ELYRIA — Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said Thursday that the law doesn’t allow critics of a 0.25 percent sales tax increase to put a referendum on the November ballot to determine whether the tax hike should remain in effect.
“I do not believe they can do a referendum,” he said.
Innes said he reviewed the law after Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips told the commissioners on Wednesday that he and other opponents of the sales tax hike planned to gather signatures to force the issue to the fall ballot.
Phillips also sued county and state officials over the sales tax on Wednesday, contending the commissioners mishandled the run-up to the Dec. 14 vote to impose the tax, which went into effect Saturday.
A group calling itself Citizens for a Better Lorain County Government tried and failed to put a referendum on the ballot in the aftermath of the Dec. 14 vote, but fell short of gathering the necessary 7,782 valid signatures from registered voters.
Innes said because of how the commissioners voted to impose the tax, the only way for opponents to get the measure before voters was to mount a petition drive immediately after the vote and get the necessary signatures within a 30-day window. That is what Citizens for a Better Lorain County Government tried to do.
Phillips said his initial review of the law indicates that a second petition drive is legal, but he plans to review the law again because of Innes’ comments.
“I’ll have to look at it,” he said.
Phillips said he and his fellow tax opponents had planned to roll out their petition drive next week. If he is correct about the referendum being allowed, he said, the deadline for turning in the signatures isn’t until August.
Opponents of the increase have argued that the decision to impose the sales tax was ignoring the will of voters, who overwhelmingly rejected a 0.25 percent sales tax increase last year that would have split around $10 million between county government operations and expanding public transportation in the county.
Arguing that the county was in dire need of additional funding to prevent cuts, including laying off sheriff’s deputies, the commissioners held public hearings in early December before voting Dec. 7 to impose the sales tax.
At that meeting, commissioners Lori Kokoski and Matt Lundy voted against the increase, but a week later, Kokoski changed her mind and voted with Commissioner Ted Kalo to impose the sales tax hike.
Phillips contended in his lawsuit that the commissioners improperly discussed the issue outside the public eye, didn’t follow proper parliamentary procedure and should have held a second round of public hearings before they held a second vote on the increase.
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