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Tax funds for drug treatment in Portage remain up in air

By MATTHEW MERCHANT Record-Courier reporter Published: May 31, 2017 1:00 AM

RAVENNA -- More of the proposals aimed at addressing substance abuse treatment and prevention being reviewed by Portage County's sales and use tax oversight committee may be off the table.

And it may be because of limits the commissioners themselves added when the oversight committee was formed.

When it was imposed, the sales tax was expected to "provide additional revenue for the [county] general fund," with no specific purpose stated. But in creating the oversight committee by resolution, the commissioners added language that stated the money would be used to address substance abuse and treatment of criminal offenders.

That specific purpose would exclude programs that address non-criminal addicts, including several of the proposals currently being discussed, said County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, during a meeting with the board last week.

"Those are the limits you set, and you charged the oversight committee with finding the best ways to do that. I think they were legitimately trying to do that," he said.

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The five-year, 0.25 percent sales tax that was imposed in 2015 is expected to generate $25 million, with $13 million pledged to a jail expansion and $8 million set aside to pay for additional sheriff deputies and contingency. Roughly $4 million is left for treatment and prevention programs.

The oversight committee received 10 proposals, including ones from the county school systems, University Hospitals- Portage Medical Center, the drug court and adult probation, a motivation speaker, Townhall II, Family & Community Services Inc. and Coleman Professional Services.

Commissioners met with Vigluicci and chief counsel Denise Smith to discuss exactly what programs they can put roughly $4 million in sales tax revenue toward.

Questions about whether the money could be used for capital improvements in one proposal --- renovation of the former Altercare facility on New Milford Road in Ravenna --- sparked an additional discussion about whether others might be excluded.

Vigluicci explained that county commissioners are bound by statute and therefore cannot purchase property for public purposes, including capital improvements.

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The funds also cannot be used for services provided to the public through the county Mental Health & Recovery Board, despite regular general fund money being allowed for those services if needed.

"You are not a social services agency. You are not charged with the general addressing of the opioid problem as it affects society. You have your part to do, and it's a large part," he said. The key aspect of the resolution is the focus on criminal offenders, he emphasized.

"Read your original resolution and stick to that," he said.

A revision of the document could be approved by the board. It would allow for the language to be eliminated from the resolution.

 

Email: mmerchant@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4156


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