Hamilton County Sales Tax Staying Put: Commission Votes To Keep Increase

Oct 15, 2019

Hamilton County commissioners have approved a one-quarter (0.25) percent increase in the county sales tax to help balance next year's budget.  

But the county's overall sales tax rate will remain at 7% because it replaces the Union Terminal tax that expires March 31. Voters approved that five-year tax increase in November 2014.

The action taken Tuesday by the county commission won't take effect until April 1.

Commission President Denise Driehaus said the county needs a new approach.

"We've been treading water for a while here in Hamilton County," Driehaus said. "From my point of view, it's time to sink or swim. And I think today we're choosing to swim and move forward as a county."

Had the commission not increased revenues, many county services would again have faced huge cutbacks in spending similar to those in the current budget.

Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas said she's learned a lot about the county budget since joining the board in January.

"There is no excess money here," Summerow Dumas said. "There is no money in a pot to do the general fund items that we need to do for our basic citizens to have what we need to give them as county commissioners and also that they deserve."

Commissioner Todd Portune has seen many county budgets since joining the board in 2001. He's been through the ups and downs of county spending, and encouraged people who might be opposed to the sales taxes increase to "look at the facts."

"Looking at all the things that we have done to cut and cut and cut and cut, in order to be able to balance our budget, that have ultimately put us in the position where we are today, where we have an ongoing unsustainable budget just to meet basic needs," Portune said.

Individuals or groups opposed to the sales tax increase could collect petition signatures to place the issue on the ballot. They would have 30 days to collect those signatures. 

The county commission also approved the outline of the county administration's $276 million budget.  It sets spending priorities for next year, and the commission later this year will set funding level in an appropriation resolution.

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto said his budget prioritizes public safety, addressing needed capital infrastructure repairs and technology enhancements and strengthening the county's commitment to revitalizing first ring suburban communities in the county.

The commissioners are seeking improvement to the county's information technology infrastructure, a coordinated approach to economic development and shared services, and creation of grant coordinator position to leverage outside funding opportunities.

Cities, villages and townships in the county will get some relief from the 911 dispatch fees they have been paying to the county.  

Currently that rate is $16 per dispatch. For 2020, the rate will decrease to $10, and for 2021 it will drop to $5.  

That change will return nearly $1.8 million to local governments next year, and $3.2 million in 2021.  Government officials who addressed the commission about the change say it will allow them to spend additional money on police, fire and emergency medical services in their communities.