Friday, December 14, 2001

Butler delays vote on sales tax

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County commissioners Thursday postponed their vote on a proposed sales tax increase after a West Chester Township official spoke out against it.

        Township Trustee Jose Alvarez told commissioners that their list of projects that might be funded by the sales tax increase contains too much pork.

        Mr. Alvarez accused the commissioners of placing some projects on the list merely to gain support for the tax hike in different parts of the county. The projects range from major road construction, such as the Ohio 63 extension, to technology enhancements.

        “It seems to me it's more pork barrel than infrastructure,” he said. “To come up with a wish list is not the right approach.”

        After disputing Mr. Alvarez's criticism, Commissioner Mike Fox decided to postpone the vote until Monday to allow more time to persuade West Chester officials to support the tax increase.

        “West Chester is a large area that has a lot of influence on what happens in the county,” Mr. Fox said after the meeting. “It would be nice to have their support.”

        The proposed county sales tax increase of a half-cent for six years and a quarter-cent for four years would raise about $129 million. The revenue would fund projects that county officials say will attract high-tech businesses with good-paying jobs and improve the quality of life.

        Mr. Fox and Commissioner Chuck Furmon support the tax increase, while Commissioner Courtney Combs doesn't know how he'll vote. It takes only two votes to pass the increase.

        But Mr. Fox and other county officials are concerned about a possible referendum effort to overturn the sales tax increase. That's why they would like West Chester, one of the county's most politically powerful communities, to support it. Mr. Alvarez said it's difficult to support a tax initiative that will fall $32 million short of the cost of the 34 projects on the potential funding list.

        He said the commissioners should have focused on just a few of the most important projects.

        Mr. Fox said that some projects on the list could wind up being paid for by other revenue sources. A second reason for postponing the vote was to add unspecified needed transportation projects in northwest Butler County to the list. That request was made by Sally Southard, former county commissioner and Oxford city council member.

        An economic impact study of 11 road projects was presented Thursday by George Vredeveld, director of the Center for Economic Education at the University of Cincinnati, and Jeff Rexhausen, associate director of research at the center.

        The study, which Butler County paid for, says that spending $76 million on the 11 road projects will produce industrial and commercial development with an economic impact of $5.48 billion.

        The study also says that Butler will grow without the 11 road projects, but will grow a lot more if the road improvements are made.

        Without the road improvements, Butler will gain 20,000 new jobs with earnings of $5.5 billion.

        With the road improvements, the county will gain 56,000 jobs with earnings of $16.5 billion, the study says.


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