Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Tax petition drive intensifies

Butler Co. Democrats have 1 day

By Steve Kemme and Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — A petition drive to put the Butler County sales tax increase on the ballot heated up Monday as the deadline neared.

        Prosecutor Robin Piper called for those circulating the petitions to follow the law, saying his office has received three informal complaints, one anonymous, that petitions were signed after being left unattended at area businesses.

        The Butler County Board of Elections also has received a similar informal complaint, and Commissioner Mike Fox said he has received three calls.

        Petitions have been circulated in a grass-roots
effort at neighborhoods and public places such as bars, stores, restaurants, churches and sports events. They must be filed by Wednesday afternoon.

        Specifically, Mr. Piper said a man called his office Monday and said he watched another man sign a petition left unattended at Cheap Tobacco on Main Street in Hamilton.

        Petition circulators are required by law to be present when petitions are signed. A violation is a fifth-degree penalty punishable up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

        “Our goal isn't to discourage anyone from signing petitions or turning them in,” Mr. Piper said. “Our mission is to say if you're getting signatures on petitions, make sure you know how to do it and do it the right way.”

        The manager of Cheap Tobacco, Shirley Hubbard, denied the allegation and said she has watched every person who has signed several petitions in the shop.

        “That's not true,” she said. “I think this is all politics.”

        Those leading the drive also contested the allegations Monday. .

        Catherine Stoker, a West Chester Township trustee

        heading the petition drive along with fellow Democrat Terry Bridge, dismissed the complaints as being politically motivated.

        “What, is Robin afraid he might lose an increase in the budget he wants?” she said. “This is all political malarkey.”

        While opponents of the sales tax think they will have enough required signatures, they are worried they won't have additional ones to fall back on should the original signatures turn out to be invalid. With 8,842 valid signatures needed by Wednesday afternoon, the referendum drive has about 7,500 uncertified signatures so far and have about 150 petitions still out, Ms. Stoker said.

        The petitioners want about 10,500 signatures to give themselves a big enough cushion. Ms. Stoker said she's hopeful but can't be certain the referendum drive will reach that goal.

        “It's going to be real close,” she said. “We'll find out late Tuesday whether we've made it.”

        The petitions must be filed with the Butler County Auditor's Office by 4 p.m. Wednesday. The auditor has 10 days to turn them over to the county board of elections.

        The board must verify that those signing the petitions are registered Butler County voters. Robert Mosketti, director of the board of elections, said he doesn't know how long it will take to certify signatures.

        Out of nearly 1,000 signatures brought in so far for a pre-check, 785 are valid and 163 are not, he said Monday.

        County commissioners approved a 10-year sales tax increase that will take effect March 1 if the referendum effort fails. If it succeeds, the issue will go on the May primary election ballot.

        The sales tax will jump by a half-cent on the dollar for six years and will then drop back a quarter-cent for four years.

        Two of the three commissioners — Mr. Fox and Chuck Furmon — voted Dec. 17 for the tax hike to raise $129 million for major county road improvements and other projects they think would boost economic development and attract high-paying jobs.

        All three commissioners are Republicans.


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