Tuesday, April 8, 2003

State's fee proposal, cuts criticized

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Hamilton County recorder blasted Ohio lawmakers Monday for seeking to double the fees counties charge for recording house purchases - with the new money going to Columbus.

Under the proposal, in House Bill 95, those buying or refinancing a home would face an average recording fee of $120 instead of the current $60 average, according to Recorder Rebecca Prem Groppe. It sounds to her like a sneaky way of levying a new tax.

"They are going to take all of that (new money) and dispatch it to Columbus on the backs of the homeowners," Groppe said.

The money - 60 percent of which would come from the state's 16 urban counties - would go to the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, according to Sandra Corder, a representative of the Ohio Recorders' Association and the Coshocton County recorder.

The Housing Trust Fund is a program that supports low-income housing, low-interest loans and homeless shelters, she said. County recorders oppose funding it through their offices.

"The fees that were established to cover costs in the recorder's office were just that," Corder said. "Anything over and above that appears to me to be a hidden tax."

The recorder's office tracks every real estate transaction in the county, including mortgages, deeds, leases and liens.

Its fee schedule would be doubled across the board, for services ranging from recording plats (now 5 cents per inch) to making certified copies (now $1 a page).

The General Assembly has been struggling to close a projected $4 billion shortfall in its coming two-year budget. Groppe raised her concerns over the fee increases during a press conference Monday in which Hamilton County, Cincinnati and other local officials decried another House plan to cut local government funding by more than half.

"Our residents are the ones who will be harmed," Sharonville Mayor Virgil Lovitt II said.

Police and fire protection, road salt spreading in winter and other basic services would suffer, according to local leaders. The library would be most affected, as 95 percent of its $50 million budget comes from the state.

"We're in our death throes if they start cutting out the library fund," library board member Charles Lindberg said.

The proposal to drop local funding from $2.4 billion to $1 billion in the next two-year budget appears to have lost favor in Columbus, however.

Instead, House leaders are pushing a temporary sales tax increase and a state referendum on allowing video slot machines at Ohio's racetracks.

"(The budget) is very fluid right now," said Hamilton Commissioner John Dowlin, who testified at a rare Sunday session of the House this weekend.

But local officials are not enthusiastic about increasing state taxes or legalizing gambling.

"The worst thing you can do at a time like this is raise taxes," County Auditor Dusty Rhodes said. "You stop the hiring and you stop all the other nonsense that's going on with the state of Ohio. ... The state bureaucracy is bloated."

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and others also said they don't want their state funding to be contingent on video slots passing.

"That's gambling with people's lives," Reece said.

E-mail candrews@enquirer.com

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