Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Radio levy backer attacks 'extremists'




BY ANNE MICHAUD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Proponents of a tax increase for emergency communications accused the other side of politicizing the issue Tuesday and playing with citizens' safety.

        “Extremists will use their anti-tax message to ensure a desperately needed system never gets built,” said Tom Driggers, fire chief for Fairfax and Madison Place and a spokesman for the tax.

        The current system is so outdated, he said, it is dangerous.

        At issue is a four-year tax on the May 4 ballot that would cost the owner of a $100,000 house in Hamilton County $31 a year. Voters have defeated the $63.7 million overhaul twice since 1994.

        The tax would be the 11th special-purpose levy in the county, which has led to an 84 percent increase in the county's share of property taxes in 15 years.

        Opposition leader Tom Brinkman Jr. said in a report published Tuesday that county leaders should be forced to pay for such basic services out of their budget, which started this year with a $43 million surplus. Instead, he said, county commissioners push “teary-eyed needs” as new taxes.

        “Commissioners are the ones politicizing the basic issues of public safety. They're putting it on the ballot instead of taking care of it like they should,” Mr. Brinkman said.

        Mr. Brinkman, a leader of COAST (the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes), said County Commissioner John Dowlin and his aide, Rob Fredericks, have been calling his friends to pressure him into silence. Mr. Dowlin said he simply wants to meet with Mr. Brinkman to discuss the issue.

        The tax would pay to replace emergency radio equipment used by police, fire and life squads in the county. Radios now are overloaded and blocked nearly two-thirds of the time, causing delays, communications officials say. Also, neighboring communities have incompatible systems that cannot talk to one another.

        Chief Driggers said the tax has won the support of officials in 11 townships and municipalities, as well as the Hamilton County Fire Chiefs Association, the Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police and the Hamilton County Municipal League.

        Mr. Brinkman said these groups have endorsed the radio system before, and it lost: “I'm speaking for the people who twice defeated this thing.”

       



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