Friday, July 19, 2002

Butler sales-tax increase losing steam

Commissioners rethink putting it on November ballot

By Steve Kemme,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Because of the public's strong anti-tax feelings, Butler County commissioners may back off from plans to place a proposed sales-tax increase on the November ballot.

        “I believe the sales-tax increase is essential to Butler County's future,” Commissioner Mike Fox said. “But there's no point in going through an exercise in futility.”

        The commissioners will discuss next Monday whether to schedule two public hearings in August on a proposed half-percent sales-tax increase.

        If they hold the hearings, they will decide before Aug. 22 whether to put the issue on the November ballot.

        That is the deadline for filing the sales-tax issue with the Butler County Board of Elections.

        A half-percent sales tax would generate $16 million per year and raise the county's sales tax from 5.5 percent to 6 percent, the same level as Butler's neighboring counties.

        Mr. Fox and Commissioner Chuck Furman had voted in December to enact a 10-year sales tax without voter approval for major road construction and projects designed primarily to attract businesses with well-paying jobs. Commissioner Courtney Combs voted against it.

        They later rescinded the increase when it became apparent tax opponents had enough signatures on referendum petitions to place the issue on this past May's primary election ballot. At the time, Mr. Fox said he thought the tax increase would have a better chance of passing in November.

        But a sluggish national economy and the possible presence of at least two other tax increases on Butler's November ballot have dimmed the prospects. The Butler County Regional Transit Authority Board likely will place a quarter-percent sales tax on the ballot, and Hamilton is considering a police and fire levy.

        Mort Goldberg, owner of Major's jewelry store in Hamilton, said it would be a bad time for the county to try to raise the sales tax.

        “Business is slow here, and it's been slow for a few years, since we lost a lot of factories in Hamilton,” he said. “We don't need more taxes.”

        But Nancy Hauser, 66, of Liberty Township, said she would vote yes.

        “We need better roads and we need more businesses to help with our tax base,” she said.

        Sterling Uhler, Transit Authority president and former Fairfield councilman, urged the commissioners Thursday to put their proposed sales-tax increase on the ballot.

        The county is losing millions of dollars a year in possible sales-tax revenue by having a lower rate than neighboring counties, he said.

        “It's obvious that having a lower sales tax doesn't influence people to buy in Butler County,” Mr. Uhler said. “Money is going out of the county in fistfuls.”

        Mr. Fox said it's difficult to garner support for any kind of tax, especially one that will produce more long-term than immediate benefits.

        Last year, a county-financed study conducted by University of Cincinnati economic experts said that if Butler fails to build 11 major road projects that would be funded by a sales-tax increase, the county will wind up with 36,000 fewer jobs and $11 billion less in income over 20 years.


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