Monday, June 23, 2003

Monroe expecting crowd for meeting

Tax increase is solution proposed to repair finances

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MONROE - What one councilman calls the biggest budget mess in the city's history is expected to help draw one of the biggest crowds ever for a city council meeting.

Two proposals to increase taxes on city residents are on council's agenda Tuesday. It will be the first public meeting since disclosure this month that the city's budget has been mismanaged for years, depleting cash reserves by more than $1 million and leaving an estimated fund deficit of $5 million in the city's annual operating budget of $10.5 million.

"This is the most important public meeting in the city's history because this is the worst financial shape we've ever been in," said Monroe City Councilman Robert Youtsler, the most public critic of city officials' handling of the budget crisis.

"I implore everyone in the city to come out to the meeting."

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Monroe City Hall on Main Street. Council members want to gauge public input as to which form of tax to put on the fall ballot.

Council is considering putting a 5-mill property tax increase on the November ballot that would cost the owner of a $150,000 home an estimated $227 more a year.

Council also is considering increasing an income tax from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent.

William Brock, acting city manager who replaced Donald Whitman, who was fired earlier this year, described the meeting as "important in letting the public give some input to us.

"We need some feedback on what kind of tax issue they think they want to support," said Brock.

Among those planning to attend is Thomas Kidd, who is spearheading a drive to put a charter amendment on the city's fall ballot to reinstate an income tax credit council eliminated in December as an early measure to shore up the city's finances.

Kidd blasted city officials for "a lot of finger-pointing" after the resignations of Whitman and former Monroe financial director David Collins.

"City council and city officials need to be held accountable, and I'm going to make sure council members know how serious the citizens of Monroe are about having good government. City officials haven't managed, much less knew how much money they have," said Kidd.

Whitman released his most detailed statement Friday and reiterated his contention that he holds Collins primarily responsible for the mismanagement.

Monroe's city charter, however, states "the city manager shall prepare and submit the annual budget ... to city council."

Collins has not responded to repeated messages.

Whitman further wrote that "I relied on the mayor and vice mayor through their review of Mr. Collins' performance, to ensure that Mr. Collins' work was competent, accurate and thorough."

Whitman said that for most of his stint as city manager, the charter required Collins to report directly to the mayor, who until the end of 2001 was Elbert Tannreuther Jr., and city council. Councilman Mike Morris was elected by council into the mayor's position in January 2002.

Tannreuther, who retired from the city after 15 years as mayor, said that "just because the financial director reported to us he still worked for the city manager ... and the city manager runs the city."

But Tannreuther said there is enough blame to go around among all city officials, elected and non-elected.

"Everybody was remiss in not catching this," he said.

A new audit of the city's finances is being prepared and a report is expected next month.

Council members also are considering pre-empting the charter amendment effort and restoring the income tax credit. City officials have until Aug. 19 to place a tax issue on the November ballot.



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