The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) says it will fight Hamilton County Commissioners’ proposed plans to raise either sales or property taxes to help pay for renovations to Music Hall and Union Terminal.
County Commissioners are considering a ballot initiative for a .25 percent sales tax increase or a property tax increase amounting to an extra $35 a year on a $100,000 property to fund the more than $300 million in renovations needed at Union Terminal and Music Hall. If the commissioners approve either idea, then voters will get the chance to decide on it in November.
The tax suggestions came from the Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group composed of Cincinnati business leaders looking for ways to preserve the buildings. They’ve indicated they favor a sales tax increase, since it would spread the costs among visitors to the region as well as residents. However, experts also say that sales tax increases can disproportionately affect the low-income.
COAST objects to the sales tax hike for other reasons. It says the city, not the county, owns the buildings and that it is unfair for the city to ask county taxpayers to foot the bill for their renovations.
During a hearing on the proposal June 14, Coast board member Jeff Cappell tied the tax hike to the streetcar, saying money used by the city for that project should have been used to shore up the buildings. He also compared the tax increase to the city’s Reds and Bengals stadium funding debacle, which has saddled the city with debt as cost estimates for the stadiums exceeded expectations.
“If the plan on the table is implemented,” he said, “this could easily become Hamilton County’s third and fourth stadiums.”
COAST supports an alternate idea floated by Commissioner Todd Portune that would raise the money by charging a tax on tickets to events held at the buildings. But supporters of the tax increase say the proposed ticket fees won’t work, as higher prices will lower attendance at events and have a negative impact on the cultural institutions occupying the buildings.
Portune’s opinion could be pivotal. At least two of the three county commissioners must approve the tax plan by Aug. 6 for it to go on the ballot.
Portune proposed the idea in a letter July 1, also indicating that he’s not sold on the idea of a sales tax hike to pay for the renovation projects. Portune said he’s not a flat “no” on the tax hike but that it will be a tough sell for him without some kind of ticket price increase.