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County cutting arena from sales tax issue

8/7/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Ariel Hakim

Summit County Executive Russ Pry, at middle, announced July 31 a proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot to increase the Summit County sales tax would not include funding a county-owned arena in Downtown Akron. Summit County Council President Ilene Shapiro (D-at large) and Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry added their support.
Photo: Ariel Hakim
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Summit County Executive Russ Pry announced July 31 proceeds from a proposed 0.25 percent increase in the county sales and use tax would not fund a Downtown Akron arena project.

County Council voted unanimously Aug. 4 to change the ballot question, just two days before the Summit County Board of Election’s (BOE) deadline to place issues on the Nov. 4 General Election ballot. In its previous form, Council members Bill Roemer (R-at large) and Gloria Rodgers (R-District 3) cast votes against having the item appear on the ballot.

“It has become apparent that there is not a broad range of support from our community in favor of building a public arena using the tax dollars,” said Pry.

The updated ballot proposal would still have funds from the sales tax increase go toward public safety, criminal justice and capital needs, just as in the original proposal, according to county officials.

While the amount of the sales tax increase would remain the same, the length of collection would be limited to 10 years, rather than permanent, as was originally proposed.

County officials also considered tax collection for seven, 15 and 20 years, according to the County Executive’s Chief of Staff Jason Dodson, finding that collection over a 10-year period would likely bring in enough to address the specified needs without creating extra funds.

If approved, Summit County’s total sales tax would be 7 percent. 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.

Under the original proposal, $70 million would have gone toward the arena over the first 10 years, according to information provided by county officials.

The new figures indicate that of the estimated $227 million total proceeds collected over the 10-year period, $102.5 million would be spent to operate and maintain the Summit County Jail, according to Pry’s office.

“This additional tax is expected to provide needed funding for the jail for the next two decades and fund the emergency communications systems that every resident of this county relies upon in an emergency,” said Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry.

Of the remaining balance, $68 million would go toward replacing the county’s 800 megahertz emergency radio system; upgrading and consolidating the county’s 9-1-1 dispatch system; and for repairs, maintenance and improvements of county-owned facilities. Also, $57 million would go to the county’s General Fund, of which 70 percent is spent on public safety and criminal justice, according to Pry’s office.

Following the announcement of the county’s intentions to submit updated proposals to the BOE, two groups, both political action committees formed in opposition to the original proposal, released statements.

The founders of Defeat the Arena Tax, Ken Burkins and David Culp, said they were “elated” the arena portion of the sales tax proposal was removed.

“The question now to all citizens is how did this happen, why did it happen and how does this affect the credibility of this [Summit County] Council?” they wrote in a statement.

Another group, the Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase, announced it is still moving forward with its campaign to fight the tax increase.

In a statement released the same day county officials made their announcement, the group said it questions the timing of the changes and the way the changes were implemented.

“We’re pleased that our elected leaders have decided to forgo funding a special interest project at an enormous cost to Summit County consumers,” said Adam Miller, chairman of the Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase. “However, we still have a lot of questions about how the collected revenue will be allocated. Summit County residents need a break on the amount of taxes they pay, not an increase.”

If the sales tax increase passes in November, consumers would see the hike enacted April 1, 2015, according to Dodson. The county would begin receiving those funds in July, he added.

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