RAVENNA -- Revenue from Portage County's 0.25 percent sales and use tax is steady and on track with estimates, according to the county finance department and auditor's office.

The tax, imposed by county commissioners in 2015, generated $3.88 million in 2016. That's lower than the $5 million estimated to come in during 2017, but the tax went into effect in January with collections three months behind.

While the money isn't legally bound to any particular use, the funds have been pledged to go toward expanding the county jail to address increasing female population numbers, and implementing substance abuse treatment, education and prevention programs.

Todd Bragg, director of the board budget and finance management, said the office just collected November 2016 revenues because of the lengthy process of state tax service.

"When you pay sales tax, the businesses send it to the state. The state then processes all of the returns by county, because the state gets a portion and we get a portion," Bragg said.

That $3.8 million is also slightly higher than the $3.75 million expected, a pleasant surprise to the county general fund. Commissioners are expecting to generate roughly $5 million each year for the next four years because of the sales tax.

Revenue from the additional quarter-percent sales tax is being kept in a separate fund in order to distinguish what the money will be used for, Bragg said. The county currently has a 7.25 percent sales tax.

County Auditor Janet Esposito said she was initially concerned about the quarter-percent increase, especially being kept in a separate account. She said the fund could potentially generate additional revenue if it was kept in the same fund as the other 7 percent sales tax revenue.

"Of the 7.25 percent [total sales tax in the county], we only get 1.25 percent, basically. PARTA gets some, and the remainder is state revenue," Bragg explained.

So far in 2017, the quarter-percent sales and use tax has generated $868,091.

The tax also was designed to accommodate the upcoming cuts to Medicaid taxes, from which the county draws nearly $1.8 million. Those cuts are part of Gov. John Kasich's proposed state budget. The budget adopted by the legislature will take effect July 1.

A total of $716,271 of the additional sales tax has already been spent, according to county records. Three areas received funding: $91,964 for the county probation department, $239,292 for corrections officers at the jail, and $385,016 for sheriff's road patrols. Those figures include salaries, health benefits, Medicare, retirement and workers compensation.

Those expenditures were suggested by the subcommittee established by the board for the purpose of advising commissioners on how best to spend the revenue for education and prevention projects.

Sheriff Dave Doak sits on that committee, which meets monthly, along with community leaders and elected officials from across the county.

Recent discussion has centered on reconsideration of the proposed $13 million expansion of the county jail using a portion of the sales tax revenue. Commissioners have voiced concern over how to afford staffing the 133-bed pod, which would need an additional 15 officers. Alternative options previously on the table have been less expensive while addressing the same concerns.

In 2015, when county commissioners imposed the tax without placing it on the ballot, they did so to allowe the revenue to flow directly into the county general fund instead of being used for a specific purpose, such as he criminal justice system

However, during required public hearings on the tax, the board set its anticipated uses for the money: Increased road patrol, valued at roughly $400,000 for one full-time officer plus a vehicle; $450,000 for increased staffing at the jail; a $1.6 million remodel of existing female pod bed space at the jail; and design and construction of a $9 million to $11 million pod extension.

So far, the commissioners have followed through on two of the three pledges.

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4156