Saturday, July 17, 2004

Seven Hills mayor delivers good news himself - door-to-door

By Thomas J. Sheeran
The Associated Press

SEVEN HILLS, Ohio - The mayor of this Cleveland suburb had good news for residents, and he delivered it in person, driving past all 5,000 homes this week, tossing out candy treats and a notice that tax rates are dropping.

"They love it," Mayor David A. Bentkowski said Friday while using his knee to steer his car along neatly kept streets while he tossed the final 200 fliers on driveways.

The 32-year-old Bentkowski, an attorney and former councilman, became mayor in December and has spent $30,000, most from his campaign fund, to make a total of 20 trips around town, dropping off newsletters and campaign materials.

Bentkowski, a Republican elected on a nonpartisan ballot, said his trips around the city of 14,000 reflect a commitment to communicating with residents.

"It's just public service," said Bentkowski, who shrugged off any suggestion that the door-to-door service might generate political goodwill. "I don't think it's a big deal," said Bentkowski, unshaven and dressed in denim shorts and a Superman jersey. "I think it's obnoxious everyone doesn't do it. My generation is pathetic. They don't get involved."

It took him five days, mostly driving overnight, to deliver the fliers in the mostly residential middle-class city, which is named for the seven hills of ancient Rome.

"I have great news for you - I am going to lower your taxes," the "Dear Resident" flier said in bold letters.

Because a dedicated tax to pay for a $10 million recreation center has collected more money than needed, the rate will be trimmed, saving the average homeowner $30 to $40 per year.

The savings would be on the average $200 recreation center tax and an average overall annual property tax bill of $3,000. Municipal taxes only represent about 8 percent of the average Ohio homeowner's property tax bill, with schools getting the majority.

Elsewhere around Ohio, tax cuts are scarce, and the Ohio Municipal League said 15 to 20 percent of the 945 cities and villages in the state have looked at raising taxes or taking similar measures in recent years.

James A. Haggerty, a former city finance director who lost to Bentkowski in the mayoral election last fall, said the mayor's newsletter was unreliable.

"Those are very biased political stories," said Haggerty, who estimated that the tax savings for the average homeowner would be closer to $20 to $25 per year.

Haggerty said the tax cut was possible because of rising property values, not any action by Bentkowski. Haggerty was quoted in a rival political newsletter also delivered to homes Friday that challenged the mayor's comments as "nonsense" and "scare tactics."

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