Wednesday, August 4, 2004

'No!' Norwood majority roars about 14-mill levy

Fiscal emergency may be called after 2,776-509 defeat

By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer

Presiding precinct judge Linda Mastin puts a voter's card in the ballot box Tuesday at the Zion United Church of Christ in Norwood as a city tax increase was voted down 2,776 to 509.
Photo by ERNEST COLEMAN/The Enquirer
NORWOOD - Voters gave Norwood's 14-mill levy proposal a gigantic thumbs-down Tuesday, with 2,776 voting against and 509 for the tax increase.

The five-year levy would have generated $5.2 million a year to maintain current city services and operations and to rescue the city from its expected $2.6 million year-end deficit.

"The message is deafening," Mayor Tom Williams said. "But it wasn't unexpected." He said it would be futile for City Council to place another levy on the November ballot.

The levy defeat increases the likelihood that within the next few months, the state will declare Norwood, Hamilton County's second largest city, to be in a state of fiscal emergency.

Under that scenario, a commission of officials from Norwood and the Ohio Auditor's Office would be formed to devise a two-year plan to erase its deficit. The plan would have to be approved by City Council and then by a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge.

Norwood, a city of 21,650, would be under court order to abide by the plan, which could include employee layoffs, outsourcing of services and a new tax levy.

"Now is not the time to panic," Williams said. "We'll make it work. We'll give them our best effort with what we've got."

City officials blame the current financial crisis on years of overspending by previous administrations.

The levy's size caused many residents to vote against it. If it had passed, the owner of a $100,000 house would have paid $412 a year more in property taxes.

"I can't afford to pay any higher taxes," said Diana Hatfield after voting against the levy at the Zion United Church of Christ.

"It would raise my property taxes by close to $300," said Hatfield, a 51-year-old lifelong Norwood resident. "My house insurance just went up by $190 this year. You have to stop it somewhere."

"I think it's too much," said Sandra Kelley, after casting a no vote at the New Commandment Christian Church.

Kelley, 39, and her husband, Cameron, and their daughter moved to Norwood from West Chester Township in Butler County three months ago. She said the levy would make their property taxes on their $120,000 home in Norwood almost as high as their taxes had been on their $200,000 house in West Chester.

Off-duty Norwood firefighter Joe Jones was passing out "Vote Yes" fliers outside the polling place at the Zion United Church of Christ.

Jones, 35, said he's worried about his job, but he's also concerned about what a levy defeat would do to services in Norwood, where he has lived since he was 5 years old.

"If you're going to have a first-class type of city," he said, "you're going to have to pay a little extra."


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