Wednesday, June 28, 2000

City could lower property-tax rate

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati property taxes will not be going up next year.

        The question for City Council today is how far the rate might go down.

        Proposals on the table range from maintaining the current millage rate to a slow elimination of the city's portion of property taxes.

        Even the city manager, who has resisted attempts to lower the city's property tax rate, is now saying he is willing to maintain the same rate for the next six years.

        John Shirey told the council's finance committee Tuesday that he will not ask to hike the millage rate from 5.54 to 6.10, as he previously recommended.

        “The savings for an individual homeowner will range from approximately $15 to $25 a year, assuming housing values between $75,000 and $125,000,” he said.

        City budgets show property tax revenues for the city are about $30 million a year. The change to 5.54 mills will reduce revenues about $19 million over six years, he said.

        He has also offered to cap city spending, promising the city's $650 million budget will grow no more than 75 percent of inflation rates in the next six years.

        Mr. Shirey's new position comes at the same time several council members have been pushing tax reduction policies and spending cuts.

        And some council members said Tuesday that maintaining a 5.54 rate doesn't go far enough.

        “It actually raises taxes,” said Councilman Phil Heimlich, explaining that if the current rate is not changed, property taxes will still go up based on property reassessments.

        Councilman Pat DeWine agreed, saying that in order to “keep faith” with residents, the rate needs to be lowered.

        “Taxes are higher in the city of Cincinnati than they are almost anywhere in the region,” he said.

        Both Mr. DeWine and Mr. Heimlich are supporting a motion that would lower the rate to 4.44 mills next year and to 3.34 mills in 2002, with the intention of getting rid of the city's portion of property taxes within five years.

        They are also proposing to cap city spending, limiting increases to no more than 1.5 percenta year. In the past five years, they say, city spending has increased by 5 percenta year, compared with an annual inflation rate of 2.15 percent.

        Council's vote today does not set the final tax rate, which will be decided in December as part of the annual budget. However, an estimate of revenues and expenditures must be reported to the Hamilton County Budget Commission before July 20.

        While not set in stone, the proposed rate will help the council craft other budget policies, including capital projects.

        Several council members have also submitted spending plans, some stressing neighborhoods.


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