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What Stark residents should know

By ROBERT WANG GateHouse Ohio Media Published: April 27, 2017 12:00 AM

Voters approved a 0.5-percent sales tax in 2011 for Stark County that can fund only criminal justice agencies. It took effect in 2012 and will expire in 2020. The approval helped lift the county out of its budget crisis and led to the reopening of county jail wings.

Now the Stark County commissioners are asking voters in the May 2nd primary to renew the tax and approve an eight-year extension from April 2020 to April 2028.

Here's a primer on the issue:

Why are commissioners seeking an extension three years before the current sales tax expires?

Stark County sales tax

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ISSUE: Stark County Sales and Use Tax

ISSUE NO: 1

ISSUE TYPE: Renewal of existing sales and use tax for criminal justice purposes

RATE: 0.5 percent

YEARS: 8 (April 2020 to April 2028)

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YIELD: About $28 million a year

COST: No increase in what you pay now, which is 0.5 percent of the value of taxable purchases in Stark County or the value of a vehicle purchase anywhere in Ohio if you live in Stark County.

The commissioners want to borrow about $10 million to $12 million from investors to finance upgrades to the county's current radio system towers so the county can build a new modern radio system that's connected to Ohio's Multi-Agency Radio Communication System or MARCS. About $9 million would cover the cost of upgrades to the county's 12 radio towers, about $1.5 million to cover the cost of 18 modern dispatch consoles for the sheriff's radio room and more than $3 million to pay for about 1,000 radios.

The state is expected to offset part of this cost. The Ohio Highway Patrol uses the state's system along with local law enforcement agencies all around Ohio. The new countywide radio system would connect sheriff's deputies to dispatchers and other law enforcement agencies in the county if they choose to join the new system.

Because the debt would have to be paid back with interest over at least 10 years from sales tax money no longer being used for other county criminal justice capital projects, commissioners want to have the assurance that the county will continue to receive the sales tax revenue after 2020 during the 10-year repayment period. The current radio system uses 1990s technology that Motorola says it will no longer service after the end of 2018. If anything breaks, the vendor is not guaranteeing that it could be repaired.

Would approval of the issue lead to any tax increase?

No. If voters approve the renewal, the 0.5 percent sales tax that you pay now when you buy taxable items would continue until at least 2028.

What's subject to the current 0.5 percent tax?

Anything that's subject to the state sales tax, including vehicles and many goods. Groceries, take-out food, prescription medications and many services are exempt.

How much does the current 0.5 criminal justice sales tax raise now?

About $28 million a year.

What can the money be spent on?

Generally, it can only be spent to fund the operations of the Stark County Sheriff's Office, including the county jail, the Prosecutor's office, the Stark County Common Pleas Court, the Public Defender's and the Coroner's offices. It also can cover reimbursing attorneys for representing indigent defendants and the county's dues to the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System. The revenue covers roughly 70 percent of the expenses of the criminal justice agencies.

What happens if voters reject the sales tax renewal?

The project to build the new county radio system would be in serious jeopardy. The financing would be in doubt if the sales tax were to expire in 2020. And if the commissioners can't convince voters to approve a renewal before the tax expires, the county would lose about $28 million a year in revenue. It would raise the substantial chance jail deputies would have to be laid off in 2020 and inmates would be released like prior to 2011. However, purchases of taxable items would cost taxpayers slightly less as the total sales tax would be reduced 0.5 percent.

What makes up the total sales tax in Stark County now?

Consumers pay a sales tax of 6.5 percent in Stark County now. (For vehicle purchases, the sales tax rate is based on your county of residence, not where you buy the vehicle.) The Ohio sales tax is 5.75 percent, though state legislators are considering increasing it. The Stark County criminal justice sales tax is 0.5 percent and the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority sales tax is 0.25 percent.

What are other benefits of this radio system?

The new system would allow deputies and any law enforcement officers to communicate across the state. It would have fewer dead spots than the current system, officials say. Motorola also has committed to supporting it until 2039. Law enforcement agencies in every large Ohio county use MARCS. By being connected to the system, Stark County agencies could communicate directly with them. Agencies using MARCS in counties adjoining Stark County could react faster to emergencies in Stark County. Any Stark County law enforcement agency or other entity can join the MARCS system at a cost of $10 to $20 a month per radio unit. In addition, the state maintains the system and the county would only have to pay about $145,000 a year in contrast with spending $1.4 million a year to maintain its own independent radio system.


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