Saturday, August 14, 2004

Tax to pay for landscaping

Charge could be revised in a year

By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer

WEST CHESTER TWP. - A controversial landscaping tax on businesses near the Union Centre Boulevard interchange could be revised in a year, township trustees say.

Trustees approved charging businesses up to $177 an acre with creation of a nearly 1,000-acre Union Centre landscaping and maintenance district this week.

Businesses with no frontage on Union Centre Boulevard or Interstate 75 will pay $63 an acre on Butler County property tax bills starting next year, says Kacey Waggaman, township finance director.

Residences and working farms will be exempt, said Judi Carter, assistant township administrator.

The assessments will generate $125,000 of the $175,000 annual cost for flowers, trees, shrubs, mulch, weed control, litter removal, retention pond care and grass cutting along the roads and in medians in Butler County's fast-growing economic center, Carter said. The township will pay the remaining $50,000, she says.

"I don't think this is the fairest way to do it," says Trustee George Lang, a partner in Jag's Steak & Seafood Restaurant, 5980 West Chester Road, in the new district. "This is a tax increase that people can't vote on."

Lang supported an amendment to the resolution calling for annual public hearings at which revisions to the apportionment formula may be presented. "We can look at modifying this next year," he said.

The township has been struggling for nearly two years with the beautification assessments for the area on both sides of I-75 bounded by West Chester Road, Beckett Drive, Allen Road and Cincinnati-Dayton Road.

Residents and business owners complained at a hearing in December 2002, when proposed fees ranged from $192 to $30,000. At that time, farms were not exempt.

Under the revised two-tier formula adopted Tuesday, taxes will vary from $54 to $14,311. For the last six years, the township and Schumacher-Dugan Construction Co., the major Union Centre developer, have paid for the landscaping and upkeep, Carter said.

"Everyone else has been getting a free ride for six years," said Trustee Catherine Stoker.

Charles Chappell, a founding member of the West Chester 75 investment group that pushed for the I-75 interchange, called the formula unfair. He will pay about $11,000 for undeveloped Union Centre Boulevard parcels a mile west of the interstate.

"It's vacant land. How can this be fair?" Chappell said.

George Flynn, general manager of Northridge Realty Group, praised the trustees for being open to changing the formula next year. His company will pay about $4,000 in additional taxes.

"No matter what we do, someone won't be happy," Waggaman said. "This way will give us more time to talk to people and figure out a better way to allocate costs to the property owners."


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