The Ottawa County commissioners have set Feb. 21 and 26 as the dates for public hearings to accept public comment on a 0.25 percent sales tax that is expiring at the end of June.
The hearings will start at 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. respectively and will be held in the county’s emergency operations center in Port Clinton.
To bolster the county’s general fund, the commissioners levied the additional tax in 2010 and it went into effect July 1 for three years.
With the emergency tax, the county’s total sales tax rate is 6.75 percent.
The emergency portion generated $392,317 in 2010 and the base tax generated another $4.9 million. In 2011, they generated a combined $6.3 million; $1.25 million from the emergency tax and a little more than $5 million from the base tax.
The commissioners noted in the county’s 2011 annual report that without a concerted effort to contain costs and the additional revenues from the emergency tax the general fund would have had a deficit of $892,487.
They cited falling local revenues and doubts the state would reimburse local governments to meet the costs of required programs and services when they enacted the emergency tax.
Jim Sass, a county commissioner, said the board of commissioners have two options if they want to extend the emergency tax: approve a resolution to continue it, which would be subject to a voter referendum, or put it on the November ballot as an issue for voters to decide.
He said the tax was needed to maintain the status quo for the county budget and not expanding services or programs.
The Ohio Department of Taxation defines a sales tax as a "trust" tax to be collected by retailers and certain service providers when they make taxable retail sales. It is called a "trust" tax because the consumer has entrusted the tax to retailers and service providers with the understanding it will be reported and paid to the state.
Counties and regional transit authorities may each levy a sales tax in multiples of 0.25 percent up to 3 percent.
The total combined rate - state, county and transit authority - may not exceed 8.5 percent.
At present, the total sales tax rates in Wood, Sandusky, and Lucas counties are 6.5 percent, 7 percent, and 6.75 percent respectively.
In its platform priorities for 2013-14, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio says that for counties to perform the services and mandates taxpayers expect, county budgets need to be stabilized.
“The Local Government Fund and Tangible Personal Property and Public Utility Tax reimbursements should be restored given the state’s budget is now balanced with a surplus and revenues continue to improve. In addition, cost-shifting state responsibilities to local governments or shifting revenue from counties to other political subdivisions based on the misconception of “high” casino revenue is contrary to constitutional intent. Broadening the sales tax base will help maximize both state and local revenues, as will collecting the sales tax on Internet sales,” the platform says.