The Lima News
The Putnam County commissioners didn’t just do their taxpayers a favor Thursday; they did their local economy a favor.
The commissioners voted not to renew a quarter-percent income tax that started Jan. 1, 2009, for general expenses. The decision brings the county’s income tax down from 7 percent to 6.75 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2014.
More impressively, the commissioners took the sales tax down a notch because they’ve paid down their debts. They’ve set aside enough money to pay off the county’s jail project ahead of time, saving taxpayers $1.5 million in interest.
That was the purpose of a 0.25 percent sales tax in the county, but not this one. A sales tax earmarked for paying down the jail debt doesn’t expire until June 2016. The commissioners and county auditor determined they didn’t need the extra 0.25 percent now, so they took it off.
They did it the hard way. They increased the employees’ share of health insurance and gave pay cuts or freezes to many employees, cutting the county’s payroll by 15 percent. They invested savings in cutting down debts on the jail and annual fees for the closure of the county’s landfill.
“We took a proactive approach to the budget issues in 2008 and 2009,” said Putnam County Commissioner Vince Schroeder. “The silver lining is that people were willing to tighten their belts and become more efficient.”
The commissioners could have made decisions more popular to employees. They could have spent more on salaries or health insurance. It would have been easy to start building a larger rainy day fund, as if things hadn’t rained enough during the Recession, or to start tackling some pet project. Instead, the commissioners made a wise decision that will help the local economy.
Right now, Putnam County is at a competitive disadvantage with its neighbors for sales tax. Savvy shoppers can drive half an hour to Defiance, Findlay or Lima and save half a penny on every $2 spent. When you’re talking about major purchases such as automobiles, furniture or appliances, that can add up quickly.
With the changed rate, Putnam County gains an advantage on its other neighbors, Henry County and Van Wert County, which remain at 7 percent sales taxes.
We’re especially heartened to see the commissioners show tentative support to not renewing the other quarter-percent sales tax in 2016. That would bring the county in line with Allen, Defiance and Hancock counties. More cash in a taxpayers’ pocket is always a good thing.
The case of Putnam County’s finances serves as a reminder to local elected officials: Belt-tightening can work, if you really mean it. When you achieve your desired results, there’s no shame in leaving money in taxpayers’ pockets.