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Montgomery County sales tax repeal petition deadline questioned

A rare effort to overturn a retail sales tax increase at the polls created confusion Wednesday among Montgomery County officials who worked to determine the date the committee is required to turn in thousands of signatures.

The Secretary of State’s elections calendar doesn’t address what some here believe would be a first-ever referendum to overturn a Montgomery County sales tax increase.

The question about the deadline for petitions to get it on the ballot lingered Wednesday, a day after a group led by two former Montgomery County Republican Party chairmen filed required paperwork with the county’s election board and auditor.

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

“The Board of Elections is checking with legal counsel as to all dates,” said Jan Kelly, Montgomery County Board of Elections Director. “We haven’t seen a referendum to the voters regarding a sales tax increase by the county commissioners. I don’t know if there has ever been one filed.”

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Most petitions — including those for state constitutional amendments and local questions, issues and options — are due Aug. 8, according to state elections officials. But a section of the Ohio Revised Code governing referendums on additional taxes shows the deadline is 30 days after a new increase is passed.

Montgomery County commissioners passed the 0.25 percent sales tax increase June 26.

Because the issue is tax-related and impacts county revenue, the petitions and signatures must also be filed with the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office. Unlike the Board of Elections, the auditor has little history with issue-oriented petitions, so it also sought legal counsel from the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office.

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

“To our knowledge this is the first time a referendum like this has been submitted to the Auditor’s Office, so we are seeking clarification from our legal counsel in the Prosecutor’s Office to determine our role in implementing this process,” the auditor’s office wrote in a prepared statement Wednesday morning.

By afternoon, the Prosecutor’s Office sent word to the auditor that the deadline for the group’s petitions is July 26, an auditor’s office spokesman confirmed.

Rob Scott, one of the organizers working to roll back the tax increase, said he was aware the group would be under a tight July 26 deadline but that others might not.

“Granted, this is very rare what we are doing, so it’s not done a lot,” he said. “Actually, I don’t think it’s ever happened in Montgomery County.”

Joe Tuss, Montgomery County administrator, 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, county commissioners approved the tax increase expected to generate $19.1 million annually.

MORE: Montgomery County approves sales tax increase

Scott, a Kettering city councilman, is working with Greg Gantt, an attorney from Oakwood, to organize the effort to gather 14,583 valid signatures within two weeks. Scott and Gantt both previously led the Montgomery County Republican Party.

Scott said he knows of just two previous instances of a referendum aimed at a newly-passed sales tax increase, both in Lorain County.

But also this year, another anti-tax group is working to repeal a 0.20 percent increase also approved in June by Hamilton County commissioners.

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A group founded by Ohio Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, is looking to overturn the Hamilton County tax increase, which commissioners said was needed because of a $28 million budget shortfall, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is working to gather a required 23,600 signatures by July 18 to get a vote on Nov. 6, according to the newspaper.

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