Published: Friday, 02 June 2017 07:12
By Cheryl Splain, KnoxPages.com Reporter
MOUNT VERNON — Twelve county residents attended the second and final public hearing held Thursday evening regarding the ½ percent sales tax increase the county commissioners are proposing.
Commissioner Thom Collier again presented numbers detailing the county's increasing expenses and decreasing revenues over the past 10 years. The criminal justice system accounts for the biggest expenses, increasing over $2 million since 2010.
Total state funding declined in 2016 to around $1.25 million, down from more than $1.4 million in 2008. Projections for 2017 and 2018 are $1 million and $750,000, respectively.
In addition to expenses and revenue, Collier cited several preventive measures the commissioners have taken to reduce costs:
*Brought departments such as OSU Extension and Knox Soil and Water District into county-owned property rather than renting space
*Approved solar installation at the Knox County Jail to reduce electric costs
*Hired a maintenance supervisor to handle a variety of tasks rather than contract out with individual contractors for services
*Reduced liability by installing a body scanner at the jail, increasing camera/security in county buildings and investimg in IT upgrades to deter ransomware issues
Knox County's current tax is 6.75 percent, of which 5.75 goes to the state. The county's 1 percent is divided between 9-1-1 services (0.25 percent) and the general fund (0.75 percent). Enactment of a ½ percent increase puts the county at its maximum taxing capability of 1.5 percent.
Brian Wynkoop, Granville Road, questioned money received from the state's casino tax. Projections were for Knox County to receive $1.25 million annually; in reality, revenue is static at $700,000.
Eric Helt, Gambier, told the commissioners he did not see any other options for the commissioners other than to raise the sales tax. His concern is the bigger problem, which he said is that Republicans have held the state legislature for 20 years. Citing reduced tax brackets, elimination of the estate tax and increased fees for drivers' licenses, among other issues, he said the problem is that local Republicans do not speak out against Gov. John Kasich's programs.
Referring to the high expenses related to the county's opiate problem, Mary Schmitz, Mount Vernon, said that the cost for drug users who repeatedly overdose and receive Narcan “should not be on the backs of people through a sales tax,” adding that she and her husband are on a fixed income. “Some of these things are real legitimate,” she said, referring to the need for road and other improvements. Collier clarified that the cost of the Narcan itself is not paid for through the county's general fund.
Gambier resident Dan Wilson, who opposes the tax increase, questioned the effect it would have on real estate and asked whether the commissioners considered a ¼ percent raise rather than ½ percent. “One-quarter percent may withstand the cuts from the state this time, but it wouldn't do anything for the future and wouldn't add anything for capital improvements,” said Collier. It also would not meet the state's requirement to max out the county's taxing capability.
Drew McCoy, Howard, agreed with Helt that there needs to be more public pressure expressing displeasure at the state level and also agreed that the commissioners' hands were mostly tied. He said he would like to see more effort put toward treatment centers and recovery, as well as nonprosecution of the crime of “doing heroin.”
Collier said that statistics show that 40 percent of users complete recovery programs while 60 percent still are not helped. Working toward the goals of treatment and recovery, the county has added a nurse position to the jail staff.
County Prosecutor Chip McConville said the amount of work his office is doing has increased. Indictments totaled 216 in 2015 and 277 in 2016; indictments for 2017 are on pace for 250 to 260. He thanked the commissioners for hiring an additional assistant prosecutor to handle the caseload.
He said that drug use correlates with certain groups of offenses, such as theft and violence. Defendants who go through the Court of Common Pleas are asked whether they are addicted or in danger of becoming addicted. “More than 80 percent who come through felony court say they are addicted or at risk,” he said.
Regarding McCoy's desire to see more money for funding and recovery, McConville said two initiatives are underway. First-time offenders who go into a recovery program have their charges dismissed without a felony conviction on their record, thus aiding their efforts to find a job. Second, a Good Samaritan program pending in the Ohio Legislature states that an individual who self-reports regarding drug use and gets treatment within 30 days cannot be charged.
Kerry King, Mount Vernon, said that penalties do not seem to be severe enough to keep individuals from being repeat offenders.
“I would support the county very much in raising the tax,” said Grover “Skip” Wilkinson of Fredericktown, adding that the problem actually stems from the federal level with politicians of both parties.
“I am against this tax increase, so tighten your belts,” Konrad Schiefer, Gilchrist Road, told the commissioners. He added that it should be published every night, questioning why the state is not fulfilling its promises.
Those attending the hearing received a handout showing tax rates in all of Ohio's counties. Currently 66 counties have a higher sales tax than Knox County. The ½ percent increase is expected to generate between $2 million and $2.5 million a year, part of which will go toward capital improvements.
Published: Wednesday, 31 May 2017 17:24
MOUNT VERNON - Beginning Monday, June 5, SR 308 in Knox County will be closed at multiple locations while ODOT crews work on replacing culverts in the area. Work hours will be from 7:00am to 3:30pm daily, however, the road will be closed to through traffic at each location for the duration of the project. For a detour, motorists can use SR 229 east to US 62 east, to US 36 west and reverse. This project is expected to be completed by the end of the day Friday, June 9, weather permitting.
Monday, June 5 - Tuesday, June 6: SR 308 closed between Woodside Dr. and New Gambier Rd.
Tuesday, June 6 - Wednesday, June 7: Intersection of SR 308 and New Gambier Rd. closed
Wednesday, June 7 - Friday, June 9: SR 308 closed between Yauger Rd. and US 36