Summit County Council on Aug. 4 voted unanimously to remove the proposed University of Akron arena from a proposed sales tax increase. Instead, the additional 0.25 percent sales and use tax which voters are being asked to approve on the Nov. 4 ballot will be reserved for public safety, criminal justice and capital needs.
The new resolutions approved Aug. 4 would also limit the length of the tax to 10 years, rather than the previously proposed permanent tax.
Under the newly approved resolutions, the additional 0.25 percent sales and use tax would generate an estimated $227 million over the 10-year period.
Of that, $102.5 million would go to fund the operation and maintenance of the county jail - an amount that should be sufficient to fund shortfalls at the jail for the next 20 years, according to a news release from Summit County Executive Russ Pry's office.
An estimated $68 million would be set aside for replacing the county's 800 MHz emergency radio system, upgrading and consolidating the county's 911 dispatch system and county-owned facility repairs, maintenance and improvements.
The balance of $57 million would go to the county's general fund, of which, 70 percent is spent on public safety and criminal justice functions of the county.
County Council President Ilene Shapiro said she is "completely supportive of the decision Council had to make."
"As a Council, like any body of people, we have to make tough decisions, and our first priority needs to be public safety. Unfortunately that was overshadowed by something else," Shapiro said, in reference to the arena previously being on the proposed ballot. "We needed to look for what would move our community forward and in this situation safety took the top priority."
Shapiro said she speaks for the entire Council when she says the decision was "a valuable one" for the county.
When the arena was added to the proposed tax measure, some county citizens registered with the Summit County Board of Elections as opposition groups to fight the issue.
"Our victory on this issue shows us that well-organized, grass-roots, citizen-led efforts of courage, integrity, and factual messaging can make a difference," said Adam Miller, founder of the group Coalition Against the Sales Tax Increase. "When we started this journey the proponents believed we would just go away and they did not take us seriously. We sent them a message they will never forget. The changes made to the past proposal are the very same changes we've been fighting for since day one … We reached out to thousands of Summit County voters and encouraged them to contact their elected officials, write letters to the editors, call in radio shows … and these efforts paid off."
Ken Burkins, one of the founders of a second opposition group called Defeat the Arena Tax, said his contingent was "elated" that county officials "decided to withdraw the arena portion of the increased county sales tax initiative."
"Their move to offer just the safety component portion to the electorate is an admission of a potentially embarrassing defeat: a defeat that would have compromised needed improvements to the county safety forces, infrastructure and communications capabilities," said Burkins. "The safety legislation is without doubt worthy of consideration by the voters."
Burkins noted that his group will now disband because its opposition was focused solely on the arena being funded by the potential tax hike.
He also added that the recent process occurred because a citizen proposed a charter amendment which requires all county tax increases to be approved by voters. That amendment was adopted by voters.
"If we as voters had not had the foresight to approve this, the Council, the mayor, and the university would have had a new arena downtown next year based upon a Council vote that used tax money from all of us," added Burkins.
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