Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Issue 4 would phase out city's property tax over 10-year span
By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
It's not every Election Day that voters get to vote on an issue that will reduce their property taxes.
But that's what Cincinnati voters will see Nov. 2 in Issue 4, which would reduce and eliminate the city's 5-mill property tax over 10 years.
Republican activists have forced a vote on the measure by collecting more than 6,771 signatures on a petition to place the charter amendment on the ballot. They say reducing the property tax - which now costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $150 a year - would help encourage home ownership and stem the city's exodus of people to the suburbs.
But Monday, a coalition of city unions, three city council members, two state lawmakers and the head of the Charter Committee launched their campaign to urge voters to reject Issue 4. The campaign is co-chaired by state Reps. Steve Driehaus, D-West Price Hill, and Catherine Barrett, D-College Hill.
A yes vote would cost the city more than $30 million a year by 2014, and could result in cuts of already strained police, fire and public services budgets. Already, the city has canceled police recruit classes, reduced staffing at firehouses and won't pay overtime to plow residential streets this winter.
"The city is on the verge of economic disaster, and the last thing we should be doing is adding to that by cutting essential city services," said Keith Fangman, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Queen City Lodge No. 69. "This is not a scare tactic. This is real life, affecting real people."
The Support Home Ownership Committee, chaired by state Rep. Tom Brinkman Jr., R-Mount Lookout, said the only way to rein in out-of-control city spending is to cut off the money at the source. Cincinnati consistently ranks above peer cities in the amount of spending per capita.
Issue 4, if adopted, would reduce the city's property tax levy by 10 percent a year over 10 years.
Opponents point out that most of the tax relief won't go to homeowners. Less than 38 percent of the property taxes paid in Cincinnati come from homeowners, according to an analysis of tax data from the Hamilton County Auditor's Office.
But supporters say anything that helps promote a better business climate is better for the long-term financial health of the city.
"I don't have a problem if the dry cleaners or the deli or the bowling alley or the shoe repair guy gets a tax break," Brinkman said.
What Issue 4 says
An amendment to the charter of the city of Cincinnati to phase out and repeal the tax on real and personal property in the city.
Be it resolved by the people of Cincinnati that Section 3 of Article VII of the charter is hereby repealed and replaced with the following text:
Section 3. Consistent with the provisions of this Article, the council may annually levy a tax for current operating expenses on the real and personal property in the city for the purposes of the City of Cincinnati, its boards, departments and institutions. Beginning with the 2005 tax year, the maximum allowable rate of such tax shall not exceed four and five-tenths (4.50) mills on the dollar of assessed valuation. Thereafter, the maximum allowable rate of such tax shall be reduced by five-tenths (.50) mills per year, until the property tax has been reduced to zero (0) in the 2014 tax year.
Shall the existing Article VIII, Section 3 be repealed in its entirety, and replaced with the above text?