Thursday, May 20, 2004

Foes of Norwood levy organize 'no' campaign

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Opponents of a proposed 14-mill Norwood tax levy are wasting no time preparing for an organized fight against the tax.

One night after City Council approved placing the levy on the August ballot, several levy foes met to talk about strategies for defeating it.

"A bunch of us decided we're against it, so we're working together," said Lynn Ellis, a lifelong Norwood resident. "People are just getting tired of the tax-and-spend mentality. They're going to tax us out of our own houses."

To erase a $3.5 million deficit and to prevent the city's financial operations from being taken over by the state, City Council voted unanimously on May 11 to place the 14-mill, five-year levy on the Aug. 3 ballot.

The levy would generate $5.2 million a year. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $418 more a year in taxes.

In response to the financial crisis, the city has made cutbacks in the past year. But levy opponents say they need to do a lot more before reaching into taxpayers' wallets.

They believe Norwood could save a lot of money by contracting for health services, and renegotiating city employee contracts to reduce salary increases and to require employees to pay some of their health benefit costs.

Alliea Phipps, one of the levy opponents, said a contractor might be able to provide health services more economically than the city's health department.

"I'm not saying people don't need those services," she said. "I'm just saying there could be more cost-effective ways of doing things."

Mayor Tom Williams said levy foes raise some valid questions. But he said a lot of the cost-cutting measures they want council to impose can't be undertaken because of legally binding contracts.

Williams said it's significant that in a city known for its political skirmishes, both Democrats and Republicans agree that the levy is necessary.

"It's a last resort," he said. "Nobody wants to ask for a tax increase."

A 3-year-old group called Citizens for a Better Norwood hasn't officially decided whether to oppose the levy.

Carmen McKeehan, the group's co-chairman, said members are leaning toward a no vote, but want more information.

"Until I see a detailed plan of how they plan to use the levy money and how they plan to get us out of debt, I'm reluctant to give the city more money," she said.

Susan Knox, secretary for Citizens of a Better Norwood, said city officials rushed to get the levy on the ballot and didn't analyze the finances thoroughly enough.

But Williams said the city "is looking at every option there is."


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