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County executive seeking sales tax increase

5/1/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

SUMMIT COUNTY — Summit County Executive Russ Pry announced April 23 his intention to seek a county sales tax increase on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot.

Pry’s office said the legislation to place a 0.25 percent sales tax increase before voters would be introduced to Summit County Council May 12. The legislation would require a majority “yes” vote from Council in order to have it appear on the ballot.

Between 2007 and 2013, the county has seen a decline in General Fund revenue from $113.5 million to $100.2 million resulting from cuts in state funding and a reduction in annual property and conveyance taxes, according to Pry’s office. In order to battle the reduced revenue, the county has reduced employees by 757 since 2008. In addition, the county has cut discretionary spending, forgone capital improvements and consolidated operations where possible, according to county officials. The county’s overall budget has gone from $576.6 million to $478.4 million over the past six years, with the General Fund seeing a reduction of $19.7 million during the same timeframe, according to county officials.

Currently, Summit County residents pay a 0.5 percent sales tax to operate county government, the lowest in the state along with Stark County, and with the proposed increase, 83 of 88 counties still would be higher than Summit, according to county officials. Summit County’s current total sales tax is 6.75 percent.

The increase would generate $19 million to $20 million annually, according to Pry’s office.

Of that revenue, $7 million annually would go toward building and supporting an $80 million arena for concerts and sporting events across the street from Canal Park in conjunction with The University of Akron (UA) and in cooperation with the city of Akron, according to Pry’s office.

Land for the project is expected to come from the city of Akron and UA. The county’s share of funds would fund the design and construction of the arena, the repayment of bonds for design and construction, a capital reserve for ongoing repair and maintenance and an operating reserve, according to county officials.

The 8,500-seat arena would house the UA basketball program, according to Pry’s office. According to the Development Finance Authority of Summit County (DFA), the arena, in its first year, would host 22 basketball games and 45 other events. A sample list of proposed events for the arena’s first year includes a dozen concerts, two monster trucks or motor sports events, two rodeo or bull riding events, one professional wrestling event and six other family shows, among others.

The DFA, formerly the Summit County Port Authority, would oversee construction and lease the facility from the county, according to county officials. After 23 years, that portion of sales tax proceeds would go toward public safety and capital needs in the county and ownership of the facility would be transferred to the DFA, according to Pry’s office.

Also April 23, UA’s Board of Trustees adopted a resolution supporting the project. The arena would replace the James A. Rhodes (JAR) arena as home to the Zips basketball program, according to UA officials.

“The arena carries the potential to create both construction and ongoing jobs in our community and continue the revitalization of Downtown Akron and The University of Akron, which is beneficial for all of the communities in our county,” said Pry.

Pry’s proposal to County Council and for the ballot language for the sales tax increase is also to include other spending priorities for the revenue, should the issue pass. Two-thirds of the $19 million to $20 million annual revenue would go to operate and maintain the Summit County Jail, for upgrades and operation of the county’s 9-1-1 dispatch system and 800 megahertz emergency radio system and for other pressing capital needs and ongoing county operations, according to Pry’s office.

“By focusing the lion’s share of the additional revenue on the public safety and capital needs of the county, we are addressing critical issues that serve all of the communities and residents of Summit County,” said Pry.

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