Thursday, March 07, 2002

City allots $50 million as Tarbell dreams big

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati City Council members say they have big plans for the nearly $50 million in Anthem Inc. stock that they voted to convert into a neighborhood development fund Wednesday.

        But Councilman Jim Tarbell one-upped his colleagues with an even more grandiose proposal — a development fund of almost $1 billion and financed by a countywide sales tax.

        The “Tarbell Plan” would start with the city's $50 million, but would be funded primarily through another half-cent sales tax, which would bring Hamilton County's rate to 6.5 percent. Only Cuyahoga County, at 7 percent, has a higher rate.

        Mr. Tarbell already knows how he wants to spend it: $100 million for riverfront development, $150 million for expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center (if the current $198 million deal to be financed by a hotel tax falls through), $50 million to buy and fix up vacant buildings in Over-the-Rhine and the West End, $100 million for neighborhood business districts, $250 million for mass transit, $300 million for green space preservation and parks.

        “I've been thinking about this forever, and I hadn't planned on bringing it up today,” Mr. Tarbell said. “But there's absolutely no reason to wait. Do we let April come and go and just complain about the aftermath, or do we spend the money to do the things that everyone agrees we need to do, but we don't have the funding for them?”

        Mr. Tarbell brought up his plan twice at Wednesday's weekly meeting of City Council. Neither time did he get his colleagues to bite.

        “I know Jim's heart is in the right place, and I'm not going to say anything bad about it,” Mayor Charlie Luken said afterward. “It just sounds so remote. I want to do everything he wants to do. I just think a half-cent sales tax at this point is unlikely.”

        Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, one of three commissioners who would have to approve an increase, said Mr. Tarbell hadn't talked to him about his idea.

        “I wouldn't know how to react to that. I don't think there's much of a mood from the general public to raise the sales tax. I'm trying to find ways to reduce the burden on the sales tax,” he said.

        Mr. Portune, a former member of City Council, added, “Jim has never had a shortage of wild-eyed ideas.”

        City Council did vote Wednesday to create a neighborhood development fund with $49 million worth of Anthem Inc. stock the city inherited when the nonprofit insurance concern converted to a for-profit company.

        It was a 6-2 vote, with Minette Cooper and David Crowley dissenting and Paul Booth absent. And it came over the objections of the city's pension board and labor unions, which laid claim to the health care contributions that workers and retirees had made over the years.


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