Thursday, July 10, 2003

Warren Co. may take back tax break

By Jeremy W. Steele
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - Warren County property taxes might be going up soon. But commissioners are far from approving a new tax.

Instead, facing declining revenues, the county commission is leaning toward tapping into 2.57 mills of property taxes it has given back to landowners since 2000.

"I would much prefer to take back these taxes than trying to implement a new tax," Commissioner Pat South said.

The county began rolling back at least part of its "inside millage" - the county's share of property taxes - since 1997, saving property owners $50 million, county Finance Director Tiffany Ferrell-Sauer said.

But the county's tax budget - essentially a wish list by county departments and agencies - stands at $49 million, $5 million more than estimated 2003 spending.

The county auditor estimates the county will have about $42 million available to spend next year.

Even sticking to 2003 spending levels, the county would end up $2 million short without more revenue, South said.

So commissioners are considering keeping 1.5 mills - or about $6.6 million - of property tax revenue they have traditionally given back. All three county commissioners have expressed support.

"The county has financially been in good shape over the past several years to where we've felt (the taxes) should be put back in property owners' pockets until such time it was actually necessary to have it," South said.

And now - with Warren County's core staple of sales tax revenues down - might be that time.

"A flat economy has definitely put a dent in our sales tax," South said.

To help reduce expenses, the county is expected to limit salary increases to cost-of-living standards and to freeze creation of new positions.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the 2004 tax budget at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday in their chambers, 406 Justice Drive. They're also expected to vote on the property tax plan.

A vote on a proposal to increase Warren County's real estate transfer tax from 3 mills to 4 mills also is expected. Commissioners are divided on that plan, which would add $800,000 to $1 million in revenue each year. Commissioner Mike Kilburn supports the plan. South opposes it, leaving Commissioner Larry Crisenbery, who hasn't voiced his opinion, the deciding vote.


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