Can the Commissioners Enact a Sales Tax Without a Vote of the People?

Brian Massie, Citizen Journalist

The Lake County Commissioners want to build a new Public Safety Center [read: jail] across the street from the current jail facility. Once built, the old facility will be demolished and replaced with a badly needed parking lot. To pay for the jail, the Commissioners are considering adding a 1/2% sales tax to the current 7.25% sales tax without a vote of the people.

The sales tax is currently collected for three governmental entities:

State of Ohio 5.75%
Lake County 1.0%
Laketran .5%
Total of 7.25%

We take issue with the Lake County Commissioners and the Lake County Prosecutor when they emphatically state that they can collect the sales tax without the vote of the people. Here is an email that we sent to the Commissioners after reviewing the Ohio Revised Code:

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Commissioners,

We have been reading Section 5739.026 “County Sales Tax for Specific Purposes”

It clearly states that the County Commissioners have the authority to collect a maximum of 1/2% Sales Tax for:

(A) (3) To provide additional revenue for the county’s general fund

(A) (7) To provide additional revenue for the operation or maintenance of a detention facility

Also, this section states that a 3-0 vote is required if the Sales Tax resolution is adopted as an emergency measure by the Commissioners.

Our question is where, when or how do the taxpayers get involved in the decision making process?

According to this ORC section:

“If the tax is for more than one of the purposes set forth in divisions (A) (1) – (7), (9), (10), and (12) of this section, or is exclusively for one of the purposes set forth in division (A) (1), (2), (4), (5), (6), (7), (9), (10), or (12) of this section, the resolution shall not go into effect unless it is approved by a majority of the electors voting on the question of the tax.”

In our opinion, the conditions for a vote by the people are met in both cases.  If the sales tax is to be used for (A) (3) and (A) (7), or if the sales tax is exclusively for (A) (7), then “the resolution shall not go into effect unless it is approved by a majority of the electors voting on the question of the tax”.

It appears to us that the sales tax increase issue must go before the voters before it can be enacted.

We could not see any language in this section that states how long after the required two public meetings are conducted that the Commissioners must vote on a resolution authorizing the increase in the sales tax.  If the Commissioners state that the voters entrusted them to make the difficult decisions for them, then we ask that no vote be taken until Commissioner Plecnik assumes his role as Commissioner since he was elected by the voters.

If we are incorrect in any of our interpretations of this ORC section, please let us know.  Navigating the Ohio Revised Code is not always an easy task for average citizens.

We have acknowledged that a new jail is required.  Also, we do know that the Commissioners can use the available 1.1 mils of inside millage without the vote of the taxpayers of Lake County. 

However, the Commissioners have not made it clear to the public how much cash is available in the general fund, and how much will need to be borrowed. We also suggest that the Commissioners be crystal clear on how much the 1.1 mils and the 1/2% sales tax will generate in revenue annually.

We recognize that it is not an easy decision to vote on the largest project in Lake County’s history. All we ask for is total transparency with the citizens of Lake County.

We appreciate Commissioner Hamercheck’s unfailing support of giving citizens the opportunity to  provide public comments.

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We have not heard from the Commissioners or the Prosecutors to hear their side of the argument. That is not unusual because they are going to force the taxpayers to go to court to defend their position.

The President of the Mentor City Council, Matt Donovan, expressed to the Commissioners at the 12/27/22 meeting that they believe a vote of the people is needed to pass the sales tax. We would hope that the City of Mentor defends their citizens and their businesses that will be adversely impacted by the sales tax increase.

Our suggestion would be for Mentor to request a change of venue so that they can receive a fair trial.

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Categories: Lake County - General, Lake County Politics

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