I am a fiscal conservative who supports the current proposal by Allen County Commissioners to increase Allen County’s sales tax by two-tenths of one percent.
More specifically, I support and applaud the Capital Plan developed by Commissioners Jay Begg, Cory Noonan and Greg Sneary. They have spent the past five years gathering and analyzing data and developing a sound, realistic no-frills plan that will ensure the most cost-effective way to meet the county’s physical plant needs well into the future.
In order to make the plan work, it must be funded.
I was a vocal critic and active opponent of the sales tax increase implemented by the 2009 Allen County commissioners (to his credit, current commissioner Sneary was the dissenting vote at the time) primarily because there was no real plan on how they would use the funds nor any evidence they would try to cut expenses. Their plea was for additional revenue for the general fund—the operations account which is used for salaries, supplies and other expenses. I worked with many others in the community to circulate petitions forcing the issue to go to the ballot. Ultimately, the voters rightfully rejected the increase.
Now, Allen County voters are faced with a decision about the future of the physical assets that are taxpayer-owned. I support this plan and the revenue stream needed to implement it because it’s a solid plan, it’s cost-effective and it can reduce annual operating expenses. Simply put, it just makes financial sense, especially when one considers that the decision before us is not whether to fund capital improvements — those improvements must be made and will have to be funded at some point. The decision is whether we fund it with a small increase in a consumption tax, or fund it by borrowing and going into debt. Incurring debt is a much more expensive option.
This well-thought-out plan provides ample detail about the use of the funds designated specifically and solely to capital improvements and maintenance. It’s a 10-year plan, and the funding mechanism — the 0.2 percent sales tax — will “sunset” after year 10. That means that it will not automatically renew without the 2028 Commissioners taking deliberate action to continue the sales tax. This affords an opportunity for citizen input and participation in 2028, just as some of us provided input and participation in 2009. The current commissioners have publicly pledged that if they are still in office, they will take the tax off after year 10.
The small increase in sales tax amounts to two pennies on every $10 purchase. It will provide enough funding to prevent the county taxpayer from having to borrow money and pay significant funds in interest expense. In 2002, Allen County’s amortized debt was $27 million —debt which was incurred, in part, due to bonds issued to fund the construction of the Allen County Justice Center in 1990. Of that $27 million, only $20 million was principal; the remaining $7 million was interest expense. To service that debt, taxpayers made a $1.3 million annual principal and interest payment. After 28 years, that debt was paid in full as of Jan. 1, 2018.
Finally, the plan will result in additional cost-savings in annual operational expenses. For example, the current configuration of the Justice Center and Courthouse and the location of the Juvenile Detention Center, require three full-time, armed Allen County deputies to staff security stations in each of these locations. Part of the capital plan is to move all five county courts into the Courthouse, thus eliminating two of the three security stations. Currently, the county engineer’s garage facility is so cramped for space, it requires three people to park trucks and loaders in the facility after road work: one driver and two spotters, in order to prevent damage to expensive equipment sandwiched together. A bigger, more functional space designed to accommodate today’s modern equipment will enhance efficiency, reduce potential for damage, and eliminate the need for extra manpower to perform routine activities. The plan also provides for $1.2 million dollars annually for routine facility maintenance. The lack of adequate funding for maintenance for the past two decades has contributed, in part, to the current sub-standard condition of many county buildings.
As a fiscal conservative, I am always skeptical when government wants more money to do anything. But as a property owner and a building contractor I understand that simply refusing to spend money on capital needs to save a dime today can cost a dollar tomorrow. This request for a very small increase in a consumption tax makes financial success, given the benefits and cost savings taxpayers will realize for the next forty years.
Mike Blass is the owner of Blass Construction and Remodeling and Blass Holding, which owns residential investment properties in Allen and Auglaize County. Prior to that, he served 30 years in city, county and state government positions. As a major for the Lima Police Department, he was involved in the design and implementation of Community Policing during the 1990s.