Case made for renewing quarter-percent sales tax
Union County commissioners held the first of two public hearings Thursday, June 28, to discuss renewal of a quarter-percent sales tax for roads and bridges and senior services.
The second public hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday, July 5, in the commissioners' meeting room, 233 W. Sixth St. in Marysville.
Since 2008, the county engineer's office and senior services have split this sales tax, taking in an average of nearly $964,000 per year each.
Dick Douglass, director of Union County Senior Services, said he was most proud of the fact that his organization spent 52 percent of its budget last year directly on in-home services for seniors, such as personal care and homemaking, day care and respite, meals, minor home repairs and emergency assistance.
In addition to in-home services, Douglass' agency spent $108,255 in 2011 on mental health, $13,356 on prescription drug assistance and $18,472 on its farmers' market program for seniors.
"If the levy is not renewed in November, my first hope would be that the commissioners put it on the ballot again the following year," Douglass said, "because without the senior services levy, I'm afraid Union County would not be a good place to live for our seniors. I know that sounds hard, but without the levy, we would cease to exist."
Douglass said senior services receives less than $50,000 per year from the state of Ohio and almost nothing from the federal government.
He recalled the first levy request failed in 2007 before voters passed it the following year.
"We decided with the commissioners at the time to ask for a sales tax rather than a property tax, which was a little unusual, but effective," Douglass said. "We didn't want to go to seniors and say, 'We want to provide all these programs for you, but we're going to ask you to pay for them through your property taxes.' We felt it would be more equitable for everyone in the county as well as visitors to the county to pitch in through a sales tax."
County Engineer Jeff Stauch said his office spends every penny of its portion of the sales tax directly on roads and bridges.
"We don't spend it on personnel or administration," he said. "It goes 100 percent to actually building or repairing things."
Thanks to the sales tax, the engineer's office has been able to resurface 12 miles of road per year in the county, Stauch said. Because it is often able to secure matching state and federal funds, its $3.5 million in sales taxes have been leveraged into more than $7.7 million worth of resurfacing.
The need for the sales tax remains great, officials said. The engineer's office estimates there are more than 250 miles of narrow county roads that need to be widened; more than 30 bridges that are more than 50 years old and need to be replaced; and nearly 50 intersections that are substandard and require upgrades.
Safety is the engineer's primary concern, Stauch said.