Monday, July 19, 2004

Amberley looks to stem leak

Budget balancing may require property tax increase

By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer

AMBERLEY VILLAGE - For the past few years, the village has been using its ample reserve fund to erase budget deficits.

Amberley officials expect to do it again to balance this year's budget. At year's end, the net deficit could be as high or higher than last year's net deficit of $363,000, said Village Administrator Bernie Boraten.

The village is in no immediate financial danger. But Amberley officials know they can't rely indefinitely on the reserves, which have $4.6 million in uncommitted money.

Amberley is looking at raising property taxes in two or three years.

"It may not be popular, but raising property taxes may be the best option for us," Mayor Charles Kamine said.

Council's finance committee will be discussing a property tax increase at 6 p.m. today at Village Hall, 7149 Ridge Road.

"Our budget deficit is growing larger every year," said Councilman Mel Schear, finance committee chairman. "We're going to have to raise our real estate taxes because we have no other sources of new income."

Amberley, known for its pastoral ambiance and large houses, has relied heavily on its reserve fund since the former Gibson Greeting Card plant closed about three years ago. At its peak, Gibson pumped about $1.5 million a year in tax revenue into the village. Amberley's general fund budget for this year is about $4 million.

Saturday Knight Ltd., a bathroom products design and manufacturing company, moved into the building about 18 months ago. But it generates only about a quarter of the tax revenue Gibson did.

Cutbacks in state funds also have hurt Amberley.

Vice Mayor Mark Muething said Amberley's reserve could cushion the village for five or six years.

"With the size of deficit we're running now," he said, "we don't necessarily need to solve this problem in the next year or two."

But village officials don't want to wait until the reserve runs out.

"We have to take action at some point," Schear said. "It's such a long time between the time you enact a tax increase and the time it's implemented that we have to start talking about it now."

He said the residential development that had been proposed earlier this year for the former Crest Hills Country Club property could have postponed the need for a property tax increase.

The majority of council voted to keep the 133-acre tract at Ridge and Galbraith roads zoned for a park. The property owner, the Ridge Club, filed a lawsuit challenging Amberley's zoning decision.

Schear said the residential development, which he supported, could have generated $450,000 a year in property and earnings tax revenue.

But Kamine said Schear's revenue estimate for the project doesn't take into account the additional costs of providing village services to the new subdivision. He also said the earnings tax revenue from the subdivision would not have been as high as Schear estimated because the development was designed to attract retirees.

Kamine said the subdivision probably would have generated about $150,000 a year in revenue. He said that amount was too small to justify turning park land into a subdivision.

Carol Ullner, who opposes developing the Crest Hills property, said she's willing to pay more taxes to preserve the village's quality of life.

"I don't want my taxes to go up, but if that's the only way I can keep a good residential community, then yes, I'm for it," she said.



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