Committee approves measure to lock in property tax rates for another year

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Cincinnati City Council Finance committee voted to approve a proposal Monday that will keep property taxes at the same rate in 2012.

The vote was 5-4. The mayor can still veto the proposal once council officially votes for it in a regular meeting of council.

The measure proposed was one of three on the table Monday.

The first plan was proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney and included a rate increase to the maximum allowable millage rate limit. It would have provided the city with the more than 29 million dollars the city budgets annually from property tax revenue. It would have also provided millions more in revenue that could have gone towards the next year's projected 25 million dollar deficit.

The second plan was proposed by Mayor Mark Mallory. His plan included a property tax rate that was increased beyond previous years but only by enough to generate the 29 million pulled in by property taxes in previous year.

Incidentally, the tax hikes in the first two plans would have been necessary to make up for declining property values; otherwise the city would not be able to generate the 29 million.

Finally, a third plan was proposed by councilman Chris Bortz which called for keeping the tax rate the same as in the previous year. While the measure would leave the city with less than 29 million due to declining property values, council members ultimately passed the measure out of committee. Supporters say they plan to balance the budget not through increased revenue from property taxes, but by cutting spending and running the government more efficiently.

While the vote did not happen until later in the afternoon, the talk on taxes started early Monday with a Republican lead rally on the steps of City Hall.

"I will not support a property tax increase," Councilwoman Amy Murray said to the crowd that had gathered. "That is not the way to grow our city, it's not the way to keep people in the city of Cincinnati."

"We should be focused on consolidating city agencies and departments, cutting wasteful programs," Councilman Wayne Lippert said. "But unfortunately it's just business as usual around here."

Amongst the group gathered Monday at City hall stood David Dennis; a local business man who owns property downtown.

"I think they're just going to have to live within their means," Dennis said of council's budget woes. "I'm glad to see that, like on the national level, they're going to address this through spending cuts and not tax increases. I feel like taxes on my property are high already."

Councilman Cecil Thomas listened to the speeches, but remained skeptical.

"This is not a time to be taking money out of anybody's pocket, but boy, everybody's got a share," he said.

Inside during the finance committee meeting, members of the public hand a chance to voice their opinions.

"I'm one vote in favor of more taxes," Gavin DeVore Leonard said to council. "I'd like to see the millage raised, I'd like to see these services provided."

Leonard says he is willing to fork over more money if it means city services will be spared.

"It's interesting the number of things people want to get from the city and at the same time the expectation that it's going to be for free," DeVore Leonard said.

When the motion came to approve keeping the millage the same, the debate only heated up.

"Give it back to the tax payers," Councilman Charlie Winburn said. "We have been taxes enough already."

"We need to balance out budget and this takes us in the opposite direction," Quinlivan argued. "Everybody would like to sit up here in the election year and say 'I cut your taxes', but is that really smart? It's our job to run the city."

"It's really disappointing how few of our elected officials these days are willing to stand up for the really tough issues," DeVore Leonard said. "If we just keep cutting, like if nobody will ever say 'alright, we need to raise some revenue', eventually there's going to be no city services whatsoever."

Council must officially vote on the tax rate in a regular council meeting by July 1.

They must then send the decision to the county auditor for implementation.