Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Group proposes axing city tax

Cincinnati property tax would be phased out

By Gregory Korte and Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writers

Cincinnati voters could get the chance to cut their property tax bills, under a proposal from a group of anti-tax Republicans.

Their proposed charter amendment would phase out the city's 5-mill general fund property tax over 10 yearsSuch a cut would eventually save the owner of a $100,000 home about $140 a year.

The plan would also eventually cut $28.3 million from an annual general fund of about $412 million a year.

Organizer John Kruse, who has led two previous ballot campaigns to cut city spending, said there are two reasons for the proposal: City Council taxes excessively and spends recklessly.

"If you believe those two things, you're for this," Kruse said.

"They're going to spend everything that they get, until they can't," he said. "Maybe this will force them to incorporate things that they've refused to do in the past, like managed competition and competitive bidding."

Kruse's plan would keep the property tax used to pay back bonds, but phase out property taxes in the general fund. "It's the responsible way to do it, so it's slow and methodical and predictable," Kruse said.

There are two ways the rollback issue could reach the Nov. 2 ballot.

The first, organized by Kruse, would require 6,771 signatures on a petition by the end of August.

Kruse is joined by a core group of well-known anti-tax activists - Chris Finney, Mark Miller and state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout - all of whom have a demonstrated record of grassroots campaigning.

The second - albeit less likely - avenue would take the vote of seven of the nine members of Cincinnati City Council. When the issue came up for a vote last year, there were only five votes to roll back the millage from 5.27 mills to 5 mills.

Councilmen Pat DeWine and Sam Malone on Monday proposed a similar plan to cut the rate by 0.5 mills a year for the next 10 years.

"We all saw the population numbers last week and they were staggering," DeWine said, referring to census numbers showing Cincinnati lost population faster than any other major city in America.

"One reason people are leaving is taxes are higher here than in other places. The only way to stop council from spending money is to stop the money from coming in here. Council hasn't shown much inclination to restrain its spending appetites," DeWine said.

DeWine's plan is less ambitious than his own campaign promise, which would have phased out the property tax over five years. Still, some Democrats complain that the proposal would give City Council less flexibility.

Among them is Finance Committee Chairman John Cranley, who has supported tax rollbacks in the past.

"I support the rollback right now, and I'm open to this, but they hit us with this out of nowhere," he said. "There are two different issues here. If you put it in the charter, we can't do anything about it, even in the case of an emergency."

Cranley delayed a vote on the DeWine-Malone measure until City Council's mid-recess meeting in August.

Democrat David Crowley said the proposal was irresponsible.

"If you're a person who thinks that any and all government spending is evil, that's the position you would take," he said. "I don't take that position."

Kruse, a former city council candidate, succeeded in 2002 with an initiative that eliminated public financing of council elections. He failed with a 1994 referendum to reduce council salaries.


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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