Friday, August 31, 2001

Tax hike waiting its turn

No vote in November, Butler told

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — People tossed bouquets and brickbats at Butler County's proposed sales tax increase during a public hearing Thursday.

        The county commissioners are considering enacting a half-cent sales tax increase for six years that would drop to a quarter-cent for four years.

        The revenue would be used to fund major road improvements, a fiber-optic network, Butler County Regional Airport expansion and other projects geared toward spurring economic development, especially high-tech companies with good-paying jobs.

        The commissioners announced during the public hearing, which drew about 50 people, that they won't vote on the sales tax increase until after the November election. Commissioner Mike Fox said they don't want to jeopardize the quarter-cent sales tax increase for public transit, school levies and other tax initiatives that will be on the general election ballot.

        John Moser, retired Butler County Common Pleas judge, said the projects that would be funded by the sales tax increase are essential for the county's future growth and quality of life.

        “If we don't get the proposed improvements, we won't get the high-tech jobs,” he said. “They'll go to Warren County and Northern Kentucky.”

        Jim Kleingers of Middle town also spoke in favor of the tax increase. He called it “an equitable way to fund those projects.”

        But Bill Hickman of Madison Township said the tax increase would impose a hardship on him and other elderly people on fixed incomes.

        “I can't keep paying higher and higher taxes,” he said. “Put the issue on the ballot and let the people vote on it. That's the fair way to do it.”

        Angela Kemme of West Chester Township said the higher sales tax would make it even more difficult for families struggling to meet expenses. She criticized some of the county's proposed projects as unnecessary.

        “I don't believe it shows fiscal responsibility,” Mrs. Kemme said. “Just because every other county is spending all this money doesn't mean we have to spend it.”

        A number of public officials from cities, villages and school districts in Butler County spoke in favor of the sales tax hike.

        Fairfield School Superintendent Robert Farrell said the $5 million for technology for schools that the sales tax might provide would benefit the future labor pool.

        “Education for the work force is critical,” he said. “Our student achievement will be improved because of technology.”

        West Chester Township Trustee Catherine Stoker spoke against the sales tax increase. She said there are better ways to raise revenue for some of the projects the commissioners want to fund.

        Dan Gattermeyer, chairman of the Butler County Democratic Party, said he opposes the tax increase because it's not necessary. He called Thursday's public hearing “meaningless.”

        “It started with the commissioners patting themselves on the back for what a great job they think they have done,” Mr. Gattermeyer said. “It wasn't a process designed to find out what the public really thinks about raising taxes.”

        The next public hearing on the proposed sales tax increase will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, at a fourth-floor conference room of the Government Services Center, 315 High St., Hamilton.


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