Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Norwood seeks 14-mill levy

Council wants proposal on Aug. 3 ballot

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Calling it a desperate, last-resort measure, City Council decided Tuesday night to ask voters to dig into their wallets to bail Norwood out of its $3.5 million deficit.

Council voted unanimously to place a proposed 14-mill levy increase on the Aug. 3 special-election ballot.

"There are other alternatives, but they aren't good ones," said Jane Grote, council president. "This is the only way we'll have a balanced budget over the next five years."

Before the vote, council members debated levy amounts from 12 mills to 15 mills.

Councilwoman Cassandra Brown was among those who said 15 mills was too high.

But Councilman Keith Moore and others said 12 mills was too low.

"We need at least 14 mills," Moore said. "With a 12-mill levy, we'll still have to find another $12 million over the next five years."

The 14-mill levy increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $435 per year more in taxes.

After the Hamilton County Auditor's Office certifies the levy proposal, council would have to approve it again in a special meeting next Tuesday.

If voters reject the levy in August, council could place another levy on the November ballot.

The Ohio Auditor's Office also could declare the city to be in a state of fiscal emergency and take over the city's financial operations.

Some residents who believe council should look at alternatives besides raising taxes already are preparing to try to defeat the levy.

Council acknowledged that the 14-mill levy will be difficult to pass.

"We need to be specific about where the money from the levy will go," Councilman Michael Fulmer said.

Between now and the August election, city officials need to continue to look for ways to reduce expenses and to increase revenue, Councilman John Mumper said.

Before council's decision Tuesday to place a proposed levy increase on the ballot, city officials had spent weeks studying various options and holding public meetings to discuss the city's finances.

City officials blame the current budget woes on the overspending of previous councils and the unexpected delays in the construction of large commercial development projects.

Last month, council renegotiated its outstanding bond obligations to postpone $1 million in payments this year. City officials describe that as strictly a stopgap measure.

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