Counting on a good year for funds

County officials want to use the additional revenue to catch up on bills.
& lt;a & gt;By NORMAN LEIGH & lt;/a & gt;
LISBON -- Columbiana County officials are counting on a 0.5-percent sales tax increase and the opening of a new Wal-Mart to help make 2003 its best year ever for sales-tax revenue.
Commissioners are estimating 2003 sales-tax revenue will be $11.5 million. That's a significant increase from the nearly $7.9 million in sales-tax revenue earned in 2002.
There are two key differences between last year and this year, Commissioners Jim Hoppel and Gary Williams noted Monday.
This year, the county will have a full 12 months of collections on a 0.5-percent sales tax increase that was imposed last summer, but for which collections didn't begin until September.
The increase, which boosted the county's total sales tax to 1.5 percent, produced about $290,000 last year, Hoppel said.
The original 1 percent brought in about $7.6 million in 2002.
Revenue from Wal-Mart
The Wal-Mart that opened in Salem last week should account for about $234,000 of this year's $11.5 million total, Hoppel said.
Sales tax revenue from Wal-Mart is expected to be about $430,000 in 2004 because it will be collected for the entire year, not just part of the year, which is the case this year.
Although sales tax projections for 2003 are good, Hoppel and Williams said it doesn't mean the county can increase spending.
They said they are relying on the projected $3.6 million in additional revenue this year to address county debt.
The county owes money on a variety of loans and is behind on payments for some contractual obligations such as the cost of housing prisoners and belonging to a multicounty juvenile detention and treatment system.
Exact figures on the prisoner and juvenile detention payments weren't readily available Monday. But commissioners said they want to catch up on those, and try to retire or reduce the principal on certain loans.
Owes on loan
The county owes about $775,000 on a nearly $1 million loan it took out in September 1991 to help it get through a cash shortage, Hoppel said.
Also being considered for expedited repayment is a $7.2 million state loan the county took out in 1994 as a result of the 1993 investment scandal.
The county still owes about $2.2 million on that obligation.
The county needed the cash after former Treasurer Ardel Strabala and his son Stephen bilked the county out of nearly $10 million through illegal investments.