The Republican candidate for Montgomery County commissioner is now leading a referendum effort, that if successful, would place the repeal of a recent county sales tax increase on the same ballot with his name in November.
But Doug Barry’s opponent, Democrat Carolyn Rice, questions why her challenger didn’t register complaints earlier against the sales tax increase — also unopposed by major business groups — when debated in the public sphere before approved last month.
Barry says the additional 0.25 percent sales tax was pushed through without citizen support.
“The county commissioners passed this without getting a vote of the people at a time we are in a good recovery period and there’s a lot of positive things coming out of Dayton and Montgomery County,” Barry said. “We don’t want to see that stopped by an increase in sales tax.”
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The original organizers handed over the petition drive to Barry, owner of BarryStaff in Dayton, who faces Rice for an open county commission seat. Rice is currently Montgomery County treasurer.
County Commissioner Dan Foley is not running for re-election and is running for an Ohio House seat.
To put the referendum on the ballot, Barry and volunteer petition circulators have until July 26 to get 14,583 signatures.
“It’s all-hands-on-deck for the next 14 days to get the signatures,” said Barry, also a Miami Twp. trustee.
Rice said Barry and others have every right to put the issue on the ballot, but said overturning the sales tax increase, set to kick in Oct. 1, would harm the county in multiple ways and lead to cuts to multiple programs including those supporting the arts, the criminal justice system and economic development funds including Economic Development/Government Equity grants that assist businesses to expand and bring jobs to the region.
The repeal effort was first led by two former Montgomery County Republican Party chairs, Greg Gantt and Rob Scott, who prepared the necessary paperwork and filed it Tuesday with the county elections board and auditor.
Rice said those working to overturn the sales tax increase remained mute during months of budget discussions, at a public informational meeting and two required public hearings.
“There was a process over a year and it was publicized and I did not see any of these individuals at those meetings,” she said. “And I know a lot of people showed up.”
Barry, who announced his candidacy in January and won a May primary, did attend the second public hearing on June 26 — before commissioners approved the tax increase — but did not provide public comment. Nine others spoke; just one opposed the tax hike.
“As any leader in any situation, the first thing you have to do is assess,” Barry said. “I didn’t see at that point in time it was right for me to get up and talk because I was still assessing what the situation was.”
Barry had “a great opportunity to voice his concerns before a vote was taken,” Rice said.
The additional sales tax — projected to bring in $19.1 million annually — will squeeze Montgomery County businesses and drive consumers outside county lines to shop, Barry said.
“A lot of local businesses … it’s going to hurt them competitively because a lot of these programs they have running right now have been quoted at a certain price,” Barry said. “Now this is going to cost them more to do this because of the sales tax they are going to have to pay.”
Rice said representatives from the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Dayton Development Coalition, the region’s major business and industry advocates, were included in a five-year strategic budget planning process that produced the plan.
“The business groups were involved, they supported it,” Rice said.
During the final public hearing, top leaders of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance and the Dayton Art Institute voiced support for the tax increase as well as from the business community including Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the Dayton Development Coalition and a member of the county’s Five-Year Financial Advisory Committee.
Hoagland said the loss of county economic development funding — a near certain outcome without the tax increase — would put the brakes on efforts to help companies expand.
“Now is the time to not step back, but to double-down. We are really on the cusp of something great in the Dayton region,” Hoagland said. “We have to have resources available to allow them to help make decisions to stay and grow in Montgomery County.”
Gantt, an attorney from Oakwood, said large business organizations such as the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Dayton Development Coalition sometimes lose touch with concerns of the region’s smaller businesses.
“The difference of pennies on every product is the difference between profit and loss,” Gantt said. “And when you are in that big macro level, I don’t think you see or appreciate that sometimes.”