2009-09-23 / Front Page

Commissioners Increase Sales Tax, Cut Employee Wages

Fulton County Commissioners took more steps to deal with the general fund budget deficit, increasing the county sales tax and cutting employee wages.

The commissioners voted to increase the sales tax by one half of one percentage point, or .5%, for three years at their Thursday, Sept. 17, meeting.

The vote will raise the county's sales tax to 7%.

The move is part of a plan by the commissioners to balance the county general fund budget, which has suffered a drop in income.

Forced Decision

“Due in large part to the extremely difficult economic climate, we are forced to make decisions that we otherwise would not make,” said Joe Short, president of the Fulton County commissioners.

“We realize every family will be affected by the increase. For that, I am sorry.

“But my duty as one of your county commissioners is to ensure the integrity of Fulton County. Unfortunately, this sales tax increase is one of the items that must be done.”

The increase is expected to raise $1.4 million to $1.7 million in additional revenue.

Vond Hall, Fulton County administrator, said about $800,000 of the money will go toward filling the budget defi- cit for the 2010 calendar year. The remainder will be applied to the county carryover fund, or cash reserve.

Fulton County needs to maintain a cash reserve of $2.5 million to operate for the first few months of each year. Hall said the county was utilizing $500,000 of the carryover to balance the 2009 budget.

While the commissioners passed the measure as an emergency, it will still be weeks before the tax goes into effect.

Under Ohio law, the Ohio Department of Taxation must receive the commissioners’ resolution 65 days prior to the start of a calendar quarter. The earliest the 7% sales tax can go into effect is Jan. 4, 2010.

County voters can overturn the increase by circulating an initiative petition and putting the issue before county voters.

Melanie Gilders, deputy director of the Fulton County Board of Elections, said because the sales tax was passed as an emergency measure, the petition must be filed 75 days before the next general election.

That means the sales tax hike can't go before voters until November 2010.

She said a legal opinion is needed to verify that information.

Wage Cuts

The commissioners also decided to cut county employee wages by 3.84% for the remainder of 2009.

In July, Ted Strickland, Ohio governor, signed a law allowing county commissioners to furlough, or give unpaid time off, to county workers. Furloughs are limited to 80 hours, or 10 days, per year.

Essentially, the employees loose their paid holidays

Short said the commissioners opted to go with a pay cut, which is roughly equivalent to not paying employees for the remaining two holidays in 2009.

The move spreads the pay cut over the remainder of the year, rather than taking a full day’s pay out of a single paycheck.

Which Workers

What is unclear is exactly which county workers will be forced to take the pay cut.

Short said the pay cut applies to all workers under the commissioners, and the commissioners themselves.

“We would not ask our employees to do something we would not do also,” he said.

Each county elected official sets the pay scale for their workers. Short said the commissioners have asked the other elected officials to impose the cuts.

Short could not answer whether county employees who are not paid through the general fund will take a pay cut.

For example, the Fulton County Senior Center is funded by its own tax levy. It receives no money from the general fund.

Will Senior Center employees see their wages drop? The decision is up to the Senior Center Board.

The commissioners have not made a decision about imposing a three-year wage freeze on county employees, another part of the county plan to deal with general fund budget shortfalls.

Short said based on talks with the other commissioners, all three are generally in favor of the wage freeze proposal.– Mary Huber and David Pugh

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