Focus first on sharing, not taxing

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber board is expected this week to consider the recommendation from its Government Affairs Council to back a proposed increase to the Trumbull County sales tax.

The chamber board should opt against backing the proposal.

Likewise, Trumbull County commissioners should not entertain any thoughts of imposing the 0.25 percent sales tax increase being requested by the newly formed Trumbull County Regional Council of Governments collaborative.

Frankly, it shouldn’t cost our citizens more to get governments to work together to save money.

After several months of discussions, the Council of Governments was formed in March.

The intent, we were told early on, was to join forces to allow local communities to work together by sharing resources and growing buying power. The communities believed if they pooled their funds they could leverage grants for larger projects. While Ohio law does not allow different local governments to share resources, operating as a registered COG makes it legal.

The idea of creating a COG, promoted initially by Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith, was expected to focus on shared personnel and equipment. But Chairman James LaPolla of Howland and Vice Chairman Tedd Webb of Bazetta acknowledge it’s very new and they haven’t had much time to kick off sharing resources.

However, they’ve wasted no time in moving straight to seeking a tax increase to generate a new pot of money they say they’d use as a local match for grants they would spend on roads and infrastructure. A 0.25 percent sales tax would generate about $3 million a year. COG members are hoping the full chamber board will back the effort and that Trumbull commissioners will agree to impose it for a period of five years — without bothering with a public vote.

The chamber’s council of governments recommended the measure last month. It is worth noting, though, that Matt Blair, longtime legal counsel for county Engineer Randy Smith, serves as a member of the council that supported the measure.

However, Trumbull Commissioners Dan Polivka and Mauro Cantalamessa historically have opposed imposing sales tax increases without a public vote, and Commissioner Frank Fuda agrees.

Good.

Records show that while maintaining the current level of taxation without a percentage increase, the amount of sales tax shoppers pay in Trumbull County still has continued to grow.

Last year, the 1 percent piggy back sales tax generated $26.25 million for county government here. That’s $5.13 million more than the $21.12 million the 1 percent tax generated 10 years earlier in 2008.

Further, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling just last month determined that states now may begin assessing sales tax on online shopping. That’s a big financial win for states. While Ohio has not yet announced how it will distribute the funds, we suspect it will trickle down to county government.

Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of Niles-based mall developer Cafaro Company, was quick to point out the ruling’s benefits. “State and local communities can now recoup that sales tax and use it to repair infrastructure and improve safety services,” he said.

And that’s not to mention the fact that the outcome of November’s governor’s race could have a significant impact on future distribution of local government funds — funds that were cut significantly under the Kasich administration, leaving many local governments seeking ways to cut spending and generate new forms of revenue.

So why is the COG in such a hurry to see the sales tax increase imposed or placed on a ballot?

By their own admission, property tax owners are taxed out. But do they really believe increasing sales tax on all Trumbull County purchases is a more equitable way of raising taxes?

We are strongly in favor of regional and collaborative government efforts. We think some of the COG’s ideas of shared services and personnel are encouraging. We fully support discussions to lower government employee health care costs by joining forces with one another.

But too many unanswered questions exist. Moving forward with any kind of sales tax increase would be extremely premature.

We need to put on the brakes and focus on sharing, not growing taxes.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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