Earlier this month, public officials and leaders of Hematite broke ground on the auto parts manufacturer $18 million, 106,000-square-foot facility off Lau Parkway in Englewood. About 100 people are expected to work at the plant. In 2017, Montgomery County commissioners approved $400,000 to Englewood to assist in the plant’s building. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Photo: Thomas Gnau/Staff
Photo: Thomas Gnau/Staff

Montgomery County set to approve sales tax increase

Montgomery County commissioners said they expect to approve a sales tax increase, despite any potential resistance at a final public hearing Tuesday.

All three county commissioners said Monday they will approve the 0.25 percent increase, but residents still could have the final say if they worked to get it on the ballot.

One anti-tax group is already gearing up to repeal a 0.20 percent increase approved last week by Hamilton County commissioners.

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The Montgomery County retail sales tax increase gained the support of Commissioner Dan Foley, who had been the most circumspect board member after Joe Tuss, county administrator, asked for the rate hike in April.

“We need funding for the arts. We need funding to support preschool education,” Foley said. “Weighing the cause and effect here, but because of the state cuts — because I believe we’ve tried very hard to make cuts before we got to this position — I’m going to go ahead and vote for it.”

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.

Any such effort in Montgomery County — and local election officials said they were not aware of any — would need 14,583 valid signatures 90 days before the general election.

Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel voted against the increase, which was supported by the board’s two Democrats.

All three current Montgomery County commissioners are Democrats.

Foley, who was up for re-election, did not seek the county post and opted to run for a Statehouse seat. He will face Republican Jeffrey Todd Smith for a 43rd Ohio House District seat that includes Montgomery County in the district include Trotwood, part of Dayton, Clayton, Brookville, New Lebanon and Harrison, Jackson and Perry townships.

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“Despite cuts in state funding, Montgomery County had been able to hold off on raising its sales tax rate for 30 years,” Foley said. But a looming loss of $9 million in Medicaid managed care sales tax revenue put the county in position “to have structural deficits year over year,” he said.

The vote will come during a meeting scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in room 1001 of the County Administration Building.

County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman said she will vote yes.

“I’m not thrilled about it,” she said Monday. “I don’t think there will be anything said tomorrow that will sway me.”

The Montgomery County administrator maintains the increase — which would raise about $19.1 million — is needed to keep county government operations efficient while continuing to strategically invest in a host of discretionary programs that would otherwise be eliminated.

“Our investment in bettering preschools and trying to get more kids into quality preschool is frankly going to fill the pipeline of the workforce for the next 30-40 years,” Foley said.

In addition to cuts to Preschool Promise, arts and youth jobs programs, criminal justice programs that steer people from jail as well as the popular Economic Development/Government Equity (ED/GE) grants that help attract and expand businesses would also have been on the chopping block, officials said.

Earlier this month, one recipient of $400,000 in county ED/GE funding, Hematite Inc., broke ground on a new $18 million plant off Lau Parkway in Englewood. The Canadian auto body parts manufacturer promises 100 new local jobs.

MORE: Work begins on $18M auto plant

Lisa Babb, strategic director of 4C For Children, an organization that works with the county-supported Preschool Promise, testified at the first hearing last week: “We see the difference in the 4-year-olds who are prepared for kindergarten … It is really impacting the community with the families, with the children, with the quality of whether they are ready to come to school or not.”

Dayton resident David Esrati spoke against the sales tax increase at the first hearing, saying it would hurt the working poor in county that is already one of the highest-taxed in the state after counting multiple other levies.

“They don’t have an option of leaving the county to save or order online from retailers that don’t charge tax. It takes up a larger percentage of their disposable income,” he said.

Montgomery County officeholders have heard little other opposition to an increase — including from the business community, said Commissioner Judy Dodge, who also will vote for the tax increase. Louder are the voices of those supporting the measure, she said.

“We don’t have a choice,” she said. “We have such a great community. We can’t step back 30 years and live on the money we are getting (from the state).”