Saturday, May 26, 2001

Sales-tax increase could fade

OK likely by Butler board

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The 0.5 percent sales tax increase that the Butler County commissioners seem likely to approve next month might be reduced after a few years.

        Commissioners Mike Fox and Chuck Furmon said they believe the increase would generate enough revenue in four to six years that the sales tax could then be cut in half, to 0.25 percent.

        The two commissioners put together a list of 23 projects needing $100 million of county money that could be funded by a sales tax increase.

        The increase would generate about $16 million per year.

        “Given the value of all the projects, we would need the half-percent increase for four to six years,” Mr. Fox said.

        Commissioner Courtney Combs said he had no role in compiling the list of projects. He said he will decide on whether to support it after a series of public hearings.

        But it takes the votes of only two commissioners to approve the sales tax increase.

        Mr. Combs criticized his two fellow Republican commissioners for deciding to support a sales-tax increase before the public hearings are held.

        “I think it's a little presumptuous to state their position before they get public input at the hearings,” he said. “I've got an open mind on the issue. I'll vote the wishes of the people.”

        Mr. Fox responded: “Somebody has to provide the leadership to start the discussion.”

        He said he will remove from the wish list any projects not supported by the communities that will benefit from them.

        Mr. Fox and Mr. Furmon said the projects most likely to be funded first by the proposed increase are a fiber-optics network, the Ohio 63 extension from Monroe to north of Seven Mile, the Symmes Road extension from Ohio 747 to Seward Road, and the removal of the roof of Middletown's City Centre Mall.

        These projects would be funded first because of their importance and their readiness to proceed. In fact, the Symmes Road extension already has started.

        The commissioners consider development of a fiber-optics network critical for attracting high-tech businesses.

        Mr. Furmon said it's especially important to move quickly on the Ohio 63 extension because there's $69 million in state funding available for it. That state money may not be there two years from now, he said.

        Mr. Fox said the county had promised Middletown $3 million for removal of the City Centre's roof, and he wants to honor that commitment. The roof removal is part of the city's efforts to revitalize its downtown.

        The county's share of those four high-priority projects totals more than $30 million. This is far more than the $16 million the proposed sales tax increase would generate in a year.

        Mr. Fox said to fund these projects in the next year, the county can issue short-term notes against the following year's anticipated sales tax revenue.

        “If we have to do those within our current general fund budget, it would mean substantial cuts in other programs next year,” he said.

        Mel Less, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber's board of directors will analyze the proposed sales-tax increase before deciding whether to support it.


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