Sunday, October 27, 2002

Voters get 38 chances at tax boost


Ballots filled with issues seeking funds

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

No matter where in the Tristate you cast your ballot Nov. 5, chances are some government body is asking you to pay more.

More in taxes, assessments and bond issues.

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And some residents - such as those who live in certain villages within certain townships in certain school districts within certain counties - are being asked several times to tax themselves more.

Voters in four southwest Ohio counties - Hamilton, Butler, Clermont and Warren - and voters in the Northern Kentucky communities of Fort Wright and Ludlow will decide 52 ballot issues involving tax dollars, from the unusual, like an income tax for schools in a Warren County district, to the mammoth, like the $480 million bond issue for school construction that Cincinnati School District voters will decide.

"It's out of control," said Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes. "People are just getting overwhelmed with tax issues."

Of the 52, 38 would raises taxes.

But because of real estate revaluations this year that won't show up until the January tax bills go out, it will be hard for many homeowners to figure out how much the new taxes would cost them.

Property revaluations by county auditors' offices have to be approved by the state tax commissioner, and that won't happen until well after the November election.

"I wish I could tell every homeowner what these tax issues on the ballot would cost them, but I can't," said Mr. Rhodes, whose office conducts the revaluation.

Some voters will have as many as three opportunities to raise their taxes on Election Day.

In the western Hamilton County city of Harrison, a single voter can tax himself three times - one for the half-percent countywide sales tax for a transit system, which will end up costing the average person about 18 cents a day; again for a slight bump in the county Senior Services levy; and a third time for a Harrison fire and EMS levy that would add another $213.33 to the tax bill of the owner of a $100,000 home.

In Hamilton County alone, 21 countywide, municipal, township, village and school levies would generate slightly more than $63 million next year for local governments.

Kentucky generally has fewer tax ballot issues because local governments there are more dependent on state funding.

But with the Kentucky Education Reform Act "equalizing" the funding gap between rich and poor districts, many in Kentucky expect to see more school-related ballot issues put on by local school boards, especially in the rich, high-achieving districts, to keep up.

In Ohio, though, funding through tax levies has been the cornerstone of school funding for decades.

Ten of the issues in southwest Ohio are issues for public school systems, which, in Ohio, depend on property taxes.

One of the biggest is the $480 million bond issue for Cincinnati Public Schools, a levy that would add $143.89 to the tax bill of the $100,000 home owner for the next 28 years.

It is an issue that has sparked opposition from the county's most-outspoken "small government" campaign committee, Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes.

"Despite the image this city has as being a conservative place, Cincinnati is a high-tax area," said Christopher Finney, treasurer of COAST. "People are taxed to the max."

Mr. Rhodes called the proliferation of tax issues "the death of a thousand cuts" for taxpayers.

Homeowners in the Cincinnati school district are more heavily taxed already than their counterparts in most of the more affluent suburban school districts in Butler, Warren and Clermont counties. The new real estate valuations are likely to continue that trend.

According to tax figures compiled by the office of Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine, the owner of a $100,000 home in the Cincinnati school district pays $1,924 in property taxes - far higher than the $1,478 in Warren County's Deerfield Township or the $1,376 in Clermont County's Batavia Township.

Some of the highest tax rates in the area, though, are in suburban communities that have high rates of home ownership but little in the way of an industrial or commercial tax base.

Springfield Township homeowners in the Finneytown School District pay the highest rate in Hamilton County - $2,461 on a $100,000 home.

The Mount Healthy School District ranks eighth in Hamilton County, with combined taxes of $2,105.64 on a $100,000 home.

The tax rate just makes it that much more difficult in an election season like this one, when Mount Healthy school officials are going back to the voters to get an additional 6.95 mills passed that would add another $204.50 to that $100,000 home's tax bill.

Mount Healthy Schools put an 8.99 mill levy on the special election ballot in August. Only 13 percent of the registered voters showed up, but they rejected the tax hike 2-to-1.

