Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

Mercer jail levy heading to recount

By William Kincaid
CELINA - A Mercer County jail sales tax renewal that was defeated by a scant number of votes is heading to a recount after completion of the official canvas of the May 3 primary election results.
Mercer County Board of Election members at Tuesday morning's special meeting certified the official results of the primary election, which showed the jail levy came up 25 votes short, according to director Kristi Rable. Results show 4,669 votes were cast against the levy and 4,644 in favor.
The thin margin of defeat automatically triggers a recount, she said. That process will be completed by bipartisan teams of board of elections members and office staff on June 1, she said.
"Under Ohio law, a board of elections must order the automatic recount for any county, municipal, township, school district race, local question or issue election wholly contained within the county when the difference between votes cast for a declared winner and the defeated nominee or issue is equal to or less than one-half of one percent (0.5%) of the total votes cast." a news release from the secretary of state's office reads.
Elections officials must hand count and scan at least 5% of the ballots cast on Election Day, Rable said. They also are required to scan all of the remaining ballots. Election results show a total of 9,561 ballots were cast.
Board members randomly selected to hand count ballots from two precincts, the sum of whose total votes cast equals at least 5% of the total votes cast for the sales tax levy - Franklin East and Washington.
The recount will also serve as the county's post-election audit as mandated by the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, Rable and board of elections deputy director Deb Sneddon said.
Part of Tuesday morning's canvas involved a review by board members of absentee and provisional ballots.
Absentee ballots received up to 10 days after the election must be counted as long as they were postmarked by Election Day. Three additional ballots were accepted and tallied, Rable confirmed.
Provisional ballots may be provided for a number of reasons, including if voters can't provide identification on Election Day, have changed their name or address without updating their voter information, if someone wasn't registered in the voter system or if someone requested an absentee ballot and still came to vote in person.
A total of 92 provisional ballots were issued during the primary election voting cycle. Three mailed to residents in nursing homes who didn't change their addressed were never returned to the board of elections, Rable said.
Of the 89 provisional ballots that were cast, Rable said 74 were accepted and counted and 15 were rejected. No local races or issues were close enough to have their outcomes affected by absentee or provisional ballots besides the sales tax renewal.
County commissioners had sought a 0.5% sales tax renewal for 10 years to fund operation and maintenance of the county jail.
By a razor-thing margin, county voters in November 2007 approved a 15-year 0.5% sales tax to build the $12 million jail and pay for its operating expenses. The total construction and equipment cost ended up at $14.4 million.
County officials during the construction phase obtained two bonds to pay the debt - one for $10.5 million and another for $2.53 million.
Revenue from the 0.5% sales tax generated $2.53 million in 2015, $2.71 million in 2016, $2.8 million in 2017, $2.9 million in 2018, $3 million in 2019, $3.2 million in 2020 and $3.5 million in 2021, according to figures from the county auditor's office.
The revenue over the years was used to retire the debt obligation - which is now paid off - and for increased operating expenses of running a larger jail. The levy expires on March 31, 2023.
County commissioners early this year determined there is a need to continue the sales tax to provide additional county revenue for 10 years to operate and maintain the jail.
Commissioner Rick Muhlenkamp in January addressed the need to renew the sales tax, stating "with our budgeting forecast, it looks like in the future, with the money to be collected from this half percent, that we'll still need additional monies from the general fund for this operation and maintenance of the adult detention facility.'
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