Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Butler commission drops tax proposal


Plan for half-cent sales increase won't go on ballot

By Steve Kemme, skemme@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County commissioners decided Monday not to place a proposed sales tax increase on the Nov. 5 ballot because they believe it would be defeated.

        Commissioners said the public's strong anti-tax sentiments, the struggling national economy and the presence of other local tax issues on the ballot would doom their half-percent sales tax proposal.

        “It would be silly to butt our heads against the wall,” Commissioner Chuck Furmon said.

        Revenue from the county's sales tax increase would have been used for major road projects and other improvements designed to attract businesses and good-paying jobs to the county.

        Mr. Furmon and Commissioner Mike Fox, who both voted last December to enact a 10-year sales tax increase and then later rescinded it because of a referendum effort to place it on last May's ballot, said they believe as fervently as ever in the need for the sales tax increase. But they said this is a bad year to ask for voter approval.

        The December action would have increased the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 6 percent for six years, and then dropped it to 5.75 percent for four years.

        “Given the reality of this year's tax climate,” Mr. Fox said, “to put it on the ballot now would be an exercise in futility.”

        Those who led the referendum effort against the sales tax increase said they're happy voters won't be faced with the increase in November.

        “I think it's about time the commissioners try to live within a budget,” said West Chester Township Trustee Catherine Stoker.

        She said that with the three major retail centers under construction in West Chester and a fourth one pending, the county's sales tax revenue will increase without a tax rate increase.

        Martin Wisbey, another leader of the referendum drive, said many people opposed the commissioners' proposal because the revenue would not come close to covering the $165 millioncost of projects that commissioners named for possible funding. The 10-year tax increase would have generated $129 million.

        “Voters have supported taxes in the past when they knew they would bring improvements to their communities,” Mr. Wisbey said. Commissioners “should be given credit for seeing the error of their ways.”

        Commissioner Courtney Combs voted against the increase supported by his two colleagues in December. But he said that doesn't mean he would not support such an increase in the future.

        “I'll do what's necessary to keep this county in a sound financial position,” he said. “But I don't foresee a sales tax increase.”

        Butler and other Ohio counties have been hurt by federal and state funding cutbacks. Commissioners warned Monday that more cutbacks are expected.

        Mr. Fox said he would like the county to hold a series of public meetings concerning the county's future.

        “We'll go to each community and say, "Here are the projects sitting there that won't be developed unless we get more resources,”' he said. “We'll lay out the options.”

       



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