Group wants to overturn Montgomery County sales tax increase at ballot box

Two former chairmen of the Montgomery County Republican Party are spearheading an effort to overturn a Montgomery County retail sales tax increase approved last month by county commissioners, all Democrats.

Both Greg Gantt and Rob Scott say the tax increase vote by the three commissioners took many in the business community by surprise.

“Most businesses don’t know about it yet … It’s not something the commission put before the voters,” said Scott, a Kettering city councilman. “So what this referendum is doing is giving that option to the voters. If the voters want this sales tax increase, then that’s on the voters.”

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Montgomery County Administrator Joe Tuss in February first recommended the increase to county commissioners after a five-year budget review process showed the county would be required to cut a number of programs following the loss of $9 million in Medicaid managed care sales tax from the state.

After a public informational meeting and two required public hearings, Montgomery County commissioners voted 3-0 in June to approve a 0.25 percent sales tax expected to generate $19.1 million annually for the county’s general fund. The sales tax increase will go into effect Oct. 1, before the Nov. 6 general election, the first opportunity to repeal the tax.

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Two other county residents’ names, Thomas A. Routsong and Marissa M. Walters, also appeared on the documents filed Tuesday with the Montgomery County Auditor and the Montgomery County Board of Elections, steps required to put a referendum to county voters in November.

A committee being formed to roll back the sales tax increase has less than a month to collect 14,583 valid signatures within a month to get the measure on the ballot.

“The timing of this really puts us in a box,” said Gantt, an attorney who lives in Oakwood. “It’s a very short window to go after the signatures and do something about it.”

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The tax increase will put Montgomery County at a disadvantage competing with neighboring counties, across state lines and internationally, said Scott, also a regional administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Great Lakes Region.

“A sales tax at this point is probably not in the best interest of the business community in Montgomery County,” Scott said. “The moment I tell a business owner that’s going to be affected by it, they’re not too happy.”

Programs that had been on the county chopping block before the sales tax increase was approved included Preschool Promise, arts and youth jobs programs, criminal justice programs that steer people from jail, as well as Economic Development/Government Equity (ED/GE) grants that help attract and expand businesses.

“We’ve looked under every rock. We looked everywhere to try to get us through this,” Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge said during the vote last month.

“My fellow commissioners and I unanimously approved an increase to the sales tax because it is essential for the future success of our citizens and community. The additional revenue will allow us to strategically invest in job creation, workforce training, opportunities for youth, criminal justice, and quality of life, while maintaining our strong tradition of efficient and effective government operations,” Dodge said in a statement on Tuesday.

MORE: Is it cheaper to buy in the next county? Compare area sales tax rates.

While an imperfect measure — because people make purchases in other counties and vice versa — the average additional cost to each person in Montgomery County works out to about $36 more a year. After the tax kicks in, the county will receive on average a new total of about $182 in sales taxes annually for every man, woman and child in the county.

Scott said no outside group or money is driving the petition effort that will likely involve 100-200 volunteers going door-to-door between now and Aug. 8.

“It’s going to take a lot of sweat equity to get it done, but I’m very optimistic,” Scott said. “Tax increases are never popular. If it gets on the ballot, which I’m more than confident it will, it’s not going to take much to market it to the voting populous.”

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