By Sean Rice
Mercer County Commission- ers still are mulling a decision to raise the fee on property transfers from $1 to $3 per $1,000.
The county board did not make any decisions after a second public hearing on the issue Thursday afternoon. Commis- sioner Jerry Laffin said county Prosecuting Attorney Andy Hinders was asked for advice on the length of time the commissioners have to act.
The commissioners have the ability under Ohio law to increase the property conveyance fee on land transfers up to $4 per $1,000, after two public hearings are held.
Nearly a dozen people, mostly real estate professionals, attended the Thursday hearing to ask the board to reconsider the proposal.
As at the first hearing on March 16, county officials explained the county general fund lost a average of $500,000 a year during the last four years because of the drop in interest rates and from state reductions in support. In Gov. Bob Taft's proposed two-year budget, local government funds are cut 20 percent further, which would mean $191,640 less for the county general fund. Commissioners said they are worried the measure will probably pass.
The three-man county commission asked all county department heads to reduce budgets by 7 percent in mid-year 2004, and then this year the commission reduced appropriations another 10 percent.
A transfer fee increase from $1 to $3 per $1,000 sold would bring the county about $200,000 more per year. The transfer fee due from the seller of a $100,000 home would be $300 if the measure is approved.
"This isn't a knee-jerk reaction, this been planned," Commissioner Jim Zehringer said. "We could use a lot more dollars, but this is what we're asking for."
Realtors complained the county is using a narrow base of residents to levy a non-voted tax, and the increase could have a negative effect on home sales.
County Auditor Mark Giesige said he is in "disbelief" that an extra $200 on a $100,000 property sale "is going to make a difference" in the decision to purchase, like realtors say.
Laffin explained the state Legislature has been slowly pulling state funding and reimbursements from various sources during the last decade. The transfer fee is one of the only methods the commission can raise income without a public vote.
If the measure is approved, county residents will have a 30-day window to referendum the issue with petitions and take it to a public vote. Laffin said Friday no decisions are made yet and the issue currently is not planned for the agenda next week.