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Tax levy for Mahoning County roads OK’d for fall ballot

YOUNGSTOWN- Mahoning County voters will decide in November whether they want to increase the county sales tax by a quarter of 1 percent for five years to pave more roads and improve more bridges.

The county’s sales tax rate would rise to 7.5 percent, one of the higher rates in the state.

The county commissioners Thursday approved putting the issue on the ballot after having two public hearings, the last of which was a week ago. At both hearings, county Engineer Pat Ginnetti gave a presentation outlining the need for the annual $8 million to $9 million that would be generated.

Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said: “If every resident of Mahoning County could see Pat Ginnetti’s presentation, you would certainly be convinced that this is something that would be very beneficial to help us at least get caught up in five years on the road situation in Mahoning County.”

He said the “federal government and state money gives us nothing. We beg, borrow and steal for every dollar in trying to make the matching dollars alone for large road projects; (it’s) very, very difficult in Mahoning County.”

HOW IT’S USED

Commissioner David Ditzler said much of county government currently operates on half of 1 percent of sales tax. The county’s Justice Fund, which operates the jail, sheriff’s office, prosecutor’s office, 911 and coroner, uses an additional three-fourths of 1 percent.

The Western Reserve Transit Authority levy uses another quarter of 1 percent.

“So we are voting to (increase the sales tax by) a quarter of a penny, which will mean the entire county, including the Justice Fund, will run on 1.5 pennies,” which is 1 1/2 percent, Ditzler said.

The state collects the other 5.75 percent of the county’s 7.25 percent sales tax, he said.

“If you spend $100, you’re paying a quarter on taxable items,” he said.

“This gives an opportunity for everyone to benefit,” Ditzler said. “Cities with bridges, incorporated areas with bridges, roads. You need to take it upon ourselves to help ourselves,” he said.

COMPARISON

According to the Ohio Department of Taxation, Mahoning County’s current 7.25 percent sales tax rate is the same or nearly the same as 53 other Ohio counties. Thirty counties have a rate below 7.25 percent.

But if Mahoning goes up to 7.5 percent, it would be among the top five counties in the state for its overall sales-tax rate. Ohio has 88 counties.

There are only two counties with a 7.5 percent rate — Franklin (Columbus) and Montgomery (Dayton). And there are only two counties above 7.5 percent — Cuyahoga (8 percent) and Hamilton (Cincinnati), which has 7.8 percent.

When asked about that last week, Ditzler said Mahoning County’s total sales tax rate will be on the upper end because of the transit tax, which is “out of our control.”

Traficanti said he is not “overwhelmed by being in that category. Our sales tax rate has been 7.25 percent for many years. Because we can’t get any more money for roads and resurfacing, we decided to put it on for five years.”

He said putting the issue on the ballot comes as a recommendation from Ginnetti and the Mahoning County Trustees Association. The funding will allow all of the county’s roads to be paved in five years. “The No. 1 complaint is roads,” he said.

Ditzler said he hates “to see Pat (Ginnetti) get beat up” over roads in the county that do not get paved often because they do not qualify for grants because the road does not have a high traffic volume.

He mentioned two roads that have been discussed recently that need to be improved — Styme Road in Lowellville and Webb Road in Austintown.

“They are county roads that when they do a traffic count, it’s (about) 3,000 (cars per day using them). We struggle coming up with 20 percent matching funds. When you have a road with that few of a traffic count, you don’t get federal or state funds, only for roads that have 30,000 traffic counts.”

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