A 10-day push to gather the signatures of more than 14,000 Montgomery County voters fell short Thursday, ending an effort to overturn a recent sales tax increase and leaving some county officials breathing easier.
Doug Barry, the Republican candidate for county commissioner, took up the petition drive that gathered about 4,000 signatures, thousands shy of the needed 14,583.
County officials said Thursday that if the group, Citizens for a Voice, had succeeded, budget cuts for 2019 would have begun immediately to prepare for a potential loss of the tax at the ballot box in November.
“We would have moved forward to make those cuts. We would have eliminated all of the community programs and all of the things that we have invested in to make this community the place it is and bounce back from the Great Recession,” said Joe Tuss, Montgomery County administrator. “We would have cut millions of dollars out of the criminal justice and law enforcement portions of the general fund budget – because there’s no place else to cut.”
The petitions were due at 4 p.m., but Barry conceded earlier Thursday the group would miss the mark.
“We didn’t run out of signatures, we ran out of time,” he said.
Barry, also a Miami Twp. trustee, faces current Montgomery County Treasurer Carolyn Rice on Nov. 6.
The 0.25 percent sales tax increase taking effective Oct. 1 is expected to generate an additional $19.1 million for the county to overcome a $9 million 2019 budget gap.
Barry, the owner of BarryStaff in Dayton, said the effort was the first time a referendum to overturn a sales tax increase has been attempted in Montgomery County.
“The easiest thing for me to do was nothing. Then, if I were to win in November and go in next year, the budget deficit is taken care of,” Barry said. “The hard thing to do is to say, ‘This isn’t right.’ This should be decided on by the voters.”
Debbie Lieberman said without the sales tax increase, a number of programs would be chopped, many involving public safety.
“We don’t like raising taxes, but we have to function,” she said. “We want to continue having a high-performing county that continues to be known as a county that is a great place to live, to work and raise a family.”
Area businessman Tommy Routsong was also among those leading the petition drive.
“This is an issue I’m very passionate about because it’s a slippery slope when taxes start being raised,” he said. “We’ve proven in the last year that decreasing taxes stimulates the economy.”
The three county commissioners, all Democrats, approved the increase on June 26. According to Ohio law, the group had 30 days from passage to gather the signatures.
Barry said the petition campaign drew both Republicans and Democrats to the cause who felt the tax increase was put past voters without their input.
“Most people didn’t know it had been passed,” he said.
Montgomery County Commissioner Judy Dodge said the increase was not sprung on the public.
“Some of the comments were ‘you surprised us with this’ … Well, that’s just not true,” she said.
“We had an almost year-long financial plan with our business community. We always invited elected officials as well as individuals to come to those meetings. We had several public sessions to talk about this. Our county administrator went to many, many, business organizations and talked about this. So this was not a surprise.”