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Voters to decide on sales tax increase

6/19/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Also, county looking at streamlining technology

DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County voters will get the opportunity in the Nov. 4 General Election to vote on a proposal that would raise the county sales tax by 0.25 percent.

If approved, that would bring Summit County’s total sales tax to 7 percent. The County Executive’s Chief of Staff Jason Dodson has noted several times in public meetings the portion of sales tax for operating county government, 0.5 percent, is currently the lowest in the state.

Following third readings of legislation at Summit County Council’s June 16 meeting, two Council members who have been vocal in their misgivings voted against resolutions to have the proposal appear before voters. Council members Bill Roemer (R-at large) and Gloria Rodgers (R-District 3) cast the dissenting votes, while Council’s nine other members voted for allowing the matter to be decided at the polls.

Ballot language will outline intended uses of the new sales tax revenue, according to the legislation, listing them in the following order: operate and maintain the Summit County Jail; acquire, construct, equip or repair permanent improvements for the county’s 800 megahertz (MHz) emergency radio system, county 9-1-1 system, county-owned facilities and a county-owned arena; the county’s General Fund; and to pay the expenses of administering the sales/use tax levy.

According to Dodson, the new tax would bring in $20 million annually. At least one-third of annual revenue would go to the operation and maintenance of the jail and another third would be appropriated for the emergency radio system, 9-1-1 dispatch system and county-owned facilities, according to the legislation.

Also, $7 million in annual revenue would go — for 23 years — to an arena proposed for Downtown Akron, the legislation states.

The proposed $80 million arena would be located across the street from Canal Park and used for sporting events and other entertainment, according to Dodson.

If voters approve the sales tax proposal in November, the arena project would go forward in conjunction with The University of Akron (UA) and in cooperation with the City of Akron, according to Dodson. The arena would replace the James A. Rhodes (JAR) arena as home to the Zips basketball program, according to county officials.

Most opponents who have approached Council during public meetings have centered their objections on the arena, often expressing their support for a sales tax increase if just for public safety needs.

Also Monday, County Council’s Rules Committee held a special committee meeting to discuss two county charter amendments also proposed for the November ballot.

Both were recommendations from the Charter Review Commission. The first item elicited little discussion and was met with unanimous approval. That item would have Council’s annual organizational meeting on the first Monday of the year that is not a legal holiday, as opposed to the year’s first nonholiday weekday.

The Rules Committee put on time a second resolution that would have voters give the OK for creating a County Information Technology Board and a Department of Information Technology (IT).

“It’s really a functional consolidation,” said Richard Dobbins, chair of the Charter Review Commission.

Currently, every county office has its own IT department and makes its own decisions, said Dobbins.

“Fragmentation is driving IT costs up,” added Dodson.

The charter change would have IT departments led by a chief information officer (CIO). According to Shawn O’Leary, account manager for MCPc, who was asked to make IT consolidation recommendations to Council, county officials would need to be prepared for the CIO to be one of the highest paid employees in the county in order to attract the talent needed for the position.

Dodson made the request that Council take time on the legislation so that he and some members of Council could work on an amendment to the proposal for the June 23 meeting.

Also at the meeting, Council adopted on first reading an amendment to a contract with The Callos Cos. for payroll services for the summer youth employment program to include unemployment compensation, increasing the upper limit from $1.36 million to $1.43 million.

In other business, Council adopted routine legislation discussed in committee meetings last week, including:

  • a one-year contract with United Labor Agency to provide employment services for adults, dislocated workers and displaced homemakers for the Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS); and
  • two increases for current contracts with the Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties, for homeless prevention services and family stability services for DJFS.

Also, following a final public hearing and a second reading of the legislation, Council granted a ditch petition for some residents of Treecrest Drive in Bath.

Council will next meet for committee meetings June 23 at 4:30 p.m. in Council Chambers on the seventh floor of the Ohio Building, 175 S. Main St. The following week, June 30, Council will hold its last regular meeting before taking summer recess, reconvening Aug. 4.

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