Sunday, October 3, 2004

Tax puts voters in driver's seat

Meetings to explain plan for roads

By Cindy Schroeder
Enquirer staff writer

Voters in two Kenton County cities - Taylor Mill and Villa Hills - will decide Nov. 2 whether to impose a special road tax for the repair and replacement of aging city streets.

When: 7 p.m. Monday and Oct. 20
Where: River Ridge Elementary School cafeteria
Leaders in both towns say they could have raised an existing tax, such as one on insurance premiums, without voter approval but opted instead to educate voters on local road problems and let them decide.

"Nobody likes to pay taxes, but I think this is the fairest way to do this,'' said Villa Hills Mayor Mike Sadouskas. "Of all the possible options, this is the least distasteful.''

While officials in the two cities say they don't know of any organized opposition to a proposed road tax, neither is taking its passage for granted.

Villa Hills voters can ask questions about that city's tax issue at the first of two city-sponsored "informational sessions'' Monday at River Ridge Elementary School.

Taylor Mill City Commission will schedule a public hearing on that town's proposed street tax sometime this month, and officials plan to mail information on the road tax to residents.

Villa Hills is proposing a tax of 85 cents per $1,000 assessed property value, which would cost the owner of a house assessed at $200,000 another $170 a year and raise about $430,000 a year.

Although some residents have questioned the 43 percent increase, Sadouskas said city officials don't want to return to voters in a year or two because the tax didn't raise enough to put a dent in Villa Hills' roads needs. Two city engineers have said that it will cost about $700,000 a year during the next 10 years to do the needed street replacement and maintenance work - more than double what the city spends now, Sadouskas said.

Council also has proposed that the street tax come up for review in 10 years.

If voters approve Villa Hills' road tax, officials say they will repeal the city's annual license fee tax of $8.50 per car that generates about $45,000 a year.

Taylor Mill voters will decide whether to approve a tax of $1 per $1,000 assessed property value, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $150,000 another $150 a year. It would raise about $335,000 a year. Even with the tax hike, Taylor Mill would still be short of the $792,000 a year that the city engineer estimates routine street maintenance would cost over 20 years with no major rebuilding, said Taylor Mill Administrator Jill Bailey. The city gets about $100,000 a year from state municipal road aid.

With a road tax, Taylor Mill would draw up a five-year plan for street improvements to ensure that the city's worst streets are addressed, Bailey said.

"A five-year program also would allow us to coordinate street projects with the utility departments,'' Bailey said. "It doesn't make sense to pave a street if a utility's coming in soon to tear it up.''

Taylor Mill has 112 streets. That excludes eight that Kenton County officials recently told the city they would have to take responsibility for because of a 2003 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling requiring cities to maintain roads on land annexed from counties.

"We had talked about this road tax before that issue came up, but that compounded the problem,'' Bailey said.

In each city, proceeds from the street tax would go into a restricted fund that could only be used for repairs, maintenance and reconstruction of city streets. If approved, the tax wouldn't be collected in either city until fall 2005.

Sadouskas said many of Villa Hills' streets need improvements, explaining, "The city is 42 years old and the average life of a concrete street is anywhere from 25 to 35 years.''

Villa Hills' mayor said he isn't sure what will happen if the tax fails.

"The most onerous option is assessments, and I really don't like that idea,'' Sadouskas said.

Bailey said Taylor Mill officials haven't discussed what to do if the tax fails. While optimistic of passage, they acknowledge that any tax issue is difficult to sell.

Bailey said drivers tend not to worry about unseen problems such as drainage. "If they can drive over a street and it looks OK, they figure it's probably in pretty good condition.''


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