Wednesday, May 3, 2017
HEADLINE: CONGRATULATIONS OR CONDOLENCES TO STARK COMMISSIONERS?
Certainly, at first blush, CONGRATULATIONS! are in order to Stark commissioners Janet Creighton, Richard Regula and Bill Smith.
What a smashing victory for the ongoing fiscal viability of Stark County finances, no!
With the 70.59% to 29.41% victory the commissioners spearheaded in convincing some 7.0% of 23,950 registered Stark County voters of Stark's 240,000, more or less, total registered voters to support a continuation of the county's 1/2 sales tax which raises in the 20s of millions of dollars annually (depending, of course, on retail sales during any given tax year).
Today there is likely to be lots of High Fives (or at least "smug satisfaction") being passed around the commissioners' suite of offices on the second floor of the Stark County Office Building located at 110 Central Plaza in downtown Canton.
And I am pleased to say I was one of those 16,907 "YES" votes.
But, on reflection, years down the road new sets of commissioners will be lamenting "the missed opportunity" for the county to have convinced yesterday's "yes" voters to go to 3/4 of a cent; maybe even 1 cent.
As counties in Ohio go, Stark is the lowest in all of Ohio in that its county add on is 1/2 cent.
Stark's 1/2 cent add-on is the same as Summit, the only other Ohio county at 1/2 cent, BUT Summit overall rate is 6.75% compared Stark's 6.50%.
There was a time (with the expiration of the 1/4 cent tax levy in the 2011/12 tax year era) that Stark was the unmatched champion of being the lowest sales tax rate in all of Ohio.
And it is admirable that Stark's commissioners work to preserve the distinction of being the lowest, but then one does not want to hear complaints/excuses about not having the financial resources that the citizens of Stark County expect of local government.
Stark County has a number of unmet needs due to financial resource limitations that if satisfied would make the county more viable in terms of being an attractive economic development site.
Using a Stark County median income figure (LINK) of $48, 819 a sales that at 6.75% would cost $122 more annually than at 6.50%.
An increase to 7.0% would cost a median level taxpayer $244.
Of course, thousands upon thousands of Stark Countians have annual income substantially less than the median.
So going forward when festering county problems (flooding ditches, opiate addictions, deteriorating streets, roads and highways, lack of economic planning and development funds and the like) reach crises points, one can bank on hearing from the-then sitting commissioners that the county lacks the financial resources to have dealt with or deal with the problem.
The prime reason that commissioners put on the continuation of the 1/2 cent sales tax early was to ensure that they could have adequate funds to finance the replacement of Stark's safety forces soon to be unserviceable radio communications system.
Had they gone in 2011 with 3/4 cent sales tax rather than a 1/2 cent increase, Stark County would already have its upgraded radio system.
And that is all well and good.
In addition to already known needs that Stark County has that will not be met with the 1/2 cent sales tax, one can easily predict without clairvoyant abilities that currently unseen needs (some critical and emergency-esque) will surface.
While High Fives may be the order of the day at the commissioners' abode today, one can easily imagine that CONDOLENCES on a missed opportunity will be in fashion once county urgencies arise and the financial shortfall sets in.
No doubt that asking for 3/4 cent or 1 cent would have made yesterday's final vote much closer than 71% to 29%.
But the out-in-the future well being of Stark County demands that our county leadership spend a measure of the political capital that has been built up since Janet Creighton and Thomas Bernabei.
Over time, if unused, the county leadership political capital will be no (excessive, in my view) more as a resource to leverage into the finances that a progressive and visionary agenda merits.
Not because our county leaders have not exercised solid, conservative fiscal practices but because unforeseen events (perhaps, not even local but of national origin) will visit financial hard times on nation's, the state's and the county's families.
Then everyone will see the overwhelming need but voters will not be in a financial position to afford that extra $122 or $244 annually needed to give the county the resources to advance plan and implement a growth infrastructure/superstructure that could make Stark County one of the nation's best locations.
I think that Stark County commissioners Creighton, Regula and Smith are clear examples of being "penny wise, but pound foolish!"
Posted by Martin Olson at 9:32 AM