FINDLAY - Wasting no time, Hancock County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to impose a 0.75-percentage-point hike in the county's sales tax.
The tax hike, which will generate about $7.25 million a year for flood mitigation, county operations, and construction of a court center, will increase Hancock County's sales tax rate from 6 percent to 6.75 percent.
On Wednesday, commissioners listened to more than two hours of comments from the public about the proposed tax increase - comments that ranged from support for the measure to promises that it would be put on the ballot with a referendum if commissioners chose to impose it.
Ed Ingold, chairman of the commissioners, said two main factors convinced him the time was right to impose the tax.
"Number one, the current county financial situation for operations cannot go into 2009 without some additional revenue beginning the first of the year, and so drastic cuts would have been necessary to balance our budget," Mr. Ingold said.
"The other one is this community has to start showing support for the future flood-mitigation plan - whatever that may be - coming out of the Corps of Engineers so that we're able to say we are stepping up. We are starting to collect that local match, and it will be there when the plans are ready."
Commissioners said about $2.5 million of the new revenue would be allocated to future flood-mitigation projects, while $2 million would support operation of county government, $2 million would go toward construction of a new downtown court center, and $1 million would be set aside for other capital projects.
The court center, a new office building that would accommodate all the courts and related offices such as the prosecutor, public defender, probation, and clerk of courts, would create office space needed after flooding last August severely damaged several county buildings.
The historic courthouse would be used as a county administration building.
Mr. Ingold said commissioners planned to use the county's carryover balance to help it balance its budget, but that the "rainy day" fund has been consumed by flood-related expenses.
For 2009, a budget deficit of $1.75 million to $2.5 million is expected without any new revenues.
Although commissioners had talked about imposing the tax indefinitely, Mr. Ingold said the board decided to impose it for 22 years because commissioners figure in two years the county will be prepared to issue bonds for the new court center and potentially for the flood mitigation project.
The tax would provide the backing to issue 20-year bonds.
The increased sales tax will begin to be collected Oct. 1 if the issue is not put on the November ballot by referendum. Mr. Ingold said the county would begin to receive the new revenue in January.
Hancock County has had one of the lowest sales tax rates in the state for years.
Stark County is the only other county whose rate is at 6 percent.
The county actually only receives the revenue generated by a 0.5 percent sales tax while the other 5.5 percent goes to the state.
Commissioners estimate that as much as 40 percent of the sales tax that is paid in Hancock County comes from shoppers who live outside the county.
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