SEOEMS levy not right fix

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The writing has been on the wall for months. Every taxpayer in Lawrence County knew they would likely see a levy — or two or three — on the November ballot.

But the first official effort for a property tax levy — in this case a 2 mil version that would fund the Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Services ambulance — isn’t nearly as clear-cut as it appears to be.

Many people’s gut reaction is that “Of course we need ambulance service. Pass this today.” But the issue is far more complex than that and may be more about playing on people’s fears in order to help balance the county’s budget than it is about providing emergency services.

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Lawrence County already has a half-percent sales tax in place for emergency services, a revenue stream that was put in place in the mid-1990s in place of a 2 mil levy for EMS services that had been in place for years.

This tax generates more than $2 million a year, more than enough to cover the cost of SEOEMS.

So what’s the problem? Crime and punishment is an expensive equation.

The county has been using funds from the sales tax to offset rising expenses in the sheriff’s office and elsewhere. This appears to be legal but it certainly is not for what the tax increase was passed.

The county must provide law enforcement and jail services but isn’t required to maintain ambulance services. So an EMS levy is an easy way for our elected officials to deflect the blame to the taxpayers rather than correcting the real problems and making significant cuts.

But this would only be a short-term fix.

We need a law enforcement levy. Call it what it really is and don’t look for backdoor ways of getting the funds.

The county commissioners need to work with the sheriff’s office to draft a clear plan on ways to operate at maximum efficiency, determine what is needed and outline a clear plan for how additional tax dollars will be spent.

Taxpayers need real solutions not disguised Band-Aids that don’t truly get to the heart of the problem.