Brian Massie, Citizen Journalist
To Lake County Commissioners: John Hamercheck, Richard Regovich, Mark Tyler
& Incoming Commissioner John Plecnik
When trust is broken can it ever be repaired?
The pending sales tax increase to fund the new Public Safety Center and provide additional funding for the General Fund has caused us to continue our research into the Ohio Revised Code regarding sales tax, property tax and the role of the Lake County Budget Commission.
It has become crystal clear to me that the average citizen cannot rely on the local elected officials, be they councilman or trustee, for advice or support dealing with any issue that is decided by elected officials higher in the government structure. Also, the Prosecutor’s office has made it abundantly clear to me that the Lake County Prosecutor will not help the average citizen deal with any problem dealing with taxation.
Calls to State officials resulted in them telling us that Ohio is a “home rule” State, and we must go back to local officials for help.
So where does the average citizen turn for help? Who can we TRUST to protect our financial interests?
The current jail was built in 1990, and the Commissioners, in the years preceding the construction, no doubt asked taxpayers to trust them to build a state of the art, well-constructed jail. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see it was anything but what was promised.
Taxpayers trusted their elected officials to charge them appropriately for property taxes, but Lobbyists for Citizens discovered that there was $5.3 million in overpaid property taxes since the 1980’s held by the Treasurer’s office. Trust between elected officials and the taxpayers was broken because the money was in plain sight for those interested in helping the citizens.
The Prosecutor admitted to the Commissioners that there were violations of the Ohio Open Meetings Act when the public was not informed of the public meetings held by the Corrections Board. A trust was broken between the people and the elected officials attending those meetings.
Lobbyists for Citizens has discovered that the various political subdivisions have amassed millions of dollars and will not return the excess funds to the taxpayers. For example, Lake Metroparks has $19 million, Deepwood has over $55 million on the way to $60 million, and LakeTran currently has $41 million and project that they will have $57 million by 2027. The Prosecutor’s Crime Lab has accumulated over $7 million in cash reserves and adds an additional $1.6 million each year.
We have asked Lake Metroparks to return $10 million, and LakeTran to stop collecting the ¼% sales tax that voters approved in 2019 because they reneged on their commitment to the voters by reducing services.
Lobbyists for Citizens filed a complaint about Deepwood’s excess cash reserves with the Lake County Budget Commission, an entity that exists under the Ohio Revised Code Section 5705. Section 5705.27 establishes the County Budget Commission, and there are numerous sections dealing with the role, duties, and responsibilities of the Budget Commission.
We interpret that ORC section to mean that the Budget Commission is the “watchdog” for the taxpayers ensuring that the taxes collected by the various political subdivisions are warranted, with the ability to reduce the amount collected if deemed appropriate. However, we discovered that the Lake County Prosecutor interprets case law to say that once the voters pass a property tax levy or sales tax, the Budget Commission has no authority to amend what is being collected by the political subdivision. The Lake County Auditor expressed concern to me that if he does not follow the advice of his attorney, the Lake County Prosecutor, then he will be personally liable for any lawsuit filed by any political subdivision if he reduces the tax collected for the political subdivision.
The Prosecutor’s position is not universally shared by other County Prosecutors. In effect, the Lake County Prosecutor has chosen to neutralize the role of the Budget Commission, and the taxpayers no longer have anyone looking out for their financial best interests. The Prosecutor’s position has caused an excessive accumulation of taxpayer funds by most of the Lake County political subdivisions with no oversight by ANY political entity.
The trust between the taxpayers and the Budget Commission, thanks to the Prosecutor, has been broken.
The Commissioners have three options to pay for the new Public Safety Center:
- Increase property taxes without a vote of the people by using the 1.1 mils available under the maximum 10 mils Inside Millage
- Use the current cash reserves of approximately $65 million and finance the balance of the construction without a vote of the people. Can the payment of principal and interest be paid by the current resources of the General Fund?
- Increase the current 7.25% sales tax by ½% with a vote of the people to pay for the jail and other General Fund needs.
We have been informed that the Commissioners plan to enact the sales tax increase without a vote of the people. In our opinion, this would not be in keeping with the Ohio Revised Code Section 5739.026 “County Sales Tax for Specific Purposes”. We have sent a previous email to the Commissioners detailing why we believe the sales tax issue must go before the voters.
Former Commissioner Ron Young was correct when he said that the two top proprieties of government are to grow and protect itself, and the top priority of a politician is to protect themselves and their careers. Unfortunately, not one mention was made regarding what is in the best financial interests of the average citizens. A trust has been severely broken between the elected representatives and the average citizens.
Lake County citizens deserve and demand better than the lies, deceptions, and betrayals that they have experienced from their elected officials over the years.
Commissioners, please tell us who the taxpayers should trust in our county government to protect their financial interests in the building of the proposed Public Safety Center.
Executive Director and average citizen
A Concord resident sent the following email to the County Commissioners expressing concern about the ever increasing taxes.
“In this economy, I am shocked that you would consider a bigger tax burden on the citizens you serve to build a state of the art jail for people who break the law. What about the honest, law abiding citizens trying to make ends meet and falling further behind every day. As a senior citizen, facing more taxes with the 6 year review by Galloway’s office, where does it end?
Please take your time to secure funding and consider a phase-in option to buy time. The fact that this is hitting in the busy holiday season tells me it is being forced on us. You were elected to hear us and represent the people of Lake County.”Concord Township Resident