Columbiana County farmers speak out for sales tax

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LISBON, Ohio – Seven Columbiana County farmers addressed the county commissioners April 17 in support of the proposed additional 0.5 percent sales tax on the May 7 ballot.

They were joined in the commissioners’ weekly meeting by two members of the Columbiana County Extension advisory committee and the president of the Columbiana County Farm Bureau.

The group also spoke out in support of the OSU Extension in Columbiana County, which, as a nonmandated agency, has been hampered by budget cuts and lack of full-time employees for more than 10 years.

“We want to show our support of the commissioners and the sales tax,” said Dan Simmons Jr. of Peace Valley Orchards near East Palestine. “We understand the situation that the county is in.”

Simmons added, as did several speakers, that continued county support of the extension office is critical.

“Without extension, we could not continue to produce the fruits that we do,” Simmons said. The extension office provides information on new technology and advances to protect against threats of disease and insects to his operation, he explained.

Dollars leveraged. The county extension office, which leverages the county funds with funding from the state general assembly and similar federal funding, received a peak appropriation of $105,000 in 1986. Since then, the office has been slashed in the county budget, receiving as little as $39,000 and $37,600 in 1988 and 1989. In 2000, the office received only $25,000 and was only able to keep its doors open thanks to donations in support of the 4-H program by county residents.

The office – which offers research, education and programming in family and consumer sciences, agriculture, youth development (4-H), and community development – received a $74,400 appropriation for 2002, half of its original request.

Financial pinch. Commissioners commiserated with the speakers, but said the county’s tight budget leaves little room for increases.

“There’s no doubt county finances impact the services we can provide,” said Commissioner Jim Hoppel. “We’d like to continue to provide these services and we’d like to have the finances to continue to provide them.”

Hoppel said the county’s cost of housing a juvenile offender at the multi-county facility is $45,000 per year. “If we can provide the services for 4-H and help these kids do better, it eventually saves the county money,” said Hoppel, a former 4-H’er. “I know the value of it.”

Commissioner Dave Cranmer pledged his support of the extension program, adding that in the recent final budget negotiations, the extension office funding was on the discussion table for cuts, but “I wasn’t going to let it happen.”

“It’s a small price that we pay for service,” Cranmer said. “I won’t let it disappear.”

Commissioner Sean Logan said the county’s financial outlook is bleak if the additional sales tax isn’t passed by voters. “We’ll be headed to fiscal emergency,” Logan said.

“I support the half percent sales tax,” dairyman Paul Zehentbauer told the commissioners. “It’s a fair tax. Everyone is basically charged equally.”

“It’s a small investment,” he said. “The county needs the money if it’s going to be a viable county. We have to have a responsible county government.”

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