ELYRIA — Opponents of a 0.25 percent sales tax increase on Friday took the first official step toward launching a petition drive to force a referendum on the sales tax hike onto the November ballot.
Five members of the group, including Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips, who also is suing Lorain County and state officials over the imposition of the increase, went to county Auditor Craig Snodgrass’ office to file an official copy of the Dec. 14 resolution approving the increase.
Phillips said the filing, along with one at the county Board of Elections, are necessary before he and his allies can begin circulating their petitions.
Whether or not the petitions will actually make a difference is another story. Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes said earlier this week that the law doesn’t allow for a referendum on the increase.
He said a referendum would have been allowed had opponents managed to gather enough valid signatures from registered voters within
30 days of the county commissioners’ vote approving the increase.
A group calling itself Citizens for Better Lorain County Government failed to gather the required 7,782 signatures. Some members of that group are involved in the latest effort to repeal the increase, which is expected to generate roughly $10 million annually for county operations. The increase went into effect April 1.
Phillips has said he has reviewed the same law as Innes and believes a second referendum is possible. He said he has yet to conduct a secondary review since Innes announced his view that the time for a referendum already had passed. Phillips said he plans to complete that review next week and signature gathering won’t begin until after that is finished.
Opponents argue that the commissioners ignored the will of voters when they imposed the sales tax because voters resoundingly defeated a 0.25 percent sales tax increase on the November ballot that would have split the money between county operations and the expansion of public transportation.
The lawsuit contends that the commissioners’ Dec. 14 vote violated parliamentary procedure because Commissioner Ted Kalo made the motion to impose the sales tax.
Commissioners Lori Kokoski and Matt Lundy initially voted against the increase at a Dec. 7 meeting and Phillips has argued that only one of them was legally able to bring up the issue again. Kokoski changed her vote during the second meeting.
Phillips also has argued that the commissioners improperly discussed the tax increase out of the public eye and failed to hold a second set of public hearings on the proposed increase. Two public hearings were held prior to the Dec. 7 meeting.
Innes has said the commissioners followed the law during the second vote.
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