Summit County officials plan to ask County Council to approve a measure that would prevent a proposed sales tax increase from funding a University of Akron arena.
At a press conference July 31, Summit County Executive Russ Pry, Sheriff Steve Barry and County Council President Ilene Shapiro announced their plan to rescind two County Council resolutions adopted in June that would have placed a 0.25 percent sales and use tax increase on the November ballot to fund county public safety and capital needs as well as a new arena in downtown Akron.
Instead, at an Aug. 4 County Council meeting, these officials will ask Council to adopt resolutions that will eliminate funding for the arena and instead put the increase on the ballot for public safety, criminal justice and capital needs. The new resolutions would also limit the length of the tax to 10 years, rather than the previously proposed permanent tax.
"Since the adoption of the previous resolutions, the public has informed us that there is not sufficient support among the voters to pass a sales tax issue that includes the arena," said Pry on July 31. "As a result, we feel it is best to remove the arena project from this issue and instead focus solely on the county's public safety and capital needs."
Shapiro said he anticipates the resolutions will be passed.
"It has become evident that our primary focus needs to be on public safety for the county. I think the waters were getting muddied, with the two issues combined," Shapiro said.
Pry agreed, stating the coverage of the arena "detracted from the county's safety needs."
Since the arena was added to the proposed tax measure, some county citizens registered with the Board of Elections as opposition groups to fight the issue. Adam Miller, founder of the group Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase, said he was shocked to learn of Pry's announcement and glad the arena may be removed. However, he said that won't stop his group from fighting the potential tax increase.
"Our position is still that [the citizens of Summit County] need a break, not an increase," Miller said.
Although the tax would be limited to a length of 10 years, Miller still feels this is too long for people to be paying more.
"We wanted a range of three to five years," he said. "Even in 10 years, enough revenue could be collected to fund the projects twice, if they wanted."
Under the newly proposed resolutions, the additional 0.25 percent sales and use tax would generate an estimated $227 million over the 10-year period. Of that, $102.5 million will go to fund the operation and maintenance of the county jail - an amount that should be sufficient to fund shortfalls at the jail for the next 20 years.
An estimated $68 million will be set aside for replacing the county's 800 MHz emergency radio system, upgrading and consolidating the county's 911 dispatch system and county-owned facility repairs, maintenance and improvements.
The balance of $57 million will go to the county's general fund, of which 70 percent is spent on public safety and criminal justice functions of the county.
"This issue is critical to the operation of my office, the Summit County Jail, the safety of my deputies and the safety of everyone in our county," Barry said. "This additional tax is expected to provide needed funding for the jail for the next two decades and fund the emergency communications systems that every resident of this county relies upon in an emergency."
Barry continued to describe the state of the jail as a "volatile atmosphere," and said because of the lack of funding the jail has not been able to replace deputies and workers that were laid off in 2009. Until funding is available, programming for inmates will continue to be cut, leading to heightened tensions among inmates and current staff, he said.
Pry said University President Scott Scarborough and officials at the University of Akron were disappointed to learn that the arena may be removed; however, after going through the reasoning, they hope in the future there is an opportunity to revisit the project.
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