Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Butler delays sales tax vote

County leaders to hold public hearings

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON — Butler County commissioners will not decide on an increase in the county sales tax until late next month, after they hold public hearings on the matter.

        Commissioners are considering a tax increase of 0.25 or 0.5 percentage points, aimed at boosting the county's high-tech business and industrial base, and improv ing quality of life. A half percentage point increase would generate $16 million annually.

        Ohio law allows counties to impose up to 1 percent in local sales tax without voter approval. Butler residents now pay 5.5 percent in sales tax, including 0.5 percent imposed by commissioners, which represents about 25 percent of the county general fund.

        “We are at a crossroads today. Our ability to see the future and act on it will determine (our future),” Commissioner Michael A. Fox said. “The infrastructure improvements we make now will pay dividends over the next 20 to 30 years.”

        No dates have been set for the public meetings.

        Commissioners on Monday distributed a list of 22 projects that the sales tax could fund, some with state or federal grants. Spending $98.6 million of county money could generate $113 mil lion in matching grants for a total benefit to county residents of $211.6 million.

        "This will give us an opportunity to get state and federal funds,” Commissioner Charles Furmon said. “They're getting scarcer. If we pass up the opportunity and wait too long, we lose the opportunity.”

        Among the projects listed: widening Ohio 747; extension of Michael A. Fox Highway to Cox Road; expanding the county bike path net work; building an Ohio 63 extension; expansion of the Butler County Airport; and construction of a countywide fiber optics network.

        “This is an ambitious program. We have to begin a dialogue with the community,” Mr. Fox said. He said projects could be added or deleted depending on input from governmental officials, business leaders and community members.

        The earliest any increase could begin would be late August or September because of state-mandated waiting periods, said county Administrator Derek Conk lin.

        Fairfield Township resident Craig Walker asked whether the tax would continue, or expire after a certain time, and what guarantees the public has on how the money would be used.

        Mr. Fox told him Ohio law requires the resolution specify what the money could and could not be spent on, as well as dates the sales tax would begin and end.

        Mr. Fox and Mr. Furmon said they preferred the 0.5 percentage point increase initially. Commissioner Courtney Combs said he did not have a preference.


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