By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - With unusual speed, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Kenton County did not break the law when it raised its payroll tax two years ago for a new jail.
The case was expected to take several months. But in a quick 3-0 unanimous vote just two weeks after it began considering the case, the court overturned a ruling by Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe. Judge Summe had ruled that the increase on the payroll tax cap originally passed by the Kenton Fiscal Court was illegal.
"It's remarkable, nobody expected it to happen this quickly," said Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson. "I thought certainly (it would take) months for it to be decided. It tells a lawyer that the law was very clear and the judges didn't have a problem and the case didn't require a lot of research."
Judge Summe could not be reached to comment Friday.
OK to collect, county waits
The immediate implications of the ruling are unclear. But the way is clear for the payroll tax cap increase - bringing a 220 percent increase for some employees - to again come out of paychecks.
The county could immediately begin collecting the tax, which would require workers and businesses in Kenton County "to pay substantially more in taxes than they paid previously," according to the appeals court ruling.
But Kenton County Judge-executive Dick Murgatroyd suggested in a statement Friday the fiscal court would wait for an anticipated appeal before deciding if the tax will be collected.
Kenton County filed its appeal in June 2001 after Judge Summe threw the increase out of court. The county had already begun collecting the tax and had to refund virtually all it had collected.
"Now it is time for us to step back and await a decision on an appeal by the plaintiffs and evaluate our long-term options," Mr. Murgatroyd said.
Implications in judge race
Meanwhile, the ruling adds a new twist to what is the most contentious political race in Kenton County, the Nov. 5 election between Mr. Murgatroyd - a first-term incumbent - and Patrick Hughes, a lawyer and Fort Wright Democrat making his first run for public office.
Both sides claimed victory with Friday's ruling.
"From a public policy standpoint, I am obviously pleased the Court of Appeals has today upheld the principle and recognized importance of local control and home rule," Mr. Murgatroyd said. "I have defended local autonomy.''
Mr. Hughes and the Democrats, who have built much of their year-long campaign on Mr. Murgatroyd's support of raising the tax, said the ruling allows Republicans to continue to push for higher taxes in Kenton County.
He cited the ruling in which Judge William Knoft, writing for the three-judge panel, said the taxpayers' "sole remedy" to any increase "is to seek relief through the political process."
"I could not agree more that taxpayers' real remedy here is to go to the polls on Nov. 5 and make their voices heard," Mr. Hughes said.
Mr. Hughes has maintained he can build the jail without raising taxes by cutting county government waste - including expensive SUVs and travel for county employees - and selling county-owned real estate.
"The decision only magnifies the difference between Dick Murgatroyd and me," he said. "I have a real plan to build the new jail without raising taxes. Dick Murgatroyd is completely committed to raising taxes to build the new jail."
Mr. Murgatroyd called Mr. Hughes' jail plan "misguided" because it guts money from the budget for other services such as roads, police and technology.
"I have gone through five campaigns and never have I seen such distortions, deception and demagoguery from an opponent," Mr. Murgatroyd said.
Democratic strategist Mark Guilfoyle, who works in the same law firm as Mr. Hughes, criticized Mr. Murgatroyd for not saying whether the fiscal court will raise taxes if the Court of Appeals ruling is upheld on appeal.
"Dick Murgatroyd filed this appeal for one reason and one reason only, and that's to raise taxes," Mr. Guilfoyle said.
Kenton County Commissioner Adam Koenig said it is prudent for the fiscal court to wait because the case is likely to be appealed. After Judge Summe ruled the increase illegal, the fiscal court refunded an estimated $4.3 million.
The Associated Press contributed.
Hagan, Taft in a nutshell? Cleveland, Cincinnati
Higher ed budget plans disputed
Archdiocese criticizes P&G
More robberies, many at gunpoint
Kenton payroll tax increase ruled legal by state court
IN THE TRISTATE
Sculpture embraces character
Obituary: Kash Amburgy, preacher, salesman
Rain, rush-hour traffic result in rash of wrecks
Evendale rehab to be reviewed
Green Twp. trustees square off
RADEL: Issue 7
GUTIERREZ: Dueling politicians
BUTLER, WARREN, CLERMONT
Teen driver to serve 6 months
Cross burning in rural Oxford Twp. investigated
School gets OK for athletic fields
Final bell sounds for old No. 7
Fairfield fund-raiser a runaway success
Miami 2 Miami trail on track
GOP cash pours in for 2 Democrat seats
Hundreds mourn Browns owner
Woman's family questions her death in facility
Police still get tips about murder of girl
Man guilty in killing of girlfriend's fetus
Gripes might be bogus, but . . .
Small-county races have big impact
Trauth considers buying Newport school
U of L bioterror center recognized
Boone Co. and Y have deal for recreation
Poll: Most in Ky. oppose execution for juvenile criminals
Doctors want malpractice law changed
Natural Resources secretary James Bickford dies