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Akron -- Summit County Council hosted its second public hearing June 9 regarding the proposed 0.25 percent county-wide sales tax increase. Overall, 18 proponents and 11 opponents spoke at the meeting.
Council will vote June 16 to decide if the issue should be placed on the ballot. Summit County currently has a sales tax rate of .5 percent. The proposal would increase that rate to .75 percent.
County Council member Jerry Feeman (D-6) on June 9 reviewed a Power Point presentation outlining major points of the issue. If the additional tax passed, the average Summit County taxpayer would pay less than $50 annually and the tax would generate $20 million in the first year according to Feeman.
During the first five years, the increase is projected to generate approximately $104.5 million, according to information provided by the county. Of this, $69.5 million would be used for the county's public safety and capital needs while $35 million would pay for a county-owned arena that will be used by the University of Akron.
"The primary needs that we have…are public safety needs," Feeman said. "The largest of which, or one of the largest of which, is the condition currently at the Summit County Jail."
The tax increase could potentially fund the jail with between $3.7 million and $4.5 million for staffing and capital costs in 2015. Remaining public safety needs that would be funded by the tax increase include upgrading the emergency radio system and improving 911 dispatch systems, estimated to cost $5.3 million annually. Capital projects would receive $1.2 million and additional general fund needs including employee pay raises would receive $1.2 to $2 million from the increase.
"For the last, almost, five years the Summit County Jail and the Summit County Sheriff's office have been hurting, and we never recovered," Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry said. "It has come to the point where it is a no-question-about-it matter of safety."
Barry said the jail is critically understaffed and suffers from maintenance issues. He also explained the radio and dispatch systems are becoming obsolete, and there is no option but to replace the systems.
A state jail inspector cited Summit County Jail for having minimum standards and received nine violations indirectly and directly related to staffing issues, Summit County Chief of Corrections Greg Macko said.
Many proponents emphasized the need to address the public safety issues but also supported the plans to build a new basketball arena for the University of Akron downtown. The tax increase, if approved, would contribute $7 million a year to the arena.
"This arena is critical to the continued development of this community," Ralph Palmisano, a University of Akron Board of Trustees member, said.
Palmisano said the university voted unanimously to commit to moving forward with the arena. He believes the arena will allow new and old businesses to grow.
Cuyahoga Falls resident Adam Miller emphasized the overall cost for the possible arena project is estimated at $161 million. He does not believe the county should fund the arena and, like many other opponents, he feels the money could benefit other serious needs within the county.
"I am 100 percent behind the .25 [percent] tax increase for the safety forces," Summit County resident Carl Buck said. "They need it, the 911 system needs it and so does the emergency radio system. However, I don't think the University of Akron needs my tax dollars for an arena."
Stow resident Mary Mumper said she agrees with many of the opponents that the arena should not be attached to the safety force needs and feels the proposal should be rewritten in order for it to be passed.
Councilman John Schmidt (D-2) said he will vote in favor of putting the proposal on the ballot and letting voters decide in November.
"What this has demonstrated to me, not only representing Cuyahoga Falls, Akron and Munroe Falls, is that our shared interests don't stop at the city limits," Schmidt said.
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