Sunday, September 19, 1999

Deerfield-Mason feud hotter

Mason takes Kings Island

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        DEERFIELD TOWNSHIP — Township officials here say Mason City Council's decision to pull all of Paramount's Kings Island from Deerfield could constitute a breach of the annexation agreement between the theme park and the city.

        Trustees, in a strongly worded statement on Friday, told Mason council it should consider reversing its decision to end Deerfield's 27-year tie to Kings Island. Trustees said they are investigating whether Mason's action to withdraw the 665-acre theme park from the township has any legal implications regarding the validity of the annexation.

        Kings Island, named for the Deerfield Township town of Kings Mills, was annexed to Mason in 1997 after a court battle with the township that lasted nearly two years.

        Park officials initially supported the annexation, proposed in August 1995, but later reversed their position when Mason's withdrawal from the township in February 1997 threatened to remove the park from Deerfield completely.

        To accommodate park offi cials, Mason leaders forged a compromise allowing Deerfield Township to retain a share of more than $25,500 in property and inventory taxes from Kings Island and keep the park partially in the township. On Monday, council voted to terminate that agreement and recover the tax money for the city.

        “At a minimum, this action makes (Mason council's) claims to protect "property owners' rights,' in the past and in the future, a sham,” Township Trustee Bill Morand said.

        But Mason officials say the annexation and the compromise proposed by council are not related and not subject to legal recourse.

        “The annexation had already been approved by the courts before the city of Mason offered a compromise,” Mason Law Director Ken Schneider said, calling the compromise a goodwill gesture.

        City Manager Scot Lahrmer said Friday the agreement among the city, Deerfield and Kings Island did allow the park to remain in the township, but it was never time-specific.

        Trustees vehemently disputed that claim.

        “Mason City Council, in order to seal the annexation, publicly agreed to allow Kings Island to remain in the township not for a day, not for a year, but perpetually,” Trustee Larry Backus said.

        Township officials contend that withdrawing Kings Island is just the latest in a long list of broken promises by city council to the township.

        “This blatant disregard to commitment and the truth has happened time and time again,” Mr. Morand said. “It happened in the Procter & Gamble agreement. ... I don't trust City Council, the city manager or the city solicitor. And I don't believe Mason residents should either.”

        Trustees are also questioning council's explanation of how the tax money will be used. Council agreed to use the $25,500 to pay for a $200,000 street light program on Kings Island Drive over the next eight to 10 years.

        “Both Mason and Deerfield have annual budgets of more than $20 million, and Mason is collecting taxes from Kings Island of about $400,000 a year,” Mr. Backus said. “This is not an issue about money.”

        Mr. Lahrmer said while township officials might like to think the matter is personal, all it really boils down to is fiscal responsibility.

        “Council has a responsibility to its residents,” he said. “And bringing all of Kings Island into Mason was the fiscally responsible thing to do. The dollars will go toward street light improvement along Kings Island Drive, which will benefit all Mason residents.”


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