TIFFIN - The Seneca County commissioners yesterday approved a 0.5 percent emergency sales tax for the rest of 2003 but dropped plans to follow it with a permanent levy.
Responding to public comment at two public hearings, the commissioners instead plan to impose a four-year, 0.5 percent tax in hopes of heading off a possible repeal drive.
“They made it plain they would support it better with a time limit, so that's what we did,” Commissioner Jimmie Young said.
The commissioners are trying to stave off a $1.7 million budget deficit this year and begin rebuilding the county's finances, which have been wracked by drops in tax revenue and interest income.
The emergency tax will take effect Aug. 1 and raise about $175,000 a month.
“We think things are starting to look a little bit better, that we can get through the year and put this tax on,” Commissioner Tom Distel said. “We hope in a period of four years' time that we're able to improve Seneca County.”
Voters rejected a five-year, 0.5 percent sales tax May 6, plunging the county into a budget crisis. Without the expected revenue from the tax, the county faced laying off more than half of the employees in the sheriff's office and releasing two-thirds of the inmates in the county's Youth Center, plus other reductions.
During two public hearings this month, irate residents accused the commissioners of ignoring the voters' will. Others said they opposed a continuing tax but could support a levy with a time limit so voters could review it.
Delmar Goshe of Tiffin, who at a hearing June 9 urged the commissioners to enact a two-year tax, said yesterday that a four-year levy would be better than one that never expired.
“I think it's better than putting it on full-time, because if you put it on full-time, it's never going to go away,” he said. “If you spend the money wisely ... you won't have any trouble getting it back on.”
Mr. Distel said a shorter tax “really didn't give us enough time to work on anything.”
Mr. Distel, Mr. Young, and Commissioner Joseph Schock voted unanimously to enact the emergency tax and to end consideration of a permanent levy. The commissioners plan Monday to schedule public hearings on the four-year sales tax.
“We have to go through all the whole procedure all over again,” Mr. Distel said.
Even with the emergency tax, the commissioners have said they faced a deficit of $400,000 this year. Earlier this month, they instructed county department heads to cut 5 percent from their budgets.
Cuts in some of the county's largest departments, including the sheriff's office and Juvenile Court, have not been finalized.