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CANTON -- Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved extending Stark County's criminal justice sales tax from 2020 to 2028 to help fund a new radio system for emergency responders.
More than 70 percent of voters supported extended the tax another eight years, with 16,907 voting yes and 7,043 voting no, according to unofficial results. The tallies do not include some absentee ballots, ballots from those outside the country and provisional ballots.
The passage of the renewal took place amid extremely light turnout with only 24,171 residents or 9.65 percent of registered voters casting ballots. In many jurisdictions, the sales tax issue was the only item on the ballot.
"We're anxious and excited," Stark County Commissioner Bill Smith said before the Stark County Board of Elections finished tabulating all the votes. "It looks good at this point. I always wait until the last ones (votes) are in. ... I really think people have confidence in the Stark County government. It's running like a well-oiled machine, and I think people sense that."
The current sales tax, approved by voters in 2011, was not set to expire until April 2020.
But Motorola was to cease technical support of the county sheriff's 1990s-era radio system at the end of 2018. Upgrades to the county's radio towers, the replacement of its dispatch consoles and purchase of new radios was estimated to cost the county $10 million to $12 million. The Stark County commissioners plan to borrow the money from investors and ensure the sales tax revenue would continue to fund the repayments with interest over 10 years.
Scott Lawrence, 27, of Canton, said he voted for the renewal because "it wasn't an increase in tax and it supported the sheriff's department for all the new initiatives they want (to be) done the next couple of years. ... I support our local law enforcement agencies and I would like to give them as much technology and opportunities as the other counties in our state have. Stark County is one of two counties in the entire state that doesn't have that radio system that's being proposed."
Arthur Ritchie, 48, of Canton, an addiction counselor, said he voted for the renewal. He said it was important to him that sheriff's deputies and police have the equipment they need to speed up their response to save the life of a person going through a drug overdose.
"I just want to make sure that when there's an emergency that the safety services get where they need to be," said Ritchie. "I wanted to make sure that the community had the resources it needed to be safe and that the first responders could be dispatched quickly to where they ... could respond quickly to the emergencies."