Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Tax appeal petitions get board review

Butler commissioners say some signatures not valid

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Butler County commissioners questioned the validity of some signatures on sales tax referendum petitions Monday as the County Board of Elections began its task of inspecting them.

        The commissioners said they had heard that some petition circulators had not actually witnessed people signing their petitions, even though Ohio law requires it.

        “I was told that petitions were left at businesses on counters and that nobody was there to witness people signing them,” Commissioner Mike Fox said.

        Terry Bridge, one of the leaders of the petition drive, said he doesn't believe the allegations are true.

        “The commissioners are going to say anything they can to try to get signatures thrown out,” Mr. Bridge said.

        The petition drive is challenging a 10-year sales tax increase approved in December by two of the three county commissioners. The tax increase would raise $129 million for major road improvements and other projects designed to attract businesses.

        The petitions must have 8,842 valid signatures to be placed on the May primary ballot. Those circulating the petitions gathered more than 13,000 signatures.

        The commissioners said they will gather information about the alleged improprieties and send them to the board of elections.

        “It goes to the integrity of the whole system,” Mr. Fox said.

        But Mr. Bridge said the people circulating the petitions said they witnessed the signatures.

        “They're honest, hard-working people,” he said. “You have to trust that they followed the law.”

        Butler County Auditor Kay Rogers said Monday that the committee in charge of the petition drive failed to file a finance report by the deadline set by state law. A report should have been filed last week, but none has been filed so far, Ms. Rogers said.

        Mr. Bridge said he knew nothing about the report.

        Missing the filing deadline for the report won't cause any petitions to be thrown out, said James Lee, spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State.

        Betty McGary, deputy director of the Board of Elections, said the petition inspection process probably won't be finished until next week.


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