an additional 2 mills for current operating expenses for five years.

  • Seneca County's Townsend Township is asking voters to approve an additional 2 mills for a continuing period.



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