Wednesday, June 4, 2003

City Hall

Tax collectors catch some heat for not letting skaters slide


Deputy Tax Commissioner Ted Nussman's pursuit of the Mobile Skatepark Series for payment of city earnings taxes has reignited the debate over the so-called "jock tax."

Council members Pat DeWine and Alicia Reece, the two most vocal opponents of the tax, used the occasion to push for a repeal of the tax last week, saying too many "little guys" are getting caught up in the city's pursuit of taxing big-name athletes. Their motion failed.

Then this week, the duo ganged up on the city administration for being overzealous in collecting an estimated $1,680 in tax for the whole event - and as little as $4.20 per skater.

Finance Director Bill Moller said the Income Tax Division was simply enforcing the law. He said their methods weren't out of the ordinary - Nussman simply saw an advertisement for the event and mailed organizers some tax forms.

DeWine asked whether tax collectors don't have anything else better to do than scour the newspaper for events they can tax.

"For all I know, they found out while reading the Enquirer eating their corn flakes at home," the usually decorous finance director said, offering to investigate further and report back to City Council.

Moller conceded there was an unofficial minimum amount in delinquent taxes a taxpayer would have to owe before the city would try to collect.

Moller says the tax commissioner doesn't like to publish that amount, but a review of income tax cases in Hamilton County Municipal Court found few judgments for less than $500, and none for less than $200.

"We try to be intelligent about it. We try not to spend $5 to collect $1," Moller said.

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Forcing the issue: The Citizens to Restore Fairness, the campaign committee working to repeal Article XII of the city's charter, filed a declaration of treasurer with the Hamilton County Board of Elections May 21.

The declaration is necessary before the committee can raise or spend money on a ballot issue. Treasurer Freeman Durham said the committee has "gotten a good start" on raising money but declined to elaborate.

Article XII, passed by voters in 1993 as Issue 3, forbids the city from extending "protected class" status based on sexual orientation. Opponents of the provision say they think attitudes have changed over the past 10 years, and hope to put the issue back before voters sometime in 2004.

The committee will hold its first fund-raiser Friday night at Neon's, 208 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine. Volunteers will be collecting signatures for the repeal effort at the "Gayest Show on Earth," the gay pride festival in Northside's Hoff-ner Park Saturday and Sunday.

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Vexing veto: City Council's vote to override Mayor Charlie Luken's veto of a $150,000 East End Learning Center last week makes Luken 1-for-2 in sustaining his vetoes at City Council - which would seem to bode poorly for Luken's influence over City Council.

What is less obvious is the number of times an ordinance drops quietly off a committee's agenda (or never gets introduced at all) because of the mere threat of a veto.

Such a circumstance happened Monday on an ordinance to spend $92,000 on housing counseling services.

"If council approves this item, I will veto it," Luken wrote in a memo to council members Monday morning. That afternoon, the Finance Committee Chairman John Cranley filed away the item.

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Campaign trail: Publicly, Luken says he's made no decision on whether he will run for mayor again in 2005. Privately, he has been telling supporters and confidants this week, "Don't count me out."

City Hall reporter Gregory Korte can be reached at or 768-8391.

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