By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CRESCENT SPRINGS - Without the tax revenue generated by a proposed retail and office development, a tax increase in this small Kenton County suburb is "inevitable," says a city councilman.
Councilman Nick Berry said the estimated $1.7 million in annual tax revenue the planned Buttermilk Station retail, restaurant and office development would pay to the city "would more or less save us from having to increase taxes."
"Like a lot of communities, in the state of Kentucky and all over the country, our expenses are increasing," Berry said Friday. "And we have a need for infrastructure improvements and a limited tax base. If this project does not come to fruition, and with the amount of roads in the city that need to be improved, raising taxes becomes inevitable."
But Mayor Claire Moriconi said Berry's comments about potential tax hikes are premature because the approval process for the project has only just started, and any tax increases would have to be put before voters.
"We need a lot more input from the developers, the residents, council and (the Kenton County and Municipal Planning and Zoning Commission) before we start talking about tax dollars," Moriconi said Friday. "It's premature to even think about any kind of tax increase right now."
Berry made clear he has not decided whether he will support the plan by Cincinnati-based developer Bear Creek Capital to build a $55 million, 350,000-square-foot development on 50 acres off Anderson Road near Interstate 75. The project would include an outdoor lifestyle mall similar in concept to Rookwood Commons in Norwood, up to eight restaurant locations and an office building.
But Berry said he does want to point out the reality of the city's financial situation and how such a large-scale project could potentially double the size of Crescent Springs' annual budget of about $1.6 million.
"In theory the project looks good," Berry said. "At this point we don't have a lot of details."
Yet at some point the city will have to find a new source of revenue or consider putting a tax increase on the ballot, he said.
Bear Creek principal Matthew C. Daniels revealed preliminary plans for the project last week during a Crescent Springs City Council caucus meeting.
Developers are scheduled to attend Monday night's regular council meeting at 7 p.m. at the city building, 739 Buttermilk Pike.
No votes on the project are expected. Bear Creek has said it will make a formal application to county planners within two months. After planners review and make a recommendation on the project, city council will have its say.
Councilman Scott Santangelo said he shares Berry's concerns about finances but does not agree with the "inevitability" of a proposed tax increase. Any call to increase taxes would be controversial, he said.
"There is a great desire to engage a street renovation program," Santangelo said Friday. "But given the current economy and budget constraints, that is something we cannot solve overnight."
Moriconi said council had a number of discussions this summer, including two meetings with residents, about the potential of a tax increase.
"After getting that input, council decided not to propose a tax increase at this time," she said.
"The economy is down, and it's not time to put a tax increase on the ballot."
But councilman Dale Ramsey said with needed street repairs he agrees that a tax increase should be considered.
"This shopping center would greatly enhance city revenues for these and other needs in the city," he wrote in an e-mail response to questions about the project.
Based on preliminary information, Moriconi and Santangelo said they are impressed with the project and the developers.
"In general I think the project would be a great thing for the city," Santangelo said.
"From the presentation Bear Creek made to council this would be a very upscale and first-class development."
But council members have expressed concern about traffic, particularly on nearby Buttermilk Pike, which is already known for backups.
Santangelo said the developers appear to have enough access points into the project from other major roads that circle the project, including Anderson and Beechwood Roads, to help traffic flow.
Moriconi said the city would also push the state and county to make improvements to the intersection of Buttermilk and Anderson Roads, possibly with the addition of a new turn lane.
The developers are paying for a traffic study that will be completed before council votes on the project.
There is also concern for residents who will be displaced by the project, particularly the approximately 130 people who live in the Crest Mobile Home Park. The owner of the park is negotiating with the developer to sell the property. Residents only rent space in the park and would have to move if the land is sold.
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