"This is a terrible way to fund public education," said Rebecca Brooks, treasurer of the Mount Healthy School District. "But this is the system Ohio has. So we have to go begging."

The problem in a school district like Mount Healthy, Ms. Brooks said, is that "we have a generally low-wealth community and a lot of people on fixed incomes."

In Mount Healthy, the school board dropped the millage of the November levy to 2.04 mills after the August defeat.

"But all that means is that, if it passes, we'll have to go back to the voters that much quicker," Ms. Brooks said. "Maybe in two years."

Some tax critics say their opposition to school levies is not opposition to the schools but to the amount that school boards ask for.

Increases, mainly

Of the 52 tax issues on the November ballot in four southwest Ohio counties and northern Kentucky, 38 would mean an increase in taxes if passed by voters.

Hamilton County

Sales tax increase (Issue 7): A 0.5 sales tax hike to build transportation systems for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

Senior Services levy (countywide): A renewal of 1.02 mills and additional 0.14 mill for Senior Services.

Cincinnati School District: A $480 million bond issue for school construction that would mean an additional $143.80 in property taxes on a home valued at $100,000.

Forest Hills Local School District: An additional 4.90 mills for operating expenses that would mean an additional $144.18 in property taxes on a home valued at $100,000.

Mount Healthy School District: An additional 6.95 mills for operating expenses that would mean an additional $204.50 in property taxes on a home valued at $100,000.

Three Rivers Local School District: An additional 5.74 mills for operating expenses that would mean an additional $168.90 in property taxes on a home valued at $100,000.

Arlington Heights: A 1.30-mill renewal for streets and sidewalks.

Glendale: An 8.50-mill replacement and addition for current operating expenses that would increase taxes on a $100,000 home by $60.

Golf Manor: A 4-mill renewal levy for current operating expenses.

Greenhills: A 3.85-mill replacement and addition for operating expenses that would mean the tax on a $100,000 home would jump from $33.52 to $114.46.

Harrison: A 7.25 additional levy for fire and EMS services that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $213.33.

Lincoln Heights: A 4-mill replacement and additional levy for fire service, which would see the tax on a $100,000 home rise from $62.97 to $117.70.

Lincoln Heights: A 4.75 replacement and additional levy for police services that would see the tax on a $100,000 home rise from $83.96 to $139.77.

Mariemont: A 3.5-mill renewal for permanent improvements.

Terrace Park: A 9.5-mill renewal for operating expenses.

Woodlawn: A 2-mill renewal for the Woodlawn swimming pool.

Colerain Township: A 1-mill additional levy for police services - $29.42 on a $100,000 home.

Harrison Township: A 3.85-mill additional levy for public safety - $113.28 on a $100,000 home.

Sycamore Township: A 1-mill additional levy for recreation that would cost $29.42 on a $100,000 home.

Symmes Township: A 1.7-mill additional levy for public safety - $50.02 on a $100,000 home.

Whitewater Township: A 3.90 replacement and additional levy that would raise the tax on a $100,000 from $82.45 to $114.76.

Butler County

Sales tax increase (countywide): A five-year quarter-percent increase in the sales tax that would generate $8 million a year for the Butler County Regional Transit Authority.

Mental health levy (countywide): A 1-mill levy that would generate $6.1 million a year - $30.63 more in property taxes.

Hamilton: A 1-mill police levy and a 1-mill fire levy. Each levy would produce $819,000 $15.31 a year more in property taxes.

Liberty Township: A 0.75 mill levy for parks and recreation and a replacement 3-mill fire levy. Both levies are for five years. The additional parks levy revenue would be used to buy and develop 54 acres of parkland on Wilhelmina Drive the township voted to buy. It would mean the owner of a $100,000 house would pay $22.97 a year more in property taxes. The replacement fire levy would raise the taxes of a $100,000 home owner by $14.54 a year.

