By Timothy Cox
Auglaize County might have gone broke if county commissioners had not made the recent decision to reinstate the half-cent sales tax that pays for the jail and its operations for another 10 years, county Auditor Karyn Schumann said this week.
The half-cent tax raises nearly $2 million annually but was set to expire late next year after final payment is made on the debt for the Law Enforcement Center.
The half-cent sales tax was approved by 57 percent of voters in March 1996 after the issue was defeated on two prior ballots. The 10-year tax was earmarked to construct the $7.2 million Law Enforcement Center on Dearbaugh Road in Wapakoneta.
Facing financial uncertainty with revenue from the state and other shrinking finances, commissioners this past spring began looking at extending the tax by resolution. When a series of public hearings yielded no serious opposition, commissioners voted to keep the tax on the books for another 10 years to operate the jail.
Although the sales tax money will go into the general fund, county commissioners said the money all will help fund the $5 million annual expense of the sheriff's department and jail. Commissioner John Bergman noted the county will be forfeiting $300,000 annually in personal property taxes from businesses because of tax reductions authorized by state lawmakers. The county also has faced potential cuts to local government funding from the state, Bergman said.
"We certainly need the money," Schumann said of the sales tax extension. Schumann served on a committee that worked toward passage of the tax in 1996.
Had the sales tax been allowed to lapse, the county would have been out of money by 2008, she said. That means commissioners would have been faced with making budget cuts or convincing voters to approve some other tax issue to bring in more money.
Commissioner Hugh Core said people were hesitant when they first heard about the issue but more supportive after they fully understood the issue.
"Most of the folks I talk to, once they have a grasp of the issue, find it acceptable," Core said.
Many people at first believed their taxes were going higher but became supportive of the issue when they found out it would cost them no more than they are paying now, Schumann said. That is common mentality among taxpayers when considering whether to support a tax issue, she said.
The six public hearings held throughout the county were poorly attended, another indication that residents are not opposed to extending the sales tax, commissioners said.