Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Nov. 7 newspaper on Page A1.
Voters in Athens County rejected a countywide sales tax increase on Tuesday, but the effects of that result are not yet clear.
The ballot item was a proposed 0.25 percent increase in the tax, which would have run for five years. It was estimated the tax increase would generate around $1.65 million per year, to fluctuate depending on the amount of taxable sales in the county.
The Athens County Commissioners had put the matter on the ballot, intending for half the proceeds to go toward funds for Athens County 911, and the other half to be split between the Athens County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s general fund.
The Messenger has reported that Athens County 911 is facing a projected deficit of around $27,000 in 2020 and a larger deficit of $185,000 in 2023. 911’s budget suffered by the federal government ruling that Ohio could no longer collect sales tax from Medicaid managed care organizations.
With 911 improvements needed — from radio equipment upgrades to potentially a newer, bigger 911 center being constructed — it is unclear how those projects will be funded with this sales tax increase failing at the polls.
County Commissioner Lenny Eliason said Wednesday the commission will soon begin addressing what to do with these deficits that the sales tax was intended to cover.
“We are disappointed, but the voters have spoken and we’ll go forward from here,” he said.
911 Interim Director Aaron Maynard highlighted many of the 911 needs in a meeting with the commissioners earlier this year. Maynard told them the current 911 Center (in the basement of 13 W. Washington St.) is a small, aging space with no room for expansion.
The 911 five-year plan calls for upgrading or replacing four towers, with the estimated cost nearing $400,000. Radio equipment upgrades would cost an estimated $350,000 to $570,000, the plan reports, and estimates the cost of building a new center would be more than $2 million.
While dealing with a cramped operating space and aging equipment, Athens County 911 has seen a growth of agencies served, The Messenger has reported. This includes having added dispatching for Nelsonville in 2005, adding Athens County Emergency Medical Services dispatching and adding the new Carthage Twp. Volunteer Fire Department.
The agency has also seen more 911 calls and other duties, such as data entry.