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County may not extend sales tax

5-year tax to fund expansion at jail expected to generate $25M

By MATTHEW MERCHANT Staff Writer Published: May 16, 2017 4:00 AM
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Portage County commissioners don't anticipate extending the five-year sales tax funding an expansion of the county jail and additional sheriff's deputies.

That's "a shift in rhetoric" that "hasn't kept pace with the shift in planning," said county budget and finance director Todd Bragg, explaining last week's notice that the county may not fund drug treatment or prevention programs.

The tax is expected to generate $25 million to fund the $13 million jail expansion and pay for more than $5 million to increased road patrols, deputies and probation officers at the sheriff's office during the five years. A staffing plan for the jail expansion has also not been finalized. Any remaining money was originally planned for substance abuse prevention programs.

"I think we need to plant the seed, that, after careful consideration, there's no use to build the expansion, add all the staff, and then pull it back," Commissioner Sabrina Christian Bennett said last week.

Christian Bennett, along with Commissioner Maureen Frederick, expressed concern that, if money were to be directed at additional programs, the money could dry up sooner than expected.

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The Sales and Use Tax Oversight Advisory Subcommittee, which Bragg sits on, is tasked with recommending to commissioners programs for education, treatment or prevention of substance abuse in the county. The county received 10 applications to provides services from local organizations.

But the committee has not yet been informed of the commissioners' updated plans. A meeting planned for this week was rescheduled, not by the chair of the committee, but by the commissioner's office.

Chair Joel Mowrey said he learns more about the board's decisions from articles in the Record-Courier than from the board itself. Mowrey, who is also executive director of the county Mental Health and Recovery Board, said there's a lot of misunderstandings and a lack of communication between the committee and commissioners -- something Bragg said he agrees with.

"It's not that we don't know what we're doing. It's that things have changed and we're re-evaluating," Bragg said.

If commissioners can't fund the additional officers once the tax expired, the $1 million annual cost would have to be absorbed into the county general fund, something Bragg said isn't feasible without sales tax money.


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