Fearing more cuts to local government funding, Madison County officials on Monday made the case for raising real-estate conveyance fees during a public hearing held on the matter.
Currently, county residents pay $2 for every $1,000 of transaction. In February, the commissioners voted to increase that fee to $3 per $1,000 of transaction, per the recommendation of the county’s budget commission.
“We thought it was time to get more in line with other counties,” said County Auditor Jennifer Hunter. “We felt with the real estate market improving, it was a good time to get that increase in place to, hopefully, take advantage of increased real estate sales.”
Hunter said the majority of counties in the state are at least $3 or higher.
“The maximum is $4 and we’ve been at the $2 number for a number of years, decades from what I understand,” she said.
She added that, based on what was collected in previous years, the fee increase should add roughly $100,000 in annual income to the county.
Commissioner Mark Forrest agreed it was time.
“I voted against it… when it was presented to us before,” he said. “I feel that this is a good time for that to take place, in light of the budgetary issues that we will have upcoming.”
The increase was in response to the state’s proposed sales tax cut included in Gov. John Kasich’s new two-year budget.
The sales tax to be cut is for Medicaid managed care organizations, independent contractors that provide benefits for recipients of federal healthcare. Those taxes are collected by county governments.
The cut was mandated by the federal government, which said that Ohio couldn’t just tax Medicaid managed care providers, but needed to either tax all kinds of managed care organizations or instate a different kind of tax.
The move is estimated to cut $250,000 from Madison County in 2017 and another $250,000 in 2018.
Forrest also highlighted another provision in the current budget bill which would change how non-violent and non-sexual fifth-degree felonies are sentenced. Essentially, as previously reported, it would transfer incarceration costs from the state level to the county level.
The provision states that fifth-degree felony incarceration sentences — with the exception of violent or sex offenses, or similar prior convictions — must be served in a county and/or municipal facility, rather than at an Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction facility. The other option is probation, done locally.
Forrest referenced other increased costs to the county, such as reimbursement for public defender rates.
“We just have so much hitting us from the state level as they’re decreasing our levels of income,” said Forrest.
The second and final public hearing on the fee increase will take place Monday, March 27 at 11 a.m. in the commissioners’ office. The increase is proposed to start in late April.
In other business from Monday’s commissioners meeting:
• Commissioners signed off on continued approval for property tax abatements for expansions for Mt. Sterling Holding’s Keihin Thermal facility in Mount Sterling and M.H. Eby in West Jefferson.
Both companies were within the parameters of their respective 10-year agreements, which were approved in 2014.
Eby has retained all of the jobs required by the agreement, but a slow year saw them lay off 23 of the new hires from 2015.
Keihin has continued to hire more new employees, well above the 90 required for the agreement. Since the abatement started in 2014, they’ve created 229 new jobs, 41 of which were from 2016.
• Progress has been made on clearing an area for the new bike trail extension for Robert’s Pass trail.
Volunteers from Friends of the Parks and Trails have cleared out the trees and weeds so prep work for paving out the bike trail extension can occur. The Madison County Engineer’s office helped dispose of the waste from removing the plant life.
The Friends say that they need $78,000 to finish the bike trail extension and are currently raising funds. They claim to have about 37 percent of the final goal.
They also applied for a grant with the Rails to Trails Conservancy for a minimum $20,000. The grant can be as high as $50,000. The Friends will find out if they received the grant June 3.
Donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 308, London, Ohio 43140 or submitted online on their website, fmcpt.com.
• Opening day for the bike trails will be April 8 at 11 a.m. Part of the event will be an official ribbon cutting for Ohio’s portion of U.S. Bike Route 50, of which Madison County’s trails are a part.
• Bids opened for repairs on Clevenger Road in Mount Sterling. Bids were: Columbus Asphalt Paving, $164,811.55; Strawser Paving, $150,822; and Spires Paving, $155,431.93. County Engineer Bryan Dhume will make a recommendation within the coming week. His initial estimate for the project was $175,000.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat