Portage license fee increase sparks opposition

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Brian R. Tirbovich, an Atwater resident, said he is collecting signatures of registered voters on a petition to have a referendum put on the ballot next year to block the decision.

Tirbovich said he hoped to get the issue on the spring primary ballot, but Denise Smith, head of the civil division for the Portage County Prosecutor's Office, said state law doesn't provide for that.

"A referendum can be filed if a sufficient petition is filed" with the county Board of Elections. "(The referendum) would be on the next general election," Smith said.

Tirbovich has a lot to do in little time if he is to get the issue before the electorate.

"According to the deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections, I have 30 days from the time the commissioners voted," Tirbovich said. He said he needs to collect signatures of 4,273 registered county voters to get the issue on the ballot.

Tirbovich said he was told that three other residents have inquired about the referendum petition procedure.

Commissioners voted Nov. 6 to enact the permissive license fees available to the county on motor vehicles by up to $10. The increases would go into effect Jan. 1, 1999.

Three state statutes authorize the county to implement a permissive license tax of $5 each, for a total of $15 to the county.

And, depending on which statute you look at, the statutes divide that $5 in varying proportions between the county and the townships. For example, the one fee currently in effect for the county is divided 30 percent to the townships and 70 percent to the county.

Corresponding to those three statutes, there are three municipal corporation statutes that allow both cities and villages to impose $5 fees each. Enactment by the county or a municipality would preclude the other party from enacting their version of that statute, Smith said.

"In our case, the county has already imposed one and has now asked for the other two" permissive license fees, Smith said.

"In one of those two, the cities of Kent, Ravenna, Mogadore, Aurora and Streetsboro already have that $5, so the county could not get that $5 from those," Smith said.

If the county gets the increase, the remaining villages have the option to ask that funds collected from their resident be spent on city road projects necessary "for the orderly flow of county traffic," according to the statute's language.

As to the third fee, the only municipality that has imposed the fee is Mantua Village so the county can collect it everywhere but there.

There has been an indication that Kent might enact its own license fee increase. But that would not impact the total revenues expected by the county engineer.

"The reason Kent has an addition $5 to pass is because there is a fourth statute that goes 100 percent to municipal corporations (cities and villages), so Kent may impose it on cars registered within Kent," Smith said.

There also is another statute that goes strictly to townships and nine already have that. The townships with that fee are: Brimfield, Deerfield, Edinburg, Freedom, Randolph, Ravenna, Rootstown, Suffield and Windham.

County Engineer Michael A. Marozzi said the estimated increase of $869,000 in annual new money will be used for repairs and improvements to the county's 372 miles of road and 181 bridges.

"I talked with Commissioner (Kathleen) Chandler, and she tried to talk me out of (the referendum drive)," Tirbovich said. "She said what they were going to use the money for."

Tirbovich said he may go door-to-door and may leave copies at area stores for voters to sign. "There's a lot of people against this," he said.

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