LIMA — Allen County Commissioners have spent the last five months emphasizing the necessities of a sales tax increase, but not all community members are convinced that the overall $35 million that will be raised from a 10-year, .2-percent sales tax increase should be spent on new construction of county buildings.
The $35 million would primarily go towards routine maintenance of and building a new Allen County Juvenile Detention Center, a new county engineer’s office, renovations to the Allen County Courthouse, new administrative offices, roads and bridges.
An estimated $1.2 million would go toward routine maintenance, $500,000 would go towards roads and bridges, $7.1 million for the detention center $7 million towards the County Engineer’s office, and $3.5 towards the new administrative offices.
“We want to be as open as we can with the residents of Allen County by explaining our plans and efficiencies,” said Commissioner Jay Begg.
Over the past four years, Allen County Commissioners have been working with a consultant on identifying the buildings that needed the most maintenance, with these six items identified as the areas of greatest need.
Commissioner Cory Noonan explained that there is flooding on the roof of the juvenile detention center and leaking inside the facility. There is a gaping hole in the courthouse clock tower, which has caused leakage on the 4th floor. There is not enough storage space for trucks at the county engineer’s office, where the patched roof needs to be replaced, and various roads have potholes that need to be repaired.
Through the renovation of the courthouse, the commissioners plan to build a secure main entrance for all of the courts that will eventually be housed in that building. Additionally, the old probate court room on the 4th floor will be renovated.
“Our first reaction was not to have a tax,” said Commissioner Greg Sneary. “We looked at the issues, we thought about what we need to have, and we looked at the language to see how we would tie it all together.”
Sneary explained that if the commissioners had decided to implement a loan to fund the project as opposed to the sales tax, the interest would be $13 million and would take a longer time to pay back. Routine maintenance would also prevent the structures from having more issues in future.
In January, the commissioners sent out a poll to the citizens of Allen County that contained 14 questions to help ascertain their opinion of the proposed sales tax. When asked would they support a tax increase, an estimated 54 percent of the participants said no, an estimated 42 percent said yes and the remaining were undecided, according to Noonan. However, when asked if there was a proposed .2 percent sales tax increase for 10 years for only permanent structure and road improvements, an estimated 48 percent of the participants said yes, 42 said no and the remaining were undecided.
From the data extracted from the poll, the commissioners were able to form a committee to best address the issues. Since January, commissioners have held multiple meetings addressing community concerns over the sales tax.
“We’ve received some positive feedback after laying out our plan, and it’s great to see that people have been really receptive to the idea,” said Noonan.
From 2019 to 2020, the commissioners will be devoting their time to constructing the new juvenile detention center, a project that has already received partial funding through a $3.6 million state grant. The next project focus will be the administrative offices in 2021, the court house from 2022 to 2025 and the engineer’s office from 2026 to 2027. By 2029, the projects are expected to be in their final stages.
The commissioners’ goal is to hire subcontractors and contractors from Allen County to better help the economy.
If the tax increase is passed, the sales tax rate would rise from 6.75 percent to 6.95 percent, which would require store patrons to pay 2 cents worth of tax on a $10 purchase. The sales tax would go into effect Oct. 1, and the commissioners would began receiving the funds by January 2019.
“Forty-nine out of 88 Ohio counties have already maxed out of their sales tax increases,” said Noonan. “However, Allen County has not, and we have one of the lowest sales taxes.”
Lima area resident David Gudakunst Believes the commissioners have their priorities wrong. Gudakunst would prefer that $2 million go towards roads and bridges.
“As the commissioners, it is in their best interest to serve the majority of the people in this county,” said Gudakunst. “We have closed roads and bad bridges, and the majority of the people would benefit from the bulk of that tax levy going to the road and bridge repair.”
He understands that there are buildings like the engineer’s office that need more storage space, but he believes that there are spaces available that they can utilize throughout Allen County. He also thinks that the juvenile detention center could be renovated as opposed to rebuilt.
“There are tons of 24/7 facilities that are over 56 years old in this town, but they are not knocking them down and building new,” said Gudakunst. “They are constantly upgrading and improving. The commissioners, and not just this bunch, have a history of doing the bare minimal maintenance to keep something going, and when it gets too bad to repair, here come the tax people and they want to build a new building.”
Gudakunst acknowledged that he has nothing against the commissioners, but he does not agree with how they plan to utilize the sales tax and the impact that it will have on the Allen County.
“Before the tax levy even passed, they have already announced that they are going to breaking ground on the new juvenile detention center which is a part of what this tax levy is suppose to pay for,” said Gudakunst. “They are basically throwing it in our faces that they are going to pass it and we are going to start spending money that we know we don’t have already.”
The commissioners have addressed that if the tax does not pass on May 8, they will not re-institute a sales tax. However, Sneary said that the maintenance will need to be done and if it’s done later, it will be more expensive and may be over the course of 30 years, instead.
“We have shown what the needs are and we have come up with the best way to resolve these issues,” said Commissioner Begg. “If it does not pass, we won’t be running it again — primary or not. We have done our due diligence.”
Reach Camri Nelson at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @CamriNews.