New Miami: A 1-mill replacement fire levy for five years. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $9.34 a year in taxes.

Reily Township: A 3.5 mill levy for fire and life squad services for five years. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $19.42 a year more in taxes.

St. Clair Township: A 0.5 mill five-year replacement fire levy and a 0.5 mill life squad levy, both lasting five years. The fire levy would cause the owner of a $100,000 home to pay $9.78 more a year in taxes, while the life squad levy would raise a $100,000 home owner's taxes by $1.63 a year.

Trenton: Charter amendments that would require the finance director to report to the city manager instead of to city council, and that would give city council more flexibility in bidding for projects and equipment purchases.

Oxford: A charter amendment that would preserve Westgate Drive as a cul-de-sac.

Monroe: An ordinance that would increase the minimum floor area and establish building material and architectural specifications for single-family residential zoning districts.

Ross Local School District: A 6.25-mill bond issue would provide $24.9 million of the district's share of a $50 million facilities plan. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 an additional $191.38 for the next 26 years.

Talawanda School District: A 2.25 mill bond issue would raise $19.5 million, with most of the money going towards construction of a new elementary school. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $78 a year for the next 27 years.

Clermont County

Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities levy (countywide): A 1-mill replacement levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30 a year.

Amelia: Village residents will be voting on a 4-mill, five-year levy for garbage and refuse pickup. The contract with Rumpke covers curbside trash and recycling pickup, yard waste pickup twice a week, and a yearly curbside junk pickup. The levy is an increase from the existing 3-mill, five-year levy. It will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $122 a year.

Owensville: Voters face a renewal of the village's current operating expense levy for 1.5 mills and five years. The levy would continue to cost the owner of a $100,000 home $41 a year.

Goshen Township: Residents will vote on an additional 4-mill, continuing levy for safety services. The levy would provide funds to hire five new firefighter/emergency medical service specialists and two new police officers. It would also provide for a vehicle replacement program and additional equipment for both departments. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $122 a year.

Pierce Township: There is a new, 4.5-mill continuing levy for safety services. The levy would help pay for three police officers funded through a U.S. Department of Justice grant and a school resource officer, as well as a new ambulance and other new equipment. It would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by $137 a year.

Union Township: Voters will decide on a new, 4-mill continuing levy for safety services. The levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $122 a year.

Bethel/Tate Township: Voters will decide on an additional 2-mill continuing levy for the Joint Ambulance District - $61 a year.

Batavia Local School District: A 6.9-mill bond issue would generate $18.4 million to build a new elementary school, It would cost the owner of a $100,000 an additional $211.31.

Warren County

Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities levy: A 4 mill replacement levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $61 a year.

Mental Health Recovery Service levy: A 1-mill replacement levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $14 a year.

Union Township: 3 mill additional continuing levy for the fire department. Additional cost to owner of $100,000 house: $91 a year.

Harlan Township: 1.6-mill, five-year fire levy renewal. No additional cost to taxpayers.

Harveysburg: 2.5 mill, five-year replacement levy for village operations and 1-mill, five-year replacement levy for the police department. Total tax on $100,000 house: $107 for both.

Washington Township: 1-mill, four-year fire levy renewal and 1.06-mill, four-year fire levy renewal. No increase in taxes.

Wayne Local School District: Voters will be asked to approve a 1 percent income tax for the schools in exchange for a 7.13-mill drop in property taxes.

Little Miami School District: A five-year emergency 6.9-mill operating levy that would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $136 in new taxes.

Springboro: A 5.12-mill bond issue for construction of two new elementary schools. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $162 a year for 28 years.

Northern Kentucky

Fort Wright: A tax of 9 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation for streets, sidewalks and sewers. It would increase the tax on a $100,000 home by $90.

Ludlow: A tax of 17.5 cents on each $100 of assessed valuation for fire and emergency medical services. It would the cost the owner of a $100,000 home $175.




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