GALLIPOLIS — Gallia County Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution under what they considered emergency circumstances to raise Gallia’s sales tax by a quarter percent Thursday after a public hearing.
Taking effect in April, the new sales rate across Gallia will be 7.25 percent.
A previous meeting was held Jan. 3 at 11 a.m. where no members of the public were found in attendance, save government officials of both Gallipolis municipal government, Gallia County government and media. The Thursday meeting was a repeat of the previous attendance. Both meetings were considered open to the public. Commissioners announced they were considering the sales tax raise in early December 2018 and held a meeting in October the same year listing rising inmate populations and corrections costs concerns with area law enforcement officials.
According to figures provided by County Administrator Karen Sprague, 46.9 percent of Gallia’s 2016 total general fund expenditures were going to criminal justice issues. As of 2018, it was 51.9 percent. County officials have long blamed rising costs on the opioid epidemic in combating crime.
“We’ve had numerous discussions as a board of commissioners and we felt this was something we needed to do,” said Board of Commissioners President Brent Saunders. “The state has cut back some things and opportunities for us financially…We felt that due to increased law enforcement costs and reduced revenue, we needed to bring this sales tax hearing to the public.”
Officials said that of surrounding Ohio counties, Gallia was one of the remaining to still have a 7 percent sales tax. County government previously used its access to a one and a quarter percent sales tax. The addition of a new quarter percent caps the county’s sales tax access at one and a half percent and, with the addition of Ohio’s statewide 5.75 percent sales tax, it makes for a total of 7.25 percent in sales tax to be paid across the county by visitors and residents.
“It’s pretty obvious that this is a combination of decreasing revenues, mostly from the State of Ohio, and increasing expenses, especially from the law enforcement side of things happening in our society,” said Commissioner David Smith. “We do have this option to address it. We’ve been discussing it…for quite some time. From my perspective, it’s the prudent financial thing to do for Gallia County.”
Smith said he had been discussing the issue with patients in his dental practice for months and asking opinions. He felt no one had offered him opinions. They were offered from others only when he asked. Commissioner Harold Montgomery also said he had received few comments but had done the best he could to clarify and answer questions. Saunders also agreed he had heard little in the way of public feedback.
The tax is predicted to raise between $600,000 to $700,000 for the Gallia general fund. Smith said in previous meetings that a new jail was being considered to handle increased inmate crowding.
“This is for the general fund,” said Montgomery last week. “It’s not specifically for law enforcement. It’s for the general operation of the county, all of it. Certain areas are stressed in this but we also have a lot of stress in all departments and funding needs.”
Had a sales tax been specifically targeted for a department or segment of Gallia’s government, it would come before the voters to decide, as per Chapter 5739 of the Ohio Revised Code, cited commissioners. However, if just for the general fund, commissioners needed only hold a unanimous vote to raise the tax.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.