County Courthouse 2019

Several county offices in and around the Athens County Courthouse could be moved, including the Sheriff’s Office (smaller building at far right). Photo by Conor Morris.

The Athens County Commissioners plan to hold two public hearings this month to discuss a county effort to put a 0.25 percent sales-tax proposal on the ballot in November.

This sales tax is being proposed to fund the county’s 911 system, the Sheriff’s Office and the county’s general revenue fund, county Commissioner Lenny Eliason said in an interview last week.

This new sales-tax proposal is separate from another 0.25 percent sales-tax proposal that The NEWS reported on June 20. That one would go solely toward funding an improved county transit system. That transit-tax proposal, however, will not be going to the ballot this year after county officials discovered they would need to create a new regional transit authority in order to levy such a tax (you can see more info on that in our Thursday print edition this week).

Meanwhile, Commissioner Eliason said the general sales-tax hike is needed because the county needs more money to fund improvement on or replacement of county facilities, for one. In particular, he said the Athens County 911 and Sheriff’s offices need a new space. They both now share a building at 13 W. Washington St. in uptown Athens.

Currently in Ohio, counties are only able to levy up to 1.5 percent of a sales tax to fund their operations. Athens County’s current local sales tax rate is 1.25 percent (although the total sales tax rate is 7 percent, with the rest going to the state).

If approved by voters, Eliason said that half of the 0.25 percent sales tax will go toward Athens County 911; a quarter of it will go toward the Sheriff’s Office; and the other quarter will go toward the county’s general revenue fund.

Eliason said that Athens County 911 has not had a change in its funding formula since its inception, despite seeing increased demand for its services.

“We originally had two dispatchers on duty,” Eliason explained. “Now we’re looking at adding a fourth dispatcher.”

He added that the county has been improving the technology used in the 911 system continually as well, so there’s been a lot of work done “under the hood” that not everybody would notice.

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith said that the Sheriff’s Office’s physical space is undersized and has issues with accommodations for people with disability or mobility issues (its current lobby is located up some stairs and is essentially a small stair landing). Plus, uptown Athens has well-known parking issues, Smith said, so that can mean people who need to speak with the Sheriff’s Office sometimes must walk a long way.

“We also have (rising) operating costs such as equipment, cruisers and supplies that we need,” Smith said.

The NEWS reported earlier this year that the county Commissioners are considering moving the Sheriff’s Office and possibly Athens County 911 to the former ATCO building on Campbell Street in Athens. However, the Commissioners are still waiting on an architect’s assessment of that building’s suitability for those offices, Eliason said.

Meanwhile, Eliason did say that despite issues with ADA (American with Disabilities Act) accessibility at the Athens County Board of Elections, the County should be able to remedy those issues at the BOA's current office in uptown Athens without moving that office to another location. Still, improvements to the Board of Elections and other county facilities will cost money, Eliason said.

Eliason asked for people interested in learning more about the county's pitch for the sales-tax increase to attend the two forums coming up later this month. They are:

• 6 p.m., Wednesday, July 24, at the Athens Community Center.

• 6 p.m., Monday, July 29, in the Nelsonville City Council chambers.

ELIASON ADDED that roughly two years ago, the federal government mandated the elimination of sales tax on the services of Medicaid managed-care organization for counties in Ohio, meaning a significant annual loss of revenue for the county.

County Auditor Jill Thompson provided a datasheet Monday showing that Athens County had been receiving around $850,000 in revenue per year from that tax, at least as of 2015. However, she did say that the state approved some transitional funding for 2017 and 2018 to help offset those losses.

Meanwhile, Eliason said that current discussions at the state level to move the state’s supervision of the Adult Parole Authority program to individual Ohio counties’ levels will mean further increased expenses, upward of $800,000 to $900,000 per year.

Eliason added that further discussions at the state level around “de-felonizing” some fourth- and fifth-degree felony crimes will further shift the burden of managing those offenders to the county government and jail system.

“And the jail’s already overcrowded,” Eliason said.

Load comments