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Published: Thursday, 10/9/2008

Officials: Tax laws should be flexible

BY ALEX M. PARKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Though they said they weren't advocating new taxes, two elected officials yesterday said counties in Ohio should have more options when it comes to taxation - including taxing alcohol or cigarettes.

"It's time the legislature realized that each community isn't the same as the other community," Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County Commissioners, said during a panel discussion at the Compass Corporation for Recovery, 2465 Collingwood Blvd.

"If the question is, should we look at the way we tax ourselves, and should we be innovative and look at changes - absolutely," she said.

Bill Sanford, president of Compass, noted that alcohol sales continue to rise, even as the turbulent economy has caused most products to stagnate. For instance, sales of hard liquor rose by 1.4 percent during the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Ohio Division of Liquor Control reported in August.

He said alcoholism is one of the main reasons people end up in treatment.

"The number one drug that is abused for people that come here is alcohol," Mr. Sanford said after the event. "We have an alcohol problem because we have such easy access to it."

Mr. Sanford said he thought a tax on alcohol sales could go specifically to addiction or substance abuse treatment programs.

Ms. Wozniak spoke at the panel discussion with county Auditor Anita Lopez.

The discussion ranged from the upcoming levy campaigns to the high cost of incarcerating nonviolent inmates, compared with treating them for substance abuse.

Ms. Lopez also said she wished Ohio counties had more flexibility.

"Considering how citizens are feeling now, any tax right now is clearly viewed as a burden because of our current financial situation," Ms. Lopez said.

"Clearly, property tax is not the answer for every organization to go to."

As auditor, she said she is focused on running the office more efficiently than her predecessors.

Currently, Ohio law allows counties to tax alcohol only to pay for a sports facility. The state does tax alcohol and cigarettes.

Ms. Wozniak said she wouldn't support any tax increases until she was sure she had made county government as efficient as possible.

She noted the effort of the Citizens Levy Review Committee to study the possibility of consolidating future levy requests.

"Before you enact a sin tax, I would want to look locally at our ability to create efficiency," Ms. Wozniak said. "Our obligation is to become more efficient in the way we operate county government."

The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board is pushing for a 10-year, 1-mill replacement levy on the November ballot.

The issue will join four other county-wide levies.

According to a handout from Ms. Lopez's office, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30.63 a year, or $11.21 more than the owner would pay today.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact Alex M. Parker at:

aparker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6107.



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