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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2003

7.5% sales tax looms in Williams

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Just as Ohioans see the state sales tax go up by a penny on the dollar starting today, the Williams County commissioners are eyeing an increase of another half-cent per dollar.

If enacted, it would raise the total sales tax paid in Williams County to 7.5 percent, one of the higher taxes among counties in the area.

Citing an anticipated general fund deficit, two of the commissioners said yesterday that they feel they have no choice but to impose the tax increase later this year - just so they can continue providing county services.

County commissioners, who are planning two public hearings this month to discuss their proposal, said they realize the move could send residents in the uppermost corner of northwest Ohio running across nearby state lines, where the sales tax is just 6 percent in both Michigan and Indiana.

“That is a big worry. That's where it was an extremely difficult decision to make,” Commissioner Tom Strup said yesterday. “But we felt we're doing what's best for the taxpayers of the county. We have to provide services.”

County commissioners last month voted 2-1 to approve a resolution indicating their intent to increase the sales tax on Oct. 1. Commissioner Duane Votaw voted against the resolution.

Mr. Votaw could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In the past, Williams County residents have paid a 5 percent sales tax to the state and another 1 percent tax to the county.

Today, the state sales tax increased to 6 percent for two years as part of the new $49 billion state budget for 2004 and 2005. It was signed into law last week by Gov. Bob Taft.

The 6 percent tax doesn't include local add-ons, which average about 1 percent but vary from county to county.

Mr. Strup said Williams County would not be alone in the state with an ultimate 7.5 percent sales tax. He said research conducted by his office showed that there are 28 counties in the state with the same level of tax.

Commissioner Marvin Stuckey said yesterday that commissioners had only $7,000 left in the general fund after they balanced this year's $10 million budget.

He said the budget was approved after they “went three times to the drawing board” and asked all officeholders to make drastic cuts in their own budgets.

Mr. Stuckey said the county's former “rainy-day fund” has been wiped out and the county can't continue providing services without additional revenue.

Mr. Strup said the shortfall is due in part to a significant loss in interest income coupled with state cuts.

Both commissioners encouraged residents to attend two upcoming hearings about the proposed tax. One is planned for 10 a.m. July 10 and the other at 6:30 p.m. July 17 - both at Williams County Common Pleas Court.

If enacted, the Oct. 1 sales tax hike would generate $1.5 million more a year for the county, Mr. Strup said.

“That will plug the hole we're projecting for next year. That's still with cutting costs,” Mr. Strup said, adding that it won't provide extra money for the county.

If the measure is approved by commissioners later this month, local residents would have a chance to file a request for a referendum vote with the county board of elections.



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