MENTOR, Ohio — A debate over a sales tax increase is brewing among leaders in Lake County. This month, the county Board of Commissioners approved a 0.5% increase, making the county’s 7.75% sales tax rate the third-highest in the state.
On Tuesday, the Mentor City Council unanimously backed a resolution calling on the commissioners to rescind the tax hike.
“We just don’t agree with an increase at this time, due to the economy, due to the inflation, the gasoline prices. Everybody’s having a hard time making ends meet, so we hope they’ll change their mind,” said Mentor City Council member John Krueger.
Mentor leaders believe the city will be more affected by the increase than other areas of the county because of its reliance on retail. Council President Matthew Donovan said Mentor is the sixth-largest retail center in Ohio. During a public meeting in late December, he expressed concerns the tax increase could encourage would-be consumers to spend their dollars elsewhere.
“When sales decrease, jobs are lost, and municipalities dependent on income taxes suffer the consequences,” said Donovan.
Krueger added, “Either the business has to eat the half a percent on their product or services or they pass it onto the purchaser.”
The City Council members hope the County Commission will walk back the increase. But Board of Commissioners president John Hamercheck told News 5 a repeal is unlikely to happen.
“I understand people’s feelings and emotions. But you’ve got to look at the numbers and the facts,” Hamercheck said.
The sales tax increase is expected to generate an additional $16 to $20 million annually, which Hamercheck explained will go to public safety.
“We’ve heard loud and clear from our public safety forces, including our sheriff, our prosecutor, our courts – of which we have seven – that there are demands and stresses they cannot sustain,” he said.
The board president explained both the sheriff’s office and prosecutor’s office hope to bolster wages to be more competitive with neighboring counties in an effort to improve hiring, retention and prosecution of crimes.
"Our prosecutor’s office right now is at saturation. They cannot take another case,” Hamercheck said. “Forty-six percent of the serious crimes in Lake County are committed by non-Lake County residents. And the only way to capture non-Lake County dollars is through a sales tax.”
Critics of the increase question why the county doesn’t use some of the $38 million general fund surplus or $100 million in investments.
“You don’t really need a sales tax increase. All you have to do is readjust your budget,” Krueger said.
Hamercheck contends law prohibits the board from spending the investments. He also said the coffers won’t cover the $22 million necessary for a new Emergency Operations Center and $15 million for a morgue for the medical examiner.
“Those demands are far exceeding what our general fund is able to support,” he said.
During recent public meetings, residents voiced their own concerns about the sales tax increase compounding financial hardships brought on by inflation.
“I’m retired. I’m not going back to work to pay for taxes. I worked 50 years,” one woman said.
Hamercheck said the increase will benefit the county’s quality of life because it will help tackle crime and public safety issues.
“I don’t want to sound heartless, but the reality is crime is going up. People need to feel safe in their communities,” he said.
The Board of Commissioners will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday. Further conversations about the sales tax increase are expected.
Watch live and local news any time:
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.