Wednesday, June 25, 2003

No tax, Monroe council is told


Residents: Mess not our fault

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

MONROE - An overflow crowd packed into the City Council's meeting here Tuesday, peppering city officials with complaints and questions about years of alleged financial mismanagement that could lead to a tax issue on the fall ballot.

"Folks, you let us down," resident Greg Billingsley told council members. "And we shouldn't be the ones to pay the price."

More than 120 people - twice the capacity of council chambers - were drawn to the meeting by recent revelations that years of alleged budgetary mismanagement have left this booming city's cash reserves depleted by more than $1 million. The city has an estimated deficit of $5 million in its annual operating budget of $10.5 million.

The overflow crowd stood in the lobby and the basement, where people listened on loudspeakers.

Two top city officials, former City Manager Donald Whitman and former Financial Director David Collins, were fired in recent months and some council members and city officials have blamed the two for mismanaging and withholding key budgetary information about the city's dwindling finances.

There have been no accusations that any money was stolen. Whitman said recently that he was unaware of the city's financial problems; Collins has not returned repeated phone calls for comment.

Some residents focused their blame largely against City Council members.

Moreover, some made it clear that neither a proposed income tax increase from 1.0 to 1.5 percent nor a 4.8-mill property tax increase on the November ballot would be viewed favorably in the wake of mishandled finances. Both options have been floated recently by city officials.

"I'm still shocked by your arrogance," said resident Thomas Kidd, "to ask me for more money when you have no control of your money."

Resident Mary Jo Bauer told council, "It's kind of scary to have our taxes raised. I'm disappointed that this has happened, and as it stands right now, I would not vote for a tax increase."

Before the meeting, officials of the council's Finance Committee heard from Financial Director Jay Stewart. "We're extremely lean right now ... and if nothing happens at the polls this fall, we'll have to make cuts," Stewart said.

Councilman Steve Tannreuther apologized to the crowd. "Everyone sitting up here tonight should share in the responsibility for what happened. I failed you, and I take full responsibility," he said.

He added that he and others on council would work diligently to correct the problems.

Council took no vote Tuesday.

City officials have until Aug. 19 to place a tax issue on the November ballot. Council will meet again July 8 to decide which tax issue - if any - will be presented to voters.

E-mail mclark@enquirer.com




TOP STORIES
Area is lucrative for Bush and GOP
Going outside today? Just don't breathe in
UC raises tuition by 10 percent
Lawmakers shelve racetrack slots idea

IN THE TRISTATE
Apartment fire kills visitor
Colerain establishes curfew law
Fair beefs up with new facilities
Ex-UC hoops player Donald Little gets jail
Obituary: Jim Rockwell led surgical laser use
Tristate A.M. Report

ENQUIRER COLUMNISTS
BRONSON: City's law on pit bulls is a toothless Chihuahua
SMITH AMOS: Kaleidoscope of friends biggest lesson of college
HOWARD: Some good news

BUTLER, WARREN, CLERMONT
First on trial in prank gets jail
No tax, Monroe council is told
Board may hire political strategist
Ryland settles second lead suit
Fairfield citizens still can't vote on justice center
Board leader decries opposition
Sycamore assistant hired as Kings school superintendent

OHIO
Chances of school funding appeal dim, analyst says
Ohio Moments

KENTUCKY
Boone County OKs 'bare bones' budget
Feds leave prosecution of Epling to state
Politicians hustling to fill war chests
Hebron student among $20K scholarship winners
Honoring Dr. King to be hearing topic
Wiedemann view lures N. Ky. home show again
Kentucky obituaries