LETTER TO THE EDITOR
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: January 11, 2023
Commissioner John Plecnik: NO on Sales Tax Increase
As your Lake County Commissioner, my vote is a hard NO on the proposed sales tax increase or any tax hike. Our system of government only works if elected officials are truly accountable to the people. With a vote on the sales tax forthcoming on the Board of Commissioners, transparency demands that I share my reasoning and position with the public who elected me to represent their best interest. You are my boss, and I work for you.
Our seniors on fixed incomes are literally being taxed out of their homes. Our families are struggling to put food on the table and fill their gas tank. A sales tax increase now on top of the highest inflation in decades would substantially raise the cost of living in Lake County and push even more of our neighbors below the poverty line. Sales taxes are consumption taxes and regressive by nature. They disproportionately impact the poor and middle class. In volunteering for Laketran’s mobile food pantry and the free lunch and produce distributions at our local churches, I have never seen a greater need in our community since the economic instability that began during the pandemic and lockdowns of 2020.
From Painesville to Columbus to Washington, DC, government needs to stop and listen to the taxpayers we are sworn to represent. They are saying enough is enough. They are saying, we simply cannot afford more taxing, more spending and more inflation. I hear the public outcry loud and clear, and I humbly ask my colleagues at every level of government to open their hearts to our neighbors’ plight. Taxpayers are not objecting to yet another tax hike out of personal stinginess or greed. They are struggling to survive.
Last year, Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck proposed a half percent sales tax increase, which translates to an annual tax increase of $16 million to $20 million. If passed, our sales tax rate would increase from 7.25% to 7.75%, and Lake County would be tied for the third highest sales tax rate in the state. Out of Ohio’s 88 counties, only Cuyahoga and Hamilton would still levy a higher sales tax rate. From Mentor Council President Matt Donovan to the members of our local Chambers of Commerce, I have heard the valid and very real concern that raising our sales tax to the third highest in the state would place Lake County at a competitive disadvantage and hurt our local economy. The City of Mentor is not just our most populous municipality, it is the manufacturing and retail hub of Lake County, and we cannot ignore their concerns or the concerns of our business community.
I understand that Commissioner Hamercheck and many of my colleagues in Lake County government are rightly concerned about the increased cost of law enforcement as well as the need the for a new jail and safety center. Lake County is not alone in working through the challenge of financing the cost of a new jail. Our next door neighbors in Cuyahoga and Ashtabula are working through the very same problem. Without safety, we have no community. Giving our Sheriff, County Prosecutor and Courts the resources they need to maintain law and order is not optional. We must do so. In fact, by taking an oath to uphold the law and constitution, we are sworn to do so.
However, it is a false dichotomy to suggest that we must choose between the biggest tax increase in Lake County history or losing our law enforcement. Quite the contrary, it is clearly possible to maintain and even modestly increase our current budget, while building a new jail, without raising any taxes. Depending on contingencies, Lake County’s new jail and safety center is projected to cost between $150 million and $170 million. Let’s conservatively assume the worst case scenario of $170 million, which includes the cost of demolishing the old jail.
In recent years, Lake County has enjoyed a general fund surplus of approximately $6 million to $8 million a year. In addition, the debt from our County Courthouse renovation is scheduled to be paid off by the end of 2025, at which point we will free up an additional $1 million a year. We are also paying $1 million or more a year on our Administration Center, which is nearly paid off. On top of this projected $8 million to $10 million annual surplus, Lake County has never enjoyed a larger carryover or a stronger fiscal position in our 180+ year history. Combining the carryover balances in our rainy day fund, permanent improvement fund, budget stabilization fund, other funds and eligible American Rescue Plan monies, Lake County could easily make a $50 million to $70 million down payment on the new jail in cash.
Depending on interest rates over the life of the bond, the annual payment to finance the delta of $100 million to $120 million would be roughly $6 million to $8 million a year. Given that we are currently running a surplus of $6 million to $8 million that is projected to go up by $2 million as soon as the Courthouse and Administration Center are paid off, we are perfectly positioned to finance the jail out of current resources without asking for more taxes from our neighbors. For the record, I have confirmed these numbers with our Lake County Auditor. There is no question we can build the jail without raising your taxes.
I fully understand that expending the majority of our savings and surplus on law enforcement means that the Board of Commissioners may have to say no to other very worthy expenditures. We can never afford to pay our hardworking employees what they truly deserve. Like most local governments and businesses, we have many understaffed and overworked departments. There are other capital projects and buildings that may have to be deferred. I don’t pretend budgetary choices like these are easy to make. However, Lake County deserves to know the truth about the very real choice we are making on your behalf.
We are not choosing between lower taxes or law enforcement. Either way, the new jail will be built and law enforcement will be supported. In fact, we are choosing between who is going to pick up the bill and make the sacrifice to pay for police protection and the justice system we all need and deserve. Should government make the sacrifice and tough budgetary choices, or will the Commissioners pass the buck to your kitchen table in the form of higher sales taxes and force your family to make the sacrifice instead?
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