Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Tax cut issue ballot-bound

Rollback would phase out levy

By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer

A cadre of anti-tax Cincinnati Republicans spent the weekend collecting the final signatures needed to put a property tax rollback plan on the Nov. 2. ballot.

With more than the required 6,771 signatures in hand, the committee calling itself "Support Homeownership" plans to file the petitions with the Clerk of Council's office Wednesday.

The group's plan would phase out the city's 5-mill property tax by 10 percent a year over 10 years. The owner of a $100,000 house now pays about $150 a year in city property taxes.

"Is that going to bring swarms of people into the city? No, but it's a piece of the reform," said John Kruse of Hyde Park. "Until you take a piece of funding away from the city, they will spend it."

That funding amounts to about $31 million a year. It's just less than 10 percent of the city's operating revenue - but an increasingly important element as earnings taxes have slumped.

In effect, the charter amendment would continue a policy initiated by former Councilman Phil Heimlich to roll back the tax rate each year. Some Democrats and Charterites have tried to block that rollback.

They claim the city can't afford the cuts in city services.

Once on the ballot, the charter amendment could face a low-key campaign overshadowed by the presidential election and another city charter amendment that would allow City Council to pass a gay rights ordinance.

Also on the ballot will be several tax levies - for Drake Hospital, the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, and Cincinnati Public Schools.

"I don't think we're going to raise a whole lot of money, just because I don't think we need to," said Kruse, who has led several similar efforts over the past decade. Kruse is joined by Heimlich, state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr. of Mount Lookout and Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine.

"The ballot language will basically read, 'Do you want to reduce your property taxes?' It will sell itself," Kruse said.

But there is likely to be opposition. Democratic Councilman David Crowley has called the plan irresponsible. And those who most rely on a healthy city budget - including city unions and some downtown interests - are likely to campaign against it.

"I would imagine that's something we wouldn't be favorably disposed towards, but we haven't had a chance to sit down and hash out a position among ourselves," said Robert Turner, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Ohio Council 8. The city's largest union recently rejected a city contract proposal that would give workers about 9 percent in raises over three years.


E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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