ELYRIA — Tensions regarding the sales tax increase hit a boiling point at Wednesday morning’s Lorain County commissioners meeting.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski was the first to speak on the tax during her report, in part, she said, because of the large number of protesters in the audience.
“It was misquoted in the paper this morning that the percentage of the sales tax that the county receives is 1.5,” she said, referring to a quote by a resident that appeared in Wednesday’s Chronicle-Telegram. “I wish. It’s actually 1 percent, and that’s after the increase. That’s a $20 million discrepancy.”
Kokoski said the state of Ohio gets 5.75 percent of the county’s sales tax, the county’s general fund receives 0.75 percent and 0.25 percent goes to the county jail.
“The funds we receive for the jail have not been sufficient, so the general fund has needed to give it close to $4 million a year,” she said. “The only amount of the sales tax that was approved by the voters is the 0.25 percent that goes to the jail. Everything else has imposed the state or the board of commissioners. And the portion that goes to the jail was put before voters five times before it was successful.”
Avon Lake attorney Gerald Phillips, who has been organizing an effort to gather signatures to repeal the 0.25 percent sales tax increase that the commissioners imposed last year, was next to speak.
“I think you made a terrible decision by not repealing the sales tax,” he said.
Phillips said now that the petitions have been filed with the board of elections, the group is seeking three things: the resignation of Auditor Craig Snodgrass, the resignation of Kokoski for flipping on her decision to impose the sales tax and an alliance with the county government reform movement but with a new and improved plan.
Kokoski, who initially voted against imposing the increase last year, clarified that she changed her mind because after a week, she was having a hard time sleeping.
“I couldn’t live with myself, and that’s why I changed my mind,” she said. “This isn’t for my benefit. I don’t make any more money. It doesn’t benefit me whatsoever. It benefits my sheriff. It benefits my recorder. Every department in this county would have been affected.”
By Kokoski changing her mind, the vote count regarding the imposition switched, with Ted Kalo still voting yes and Matt Lundy voting no, citing a campaign promise.
County Administrator Jim Cordes and the Rev. Rick Young of Liberty Baptist Church in Elyria had an exchange after Young began shouting about 22 percent in total taxes coming out of one of his parishioner’s paychecks.
“I think you should stop yelling,” Cordes said to him. “If you can’t stop yelling, then you need to leave the podium.”
“You see that’s your people’s problem,” Young said, with Cordes interrupting, saying Young would need to keep himself in good decorum or leave the podium.
Young accused Cordes of yelling and said no one was listening to him.
“If you had listened, you would have heard that the people said no,” Young said. “That’s on record. The problem is, we spend too much. I spent nine years in the Marine Corps.”
“I spent 20 in the Navy, and I didn’t act like you,” Cordes fired back.
“Then you understand government waste, sir,” Young said, with Cordes saying Young had a right to be upset, but he needs to treat people with respect.
Kalo said the county government can’t cut its way to success when it’s already cut its budget in the neighborhood of $30 million over the last several years.
Former Vermilion Mayor Jean Anderson said she heard some people were wondering what the point of voting even was because the commissioners made a decision regardless of the fact that voters said no to a tax increase.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes responded, noting that if the increase is repealed, it could mean devastating cuts to the prosecutor’s office, the sheriff’s department and the coroner.
“That means one in every four criminal that is now apprehended will go free,” he said. “When you get numbers, what is the value of a child who is molested because one out of four child molesters go free? What is the value of a senior citizen’s retirement savings that they’re scammed out of because one in four con artists are still out there? What is the value of a person’s life because one in four murderers goes free?”
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