I’m one of those bleeding heart types fairly accused of never having seen a tax I didn’t like. Heck, I’m one of about 27 people left in town who will even admit voting for the Stadium Tax. 

But I’ve finally found a tax I can’t support: The Cranley Tax. This proposed increase of city property taxes by 1 mill (about $100/year if you own a $300,000 home) conveniently creates a lush mayoral slush fund, just in time for re-election in 2017.

No doubt the pitch for this new tax will tug our heartstrings: our parks deserve the resources to improve and maintain the green gems that bring neighbors and families together. But this levy throws a curve ball: while it raises about $5.5 million each year, only the mayor, and not the Park Board nor City Council, gets to decide how it will be spent.

Our city charter was designed in 1924 to root out the corrupt “Boss” Cox and his cronies. City Council was given the power to set budgets and decide how public capital funds would be spent. The charter ended a system where public funds were all too often diverted to reward friends and line pockets. The proposed Cranley tax would roll back the clock to the Boss Cox era—putting solely in the hands of one all-powerful politician any decisions about how millions in public funds will be spent.

To entice voter support, the Mayor has rolled out a pork-saturated wish list, identifying $79.5 million in new projects spread around town that will cost an extra $1,260,000 in annual maintenance. With only about $5.5 million in new annual tax revenue generated by a 1 mill levy, this is hardly a sustainable park improvement plan. 

As a punch line, the amendment locks future councils into giving the Park Board at least $2.3 million each year from the City’s capital budget, regardless of other critical city needs or emergencies that may arise in the future.

Of course, many of the new park plans may appeal to constituencies. But in Clifton, where I live, neighbors are nervous about the $10 million earmarked for a Burnet Woods makeover. The Mayor has been quoted as saying that all those Burnet Woods trees are “creepy,” and a restaurant would be better. But my neighbors don’t want fewer trees replaced by commercial uses, cars and pavement. Like Burnet Woods, many other city parks may see more commercialization and pavement if the tax passes.

Typically the Park Board would involve local communities when planning a local park’s redo. But with the Mayor singlehandedly deciding how levy money is spent, it will be easy for him to ignore the community and listen to his political contributors. 

And who is picking up the tab for all this new spending? The number of us who actually pay city real estate taxes keeps shrinking as the city’s profligate tax abatement programs expand. According to a recent report in the Cincinnati Enquirer, “about 5 percent of Cincinnati homeowners—many in the wealthiest neighborhoods—are paying less in taxes because their homes were built or renovated within the last decade.” So folks who moved into a recently built or renovated condo or home in OTR will get a pass while those of us living in older homes in Clifton will pick up their tab. 

Cranley is already bragging about the broad corporate support the tax is attracting. Ads and mailers will appear to smother any organized opposition that emerges. Some of the same corporations that will pay for those ads have been granted generous tax abatements for new developments, like that mega grocery store in Oakley.

So while I will be voting “NO” on the Cranley tax, it’s going to be hard for opponents to out shout the corporate dollars lining up behind it. My only suggestion: if it passes, invest in chainsaw-maker stock. A lot of creepy trees will be coming down in a city park near you.