Summit looks at new cigarette tax

Move would need change in state law. Revenue to benefit arts, cultural groups

Summit County Council wants to seek a special cigarette tax to raise money for local arts and cultural organizations.

Council on Monday night passed a resolution asking the Ohio General Assembly to amend state law to allow the county to place the tax before voters.

The details, including the amount of the tax, haven’t been worked out and the proposal faces many hurdles before it even would appear on the ballot, County Executive Russ Pry said.

He requested the resolution based on lobbying from the arts community. But he declined to say whether he would support the tax itself without knowing the amount and how the revenue would be distributed.

He said the tax could support financially struggling organizations such as the Akron Art Museum, Akron Civic Theatre and the All-American Soap Box Derby.

This isn’t the first attempt to levy a local tax on cigarettes for arts and culture. The council created an arts and cultural district in 2005 in anticipation of the state allowing counties to seek the tax.

But state lawmakers ended up limiting that power to counties with a population of 1.2 million or more — making it a possibility only in Cuyahoga County. In 2006, Cuyahoga County voters approved a 1.5 cent per cigarette tax to support arts and culture. It is expected to raise $20 million for 20 years.

”To be a great community, you need vibrant arts,” Summit Councilman Frank Comunale said. He added that the arts are an ”economic development tool.”

Councilwoman Gloria Rodgers questioned why the brand would be only on cigarettes. Why not alcohol and pop, she asked.

”Everything is put on the backs of smokers and I think we need to spread it out,” said Rodgers, a nurse who noted she doesn’t advocate smoking.

In other business, council:

  • Eliminated the $20 a day given to residents for serving jury duty in Common Pleas Court. The move — expected to save up to $250,000 a year — will be in place for at least the next three years.

Instead of paying jurors, the court will offer free parking. About 6,000 to 7,000 people a year serve as jurors.

The cost-cutting measure takes effect this month.

Summit is now the largest county in Ohio that doesn’t pay jurors. But it isn’t the only one: Stark and Hancock counties also do not pay them.

The change affects only petit jurors and not those serving on grand juries, which meet for longer periods. Most petit jurors serve only two days or less, officials have said.

The common pleas judges suggested cutting the pay, saying the court either had to stop reimbursing jurors or possibly lay off workers.

  • Agreed to allow Mary Ann Kovach, chief counsel in the prosecutor’s office, to be rehired part time after she retires in December. She will return at the end of March and could collect her government pension and a county paycheck, a common practice referred to as ”double dipping.”

She will be paid $53.16 an hour. Her current annual salary is more than $110,000.

The prosecutor’s office has said there is no one at the office who can replace Kovach, who has more than 30 years’ experience.

  • Approved a resolution supporting Twinsburg’s application for a $250,000 Economic Adjustment Assistance grant through the federal Economic Development Administration. The city wants to use the grant to help develop a strategic response to the upcoming closing of the Chrysler stamping plant.

source: http://www.ohio.com

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