In late August, Lake County Sheriff Daniel A. Dunlap asked commissioners to consider a 0.25 percent sales tax increase.
So far, nothing officially has happened, but there are rumblings.
The sales tax rate in Lake County is 6.25 percent, of which the county receives 0.50 percent and Laketran receives 0.25 percent. The state of Ohio receives 5.5 percent.
Lake County’s total rate is among the lowest in the state and is lower than neighboring Geauga (6.5 percent), Ashtabula (6.5 percent) and Cuyahoga (7.75 percent) counties.
To raise the sales tax would require commissioners to pass a resolution with two prior public hearings.
For an option to do so as an emergency measure, commissioners would need a unanimous vote.
Commissioners also could vote unanimously or by a 2-1 margin to place an issue on the countywide ballot.
A sales tax raise of 0.25 percent generates 25 cents for every $100 in taxable dollars spent and that could potentially generate an additional $7 million annually in revenue for the county.
Part of the reason a sales tax increase could happen is because the county continues to operate on smaller budgets.
Commissioners approved a $54.83 million budget this year, down from $58.54 million in 2010. In 2009, commissioners approved a budget of $61 million.
Some officials anticipate the budget for 2012 could be around $51 million, which would be a drop of about $10 million in just 3 years, due to a number of factors.
They include cuts from the state of Ohio to the state Local Government Fund, tangible personal property tax reimbursements, declining property values and the corresponding property tax paid, and a staggering decline in investment earnings due to interest rates near 0 percent.
Because of smaller budgets, Dunlap (and other elected officials) has continued to cut positions and has said that unless there is new revenue the four townships that rely primarily on his office for law enforcement services will have to step up financially if they want to keep close to the same level of service.
Road patrols by the Sheriff’s Office are not a requirement of state law and they might disappear. Already, the sheriff has said complaints are stacked and deputies respond when available.
Commissioner Daniel P. Troy, a Democrat, has said if the county can’t do what state law requires, then he would take a look at increased revenues.
But to gain Troy’s support, he has said any sales tax raise would have be done through a bipartisan vote whether unanimously or by a 2-1 margin.
Commissioner Raymond E. Sines, a Republican, who isn’t running next year for re-election, said in August that he felt the county hadn’t reached a position where a sales tax increase would be necessary.
Commissioner Robert E. Aufuldish, a Democrat, has said previously that the county departments will need to be streamlined before he would consider a sales tax raise.
Has the county has reached that point as commissioners prepare the 2012 budget? County Auditor Edward H. Zupancic and Treasurer John Crocker are among those who support the idea.
When it comes to preparation of budgets, salary and benefits comprise the biggest chunk of expenditures.
So that means in order to cut expenses, people need to be laid off or at least see their hours cut.
Maybe that’s what will happen with departments open two, three or four days a week?
Earlier this month, Troy suggested the auditor, recorder and treasurer strongly consider consolidations of their staffs to help streamline operations.
Each of the three elected officials said they wouldn’t be opposed to discussing the idea, but added that their staff already has been sharply cut and it’s not like employees sit around with no work to do.
As each department continues to see their annual funding shrink what other choices are left?
Can the 11th largest county in Ohio function well with departments that may closed or with part-time employees?
Would people really notice a difference, if such a change occurred?
Perhaps that is the choice potentially facing the three county commissioners.
Is it worth it to ask shoppers to pay a little bit more to continue to enjoy the level of county services they have now?
Regardless, 2012 should be a difficult budget for the county to assemble and tough choices lie ahead.