Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Monroe officials urge 2nd tax vote

Deficit could exceed $1M

By David Eck
Enquirer contributor

MONROE - Three weeks after voters rejected a half-percent income tax increase and swept the mayor and two others off council, administrators of this financially-strapped city urged council members and council members-elect on Tuesday to try another tax issue again sometime in 2004.

Though the city is now financially stable by cutting spending and delaying capital improvements, additional revenue will be needed as projects become more urgent and previous city commitments come due, officials said.

Monroe's deficit could exceed $1 million next year as it digs out from budgetary problems blamed largely on two city officials who resigned under pressure.

"We can make due for a period of time," said Jay Stewart, development director and acting finance director. "It's just going to get tougher. From a staff perspective ... we think that new revenue must be found."

The city, for example, will have to help fund a widening of Ohio 63 in the coming years, Stewart said.

Monroe collects a 1 percent income tax. A proposal to raise that to 1.5 percent was shot down 55 percent to 45 percent in the November election.

Council could place a tax issue on a ballot in March or November, or it could pay for a special election, officials said.

No decision was made Tuesday.

"A high-growth city is going to need more than 1 percent," Stewart told officials. "We need more revenue at some point. I don't care when you do it next year."

If voters don't approve a tax increase next year, the city may have to postpone even more capital improvement projects and slash services, Stewart said.

After wrestling with a budget crises for the much of the year, city officials in October outlined dozens of new procedures for handling the city's money.

The procedures came in response to a draft state audit that found flaws in nearly every way money has been accounted for and spent in recent years.

Poor internal controls and accounting practices and uncontrolled cash spending in 2002 led to a $3.1 million fund deficit, $660,000 cash deficit and check overdrafts, the audit showed.


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