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Sales tax proposal reviews paused

By MATTHEW MERCHANT Staff Writer Published: May 17, 2017 4:00 AM

County commissioners cannot use taxpayer money for capital investments to non-county organizations, the county prosecutor said.

That's basic Ohio law, but in tasking a subcommittee with reviewing substance abuse treatment, prevention and education proposals, the board failed to inform the committee of the rule.

At their regular meeting last week, commissioners agreed to recommend halting the review of 10 proposals targeting the county's substance abuse epidemic using roughly $4 million in sales and use tax revenue. The board is now discussing channeling that $4 million toward deputy salaries at the county jail, where a 132-bed, $13 million expansion is planned.

In email to committee members, the board pushed back a planned committee by a few weeks, citing a need for clarification on the tax usage rules. No specific details were given.

Two of those proposals came from Family & Community Services, one for renovations to the former Altercare facility on New Milford Road in Ravenna to be used as an addiction treatment center, and one to purchase two additional houses in Ravenna that could be used for residential sober living.

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During a tour of the Altercare facility last month, Commissioners Sabrina Christian Bennett and Maureen Frederick told members of the subcommittee that the proposal might fall through, citing a conversation they had with legal counsel.

The reason, Christian Bennett said, was the uncertainty of whether the county could use general fund revenue for capital improvement projects by a private non-profit organization.

Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, as well as board counsel Denise Smith, could not comment about specific information given to board members, citing attorney-client confidentiality.

However, Vigluicci did say that Ohio law says exactly what the board can and cannot do with county money and that commissioners should know what is within their statutory authority.

For example, the county can contract for services with third-party providers such as private non-profit organizations, Vigluicci said. Currently, the county does that for treatment services at Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program in Warren as well as Prevention, Retention and Contingency and Root House programs in Ravenna.

Committee Chair Joel Mowrey of the county Mental Health & Recovery Board, said the committee wasn't aware of the board's limitations to fund certain projects involving capital improvements.

Investments such as those proposed by F&CS at the Altercare facility are now off the table, though other programs could still be feasible. If F&CS were to make the renovations, the county could contract for services there.

But with the board opting to halt the review process, the future of any proposal is unclear.


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