The Franklin County commissioners voted 3-0 yesterday morning to raise the county's sales tax rate by half a cent per dollar starting next year.
The commissioners have said that the increased tax, which is expected to raise about $100 million a year, is needed to shore up the county's budget, pay for major building projects and to create an economic development fund. Half of the tax, a quarter cent per dollar, would fall off the books at the end of 2018 after it helped purchase a new $150 million jail and $50 million morgue, among other capital improvement projects.
Money from the economic development fund also could be used to support for social service and community partnership programs that have been especially hard hit by state and federal cuts and the economic downturn, commissioners said.
Yesterday's vote means the county's total sales tax rate would rise to 7.5 percent in January, second highest in Ohio, behind Cuyahoga County.
That rate includes both the amount collected by the state and the Central Ohio Transit Authority, however, and the portion collected by the county would remain lower than that in many other Ohio counties.
The increase would bring the county's share of the total collected sales tax on purchases to 1.25 percent, which is the same as in 12 other counties, including Cuyahoga, Delaware, Madison and Union. That's lower than the 1.5 percent state maximum that is levied by 47 counties.
Because counties receive sales-tax payments from the state three months after they're collected at the cash register, the county would receive the increased revenue starting in the second quarter of 2014.
Commissioners said they carefully considered raising the tax.
"We do not ever take financial matters lightly," Commissioner John O'Grady said, noting that the county has been praised for its financial management and earns top bond ratings. "We've had arguments up here literally down to the penny."
Commissioner Paula Brooks said while the county's population has grown more than 20 percent in the last decade, poverty has increased 24 percent.
"That's what's happening in Franklin County, we're growing," Brooks said. "When you're growing you have growing needs."
Commissioner Marilyn Brown said the county needs to spend more on human services.
"There's a level of support for human services beneath which a civilized society must not go," Brown said. "We're there now."
Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio