Deadline looms for tax-hike foes

A group led by a Republican Montgomery County commission candidate has until 4 p.m. Thursday to collect and turn in 14,583 valid signatures in an attempt to overturn a commission-approved sales tax increase.

But those in county government say Doug Barry and others don’t understand the fiscal hardship put on counties by the state legislature.

“All the people out there getting petitions and getting stirred up over $36 a year, they definitely have a right to do that, but it’s very disappointing,” said Debbie Lieberman, Montgomery County Commission president. “We are getting cut by the state - our state Legislature and our governor.”

In June, the three Democrats on the county commission passed a 0.25 percent sales tax increase that works out to about $36 a year for every man, woman and child in Montgomery County.

Barry said Monday what was missing in the process was the voice of a majority of voters who were not heard from during a series of five-year budget sessions, a community meeting and two required public hearings.

“When it comes to an issue that’s as big as this issue is - we’re talking an increase in the sales tax that affects so many different groups, from people who are struggling right now to make ends meet to businesses that are trying to compete -1 feel it should be the decision by the voters whether or not this is something that’s good for the county,” Barry said.

He said nearly 100 volunteers farmed out across the county this past weekend gathering signatures at bigger gatherings such as 5K runs and a concert at the Rose Music Center. Drive through locations were also set up. The volunteers will be back at the Rose in Huber Heights this evening at a Ted Nugent concert.

The straw that broke the back of Montgomery County’s general fund budget was a $9 million cut by the state in Medicaid managed care sales tax, but tens of millions of other cuts from Columbus preceded that, Lieberman said. The tax increase is projected to raise about $19.1 million annually.

Barry said current county commissioners failed to look for strategic, local, collaborative efforts to save taxpayers money. They also went too far asking for millions more than needed.

Barry, owner of Barry Staff in Dayton and a Miami Twp. trustee, will be on the Nov. 6 ballot opposite Democrat Carolyn Rice, currently the Montgomery County treasurer.

If the tax increase is derailed, Lieberman said the county will be forced to scuttle a number of programs focused on the arts, economic development and criminal justice. The money is also earmarked for planned upgrades to the Montgomery County Jail, the focus of nearly a dozen civil rights lawsuits costing the county more than $1 million in recent years.

“If that (tax increase repeal) happens, every office in the county will be slashed. It could mean jobs, ” she said. “It certainly will not include the new officers we were going to provide the sheriff and all the programs to make the jail safer for our employees and inmates. All off that is off the table. It just can’t happen. There’s no way.”

On Monday, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio called for more sharing by the state Legislature to help close the funding divide between Columbus and local officials.

Among its proposals, CCAO wants local government funding restored to a 2008 level of 3.68 percent from a current 1.66 percent, generating $145 million more for counties, and restore the $166 million annual Medicaid managed care revenue loss to counties.

Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the group has many members who benefit from the economic development programs and grants the county offers, but also has those who might be negatively impacted by a sales tax increase.

But while the organization has so far remained neutral on the subject, Parker, who was a member of the five-year-budget planning committee for the county, said he recognizes the difficulty placed on local governments.

“The county has been cut dramatically by the state as far as resources the state typically passes down to local governments,” Parker said. “But because of the weight of both sides of the debate, we elected not to endorse either way, pro or con.”