Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Realtors in uproar over tax increase

Warren County urged to refrain

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Snow-slicked streets didn't stop about a dozen Realtors and residents from appearing before Warren County commissioners early Tuesday, urging them not to raise the tax to sell real estate.

If approved, Warren County's real property transfer tax hike would rise from 3 mills to 4 mills, generating about $1 million a year in additional revenue.

The transfer taxes collected by Warren County have increased 138 percent since 1994:
1994: $1.7 million ($128,688 average home price).
2000: $3.4 million ($186,731 average home price).
2002: $4.1 million ($199,121 average home price).
Source: Warren County
One mill is the equivalent of $1 tax for each $1,000 of value.

It would make Warren's County's real property transfer tax the highest by far in the Tristate - and, Realtors say, in the entire state.

A similar move was quashed late last year in Hamilton County after Realtors and anti-tax activists protested.

"The transfer taxes collected by Warren County have increased 138 percent since 1994," Loveland resident and Realtor Sandy Blair told commissioners. "Enough is enough. The real estate transfer tax is a burdensome tax that discriminately affects only those persons who sell their property. It's construed as a `penalty tax.' "

The increase means a person selling a home for $200,000 - the average in Warren County - would pay $800, instead of the current $600. Commercial property holders would pay a $4,000 tax bill on a $1 million transaction, up from $3,000.

Most counties across the state are raising their transfer taxes to 3 mills, if at all, Realtors said.

"Real estate is one of the positive sides of the economy right now, and who knows what this might do to real estate," Blair said. "Homeowners may decide that if they have to pay this extra fee, they are not going to do it right now."

Commissioner Mike Kilburn proposed a compromise Tuesday: he would consider halting the tax increase if Realtors would support the county's push for imposing impact fees for schools.

Commissioners, he said, will need all the help they can get to convince a state lawmaker to craft legislation for impact fees imposed at the county's discretion.

"I don't want to kill development, but I do want to slow it down so Grandma and Grandpa aren't asked to pay for a new school bond every three or four days," Kilburn said. "We are going to make sure we have enough revenues to feed this horse to run all the races we are going to ask him to run over the next couple years."

Commissioners will hold a 6:30 p.m. countywide summit Feb. 20 on impact fees and have invited all other Warren elected officials. County leaders will explain the fees and find out who else will join the fight.

But Realtors were lukewarm Tuesday to his compromise. Gene Snavley, executive vice president of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, would only say he would take the proposal back to his board. He conceded Realtors are opposed to impact fees in general because they believe they reduce affordable housing.

Skip Young, executive president of the Warren County Board of Realtors, was more succinct, saying he doesn't support the impact fee or transfer tax hike.

"The county commissioners have coffers full of money," Young said. "They are building buildings without passing bonds. The growth is paying its way. It should be spread evenly throughout all the constituents instead of making a small portion pay."

Realtors suggested the county cut expenses "to the bone" if they were that hard up for revenue.

But Commissioner Pat South pointed out that as housing and business continue booming in Warren - the second-fastest-growing county in the state - officials constantly have to fork over more money to keep up with demands such as roads, the sheriff's office and courts.

South and Commissioner Larry Crisenbery also noted the county routinely rolls back property taxes.

"We try to balance taxation fairly. And over the past six years, we have turned $50 million in real estate taxes over to real estate property owners in Warren County," South said. "When you look at our budget, we are tighter than we have been in the 10 years I have been a county commissioner."

The next public hearing and a vote on the tax increase will be Feb. 18 at a 10:30 a.m. meeting.


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