By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HAMILTON - Butler County's public transit system was heading to the scrap heap Tuesday.
Voters rejecting the Butler County Regional Transit Authority's five-year quarter-percent sales tax increase, 62 percent to 38 percent .
With the defeat, the Transit Authority, which provides 1,800 rides daily, will go out of business at the end of the year. Two levy defeats last year and shrinking federal, state and local revenue placed the agency in a state of financial crisis. Tuesday's defeat was the death blow.
"It's incredibly unfortunate," said Sterling Uhler, president of the Transit Authority. "We lack the tools to cope with increasing congestion that will occur with Butler County. There are tens of thousands of people who are dependent on public transportation and they will have to do without it."
The Butler County Mental Health Board's five-year, 1-mill levy also lost, 53 percent to 47 percent, marking the fifth straight levy defeat the Mental Health Board has suffered since 1985.
The agency will have to make further cuts in services that already had been reduced by $1.2 million in October. One of the casualties could be the psychological services the agency provides to schools.
The agency has psychologists or counselors based in five Butler County school districts - Middletown, Talawanda, Fairfield, New Miami and Hamilton. It also provides counseling at alternative-school programs.
The Mental Health Board has been hurt in recent years by dwindling state funds, expiring grants and lack of levy increases.
Most other local ballot questions facing Butler County voters involved requests for more money:
Hamilton - Voters approved a 1-mill police levy and a 1-mill fire levy. The police levy passed 56 percent to 44 percent, and the fire levy passed 65 percent to 35 percent.
The police levy will enable Hamilton to hire nine more police officers.
The levy victory follows a recently released FBI report indicating that serious crime increased by more than 20 percent in 2001 over the previous year. Hamilton's rate of reported serious crimes is 9,202 per 100,000 people - more than double the national average.
The fire levy will allow the city to add a third paramedic unit. Fire officials say the increasing number of emergency medical calls are straining the two existing paramedic units.
Each levy will generate $819,000 a year and will cost the owner of a $100,000 house $30.63 more a year in taxes.
Liberty Township - A five-year 0.75-mill levy for parks and recreation was defeated. With all 20 precincts reporting unofficial returns, 62 percent voted against the levy and 38 percent voted for it. The levy would have allowed the township to buy and develop 54 acres of parkland on Wilhelmina Drive that the township voted to buy.
The owner of a $100,000 would have paid $22.97 more a year in taxes.
Fairfield - Voters supported the reallocation of 0.1 percentage point of the current city income tax - about $1.2 million a year - from the street improvement fund to the general fund for the construction of a new or expanded justice center and community center. With all 39 precincts counted, 59 percent voted for the reallocation and 41 percent voted against it. This measure will cost no additional tax dollars.
Reily Township - With all ballots counted, 70 percent voted for the five-year 3.5-mill additional levy for fire and life squad services and 30 percent voted against it. The levy will raise the taxes of an owner of a $100,000 house by $19.42 a year.
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