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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Commissioners outline possible Fulton tax hike

WAUSEON - Just a handful of people turned out yesterday for the first of two hearings the Fulton County Commissioners will hold concerning the possibility of raising the county's sales tax from a penny to 1.5 cents on the dollar.

The increase, expected to raise about $1.45 million in annual revenue, may be needed to offset falling revenue from the county's existing sales and property taxes and plummeting investment income, the commissioners said during presentations to open the 75-minute session yesterday in the commissioners' chambers.

Leon Shulters of Metamora urged the panel to find ways to cut public employees' compensation, arguing that public-sector pay has outstripped "working people's compensation" over the last 20 years and is "the reason we're going broke every day."

Commissioners said their salaries, set by state law and based on county population, haven't risen in years, and they declined the last raise allowed by the legislature. They also noted their budget-balancing options include cutting county agencies' hours and requiring furloughs of up to 80 hours - two weeks - for county employees.

Sales and use taxes account for the largest portion - 38 percent - of the county's general fund revenue. That revenue is expected to decline from $4.2 million to $3.8 million this year. While property-tax revenue is up this year, officials said, it's expected to fall next year, too. Fee revenue and investment income also are down.

The second hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, also in the commissioners' chambers. The commissioners have authority to impose such a tax increase by their own vote afterward, but if they do so, a 30-day period would follow during which petitions could be filed to send the matter to a referendum vote.

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