Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Combs will decide vote on fee

Butler transfer tax may be raised

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Butler County Commissioner Courtney Combs holds the swing vote that will determine whether the county's property transfer fees increase.

The commissioners are considering raising the fee on selling property from $2.30 per $1,000 of property valuation to $3 per thousand.

The fee increase would generate about $900,000 a year more for the county general fund and $150,000 a year for the county's parks system.

After the second public hearing on this proposal, Commissioner Mike Fox said Monday that he supports the increase; Commissioner Chuck Furmon said he's opposed, while Combs said he's undecided.

Fox said the fee increase is the most painless, fairest way to offset large cuts in state funding to Butler and to raise needed money for the parks.

But Furmon, siding with many Realtors, said the fee increase could hurt the housing industry and would unfairly let MetroParks of Butler County slip out of a promise it made to the commissioners in 1999.

That was when the commissioners raised the transfer fee by 0.3 mill - or 30 cents per $1,000 of valuation - to generate revenue for the parks for five years.

At that time, park officials had promised they would place a levy on the ballot if they needed more money when the five-year fee-increase agreement expired.

But park officials say the anti-tax sentiment is so strong now that a levy would have no chance.

Furmon said he understands the dire need for more county operating funds and for more money for the parks.

"But I don't feel this is a fair and reasonable way to get it," he said.

Combs said he will consider all the arguments advanced in the two public hearings.

No date has been set for a vote. The commissioners are waiting for a response from the county department heads to the commissioners' request that they make a 4 percent cut in their budgets for this year and a 7 percent cut in next year's budgets.

Under the proposal, the property transfer fee on a $200,000 house would jump from $460 to $600.

MetroParks of Butler County would use the additional revenue to develop a 200-acre park on the old Voice of America property in West Chester Township, for improvements to existing parks and to buy more land.

The existing transfer fee revenue is 32 percent of the park board's annual budget, said Mike Muska, MetroParks director.

"We need this money," he said. "It's been a great benefit for the population in general."

Some Realtors complained that the proposed fee increase would unfairly penalize a small portion of the population.

"To single out sellers of property for a surcharge is unjust," said Eugene Snavley, CEO of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com

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