The Fairfield County commissioners agreed last week to increase the county sales tax by a quarter-percent.

The Fairfield County commissioners agreed last week to increase the county sales tax by a quarter-percent.

By a unanimous vote, the commissioners voted to increase the county sales tax from 6.25 percent to 6.5 percent during a special meeting Oct. 23.

The new sales tax, which is set to be in place for four years, will go into effect Jan. 1. In the first year, the increase is expected to generate $2.8-million in additional revenue that will go into the county's general operating budget.

After the first year, the increase is expected to yield $3.8-million in revenue annually.

The action marks the first time the county's sales tax has been increased since 1995, when it was raised from 6 percent to 6.25 percent. The state will continue to collect 5.5 percent of the Fairfield County's total sales tax.

"We were pressed to do this just to make ends meet," commissioner Mike Kiger said. "It makes sense. This was the best way to go."

Budget constraints forced the commissioners to cut 5 percent in spending from a budget that was approved at the outset of the year. Kiger said revenue from county investments us down $2-million from 2007 and revenue from fees assessed when property is sold in Fairfield County is expected to decrease by 35 to 40 percent this year.

Additionally, the commissioners are looking to fill an anticipated $5.6-million hole in the 2010 budget. They also plan to cut $2.8-million from the current $35.1-million budget.

The commissioners said they chose a sales tax increase because they believe it would be less of a burden than a property tax hike, and because it would be assessed to people who don't live in the county, but visit it and use local roadways.

"Approximately 40 percent of this tax will be borne by people who reside outside Fairfield County," Kiger said. "That's according to our auditor's office and our former economic development director."

Even with the increase, Fairfield County will join Perry County as having the lowest sales tax in central Ohio at 6.5-percent. Franklin, Delaware, Madison and Union counties currently have 6.75-percent sales taxes, while Licking and Pickaway counties have a 7-percent sales tax.

The tax increase was supported by county prosecutor David Landefeld, auditor Barb Curtiss and treasurer Jon Slater, who said the extra money is needed in order to cover the loss of $500,000 in state funding in 2009.

The commissioners held two public hearings in October about the proposed increase and received little opposition. Kiger said the commissioners received 27 letters and e-mails supporting the increase, and 12 from opponents. Two local business owners were among those who said they understood the need for the increase and didn't think it would negatively affect their sales.

"My feeling is, it's not that much," said Barbara Freeman, who has co-owned B.J.'s Bouquets with her husband, Tim, for the past 28 years at 18 W. Columbus St. "I think the money is necessary, and I do not think my customers will be impacted at all. I don't think the increase will make my customers stop buying flowers."

Deblin Jennings, owner of Deblin Design, 18 E. Columbus St., agreed.

"I don't feel it's going to have any impact on my business because we don't carry higher-end, expensive items," she said. "It's a way for the county to get where they need to be with the budget."

If the economy rebounds, the commissioners have the ability to reduce the sales tax before its expiration in four years. However, Kiger said, that's not likely to happen.

"If we don't pass this tax and let's say we lay off 60 employees," he said. "Is that going to impact the economy more than a quarter-percent sales tax increase, which would be 2.5 cents on $10? I would say yes."