Saturday, July 13, 2002

Transit faces ballot battle in Butler Co.

By Steve Kemme,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The Butler County Regional Transit Authority is ready to place a sales tax increase on the November ballot, placing the agency on a collision course with a sales tax increase county commissioners plan to put on the same ballot.

        Sterling Uhler, president of the Regional Transit Authority Board, said he will recommend at the board's July 23 meeting that a quarter-percent sales tax increase be placed before voters in November. He said he expects the board to support the recommendation.

        “We have to protect ourselves,” Mr. Uhler said. “It's come down to crunch time.”

        The board told commissioners they would not place a public transit sales tax issue on the ballot if commissioners promised to allocate $5 million a year of revenue produced by their sales tax increase — assuming voters approve the commissioners' sales tax hike.

        But commissioners have not agreed to commit any sales tax revenue to public transit.

        Commissioner Chuck Furmon accused the Transit Authority of “trying to hold us hostage.”

        He said commissioners postponed their sales tax increase proposal twice last year so that it wouldn't conflict with the Transit Authority's sales tax proposals on the May and November ballots. But voters rejected both tax initiatives. As a result, the agency was unable to replace federal grants that expired last year.

        Commissioners enacted a half-percent sales tax increase last December to generate revenue for major road construction and other projects designed to boost economic development. Some of the revenue also would have been used for operating expenses. Mr. Furmon and Commissioner Mike Fox voted for it, and Commissioner Courtney Combs voted against it.

        But a referendum effort by tax opponents earlier this year caused Mr. Furmon and Mr. Fox to rescind the tax increase. They said they planned to place it on the November ballot, but have taken no action so far.

        Mr. Uhler said with the commissioners' refusal to commit tax revenue to the public transit, the Transit Authority has no choice but to place its own sales tax issue on the ballot.


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