Sunday, September 09, 2001

Sales tax divides commissioners

Revenue to pay for economic development projects

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — After listening to the opinions of about 110 people at two recent public hearings on the proposed Butler County sales tax increase, two of the three county commissioners still support raising the tax.

        “There's no way you're going to please everybody,” said Commissioner Chuck Furmon, who along with his colleague, Mike Fox, supports the tax increase. “We have to do what we think is best for the county not just for today, but for the future.”

        The votes of only two commissioners would be enough to raise the sales tax.

        According to the current proposal, a half-cent sales tax boost would run for six years and would fall to a quarter-cent for four years. It would generate $129 million over 10 years.

        The revenue would be used for a host of projects — from major road improvements to a fiber-optic network in Butler County and Hamilton. Most of the projects are designed to stimulate economic development — especially high-technology businesses — in Butler.

        Commissioner Courtney Combs, who hasn't made a final decision about supporting the tax increase, said he is leaning toward voting against it.

        “I'm still willing to listen,” he said. “But if the vote were today, I would vote no.”

        Mr. Combs said he doesn't like some of the 31 projects that might be funded by the tax increase. One of the them is a $10 million bike path.

        “We need to go through the projects and come up with a solid list,” he said.

        Mr. Combs has more to lose politically than the other two commissioners. He's up for re-election next year, while Mr. Fox and Mr. Furmon don't face re-election for three years.

        “I can't say political ramifications won't have an effect,” Mr. Combs said. “But I'm going to do what my conscience tells me to.”

        Mr. Fox said that as the commissioners whittle down the list of 31 projects to a more firm number, they could reduce the size of the proposed sales tax increase and the length of time it would run.

        Mr. Fox said he sympathizes with residents who spoke against the tax increase at the public hearings.

        “I hate taxes as much as they do,” he said.

        But he said a tax increase is necessary if Butler is to compete successfully with other communities for high-tech companies with good-paying jobs.

        The commissioners don't plan to vote on a sales tax increase until after the Nov. 6 election. The vote may come as late as December.

        More sales tax public hearings may be scheduled.

        The county commissioners also will set aside time during their regular meetings at 9:30 a.m. Mondays and Thursdays on the second floor of the Government Services Center in Hamilton.

        Bob Hagedorn contributed to this report.


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