Infrastructure costs outpacing revenue growth
Mahoning County voters earlier this month approved a measure that, come January, will increase the county’s sales tax rate by 0.25 percent to 7.5 percent, putting Mahoning County’s sales tax among the five highest sales tax rates in Ohio’s 88 counties.
The additional quarter percent sales tax is to be used only for local transportation infrastructure improvements.
The tax issue was approved by a victory margin of about 4.8 percent.
We get it. The condition of roads always seems to be a point that, even in a divided society, most of us can agree on.
Of the $9 million the sales tax will provide annually for five years, $4 million will go to county roads, $4 million to township roads and $1 million to county-owned infrastructure, primarily bridges, in cities and villages.
Based on the generosity of Mahoning County taxpayers, we wouldn’t be surprised if Trumbull County’s elected leaders are the next to consider raising taxes to fund road and bridge upgrades.
We wouldn’t necessarily back such a move.
That’s because, despite rising retail prices brought about by inflation and newfound sales tax revenue be generated by things like online sales, generation of sales tax still doesn’t seem to keep up with ever-growing costs of engineering and infrastructure. Until we are able to control those costs, there might be no end in sight to rising tax rates.
When it comes to roads, bridges and infrastructure, we see the huge expenses in engineering and design work as a logical place to start attempting to trim costs. These costs often reach upwards of 30 to 35 percent, or even more, of the total project costs.
Surely, there must be a way to cut these costs, and we urge our elected leaders to work together to find ways to engineer these types of projects more efficiently.
Is it unreasonable for them to find a way to rely on skills of in-house engineers to do much of this advance planning, rather than outsourcing the work to high-priced firms?
In Mahoning County, commissioners have said their new sales tax increase would not be renewed after the five-year levy ends.
We are hopeful that they keep that promise. But we know the only way they will be successful, however, is to work hard at trimming the enormous expenses. That’s a goal all elected officials should have, rather than just accepting the costs as is and looking for ways to get taxpayers to foot the bill.