Thursday, July 04, 2002

Forest Park to vote on tax

Community center plan goes on ballot

By Susan Vela,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FOREST PARK — How badly do residents want a $13 million community center in this northern Hamilton County city?

        They'll decide in the fall after City Council members unanimously resolved this week to place an earnings tax increase on the November ballot as a means of financing the center's long-debated construction.

        The increase would raise the tax from its current 1 percent to 1.35 percent. Council has discussed the idea of a first-class community center for about three decades.

        “There was 30 years of debate but nothing last night,” Councilman Jim Lawler said Tuesday. “We all on council agree that the citizens should have their chance to decide whether they want (the center) or not.”

        A very vocal segment of the city, he said, has been pushing for the community center, which promises to have pools, gyms, a day-care center and other amenities. If the tax is approved, the facility could appear in either Central or Kemper Meadow park.

        “What the vote will decide is whether this group is representing the majority, or is there a large silent majority who (don't) want their taxes raised? We'll find out,” Mr. Lawler said. Ray Hodges, who has been the city's top administrator for 16 years, said Forest Park cannot afford a community center without the tax increase. As it is, the community center will require membership fees of up to $250 a year.

        “Clearly a multimillion-dollar recreation center is not within our means,” the city manager said. “The voters deserve an opportunity to speak and make a decision on what direction they want the community to go.”

        Don Speir, who headed the now-defunct community center task force, was pleased with Monday's vote.

        “It's been a long time coming,” he said.

        State Rep. Wayne Coates, D-Forest Park, is a former council member. In 1998 as mayor, he pushed to have a new task force study the feasibility of a community center.

        Yet, a year later, he helped stop a push to increase income taxes as a means of financing the center, then estimated to cost $5.8 million.

        Mr. Coates will not discuss whether he will vote for the earnings tax increase.

        But “the community center has been an ongoing discussion for many years,” he said. “The voters will be ultimately impacted by the results. I always support ballot initiatives that make it their decision whether they want it or not.”


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