Did you know that Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes likes taxes and hates foster children?
OK, that’s not entirely accurate. But it is just the sort of simplistic distortion of the facts and political posturing that Rhodes himself used recently when he announced that he might have to report everyone to the Internal Revenue Service who has used Hamilton County’s luxury suites at the Reds and Bengals stadiums over the years.
Rhodes wrote to county commissioners Aug. 13, stating he wanted them to provide a “complete listing of each and every individual who has been a recipient of a ticket to the county (suites).” For good measure, Rhodes also wanted commissioners to calculate how much tickets to the luxury suites would’ve cost if users had to pay for them, as well as a dollar estimate of how much food and drinks were consumed.
As has become Rhodes’ habit over the years, he released the letter to the media at the same time he sent it to commissioners — meaning officials heard about it from reporters even before they had checked their mail.
“I am very concerned that these tickets and/or food and drink may constitute a taxable event requiring that the Auditor’s Office report them to the Internal Revenue Service,” Rhodes wrote.
Hamilton County built the stadiums for the Reds and Bengals using taxpayer money and leases them to the teams. As part of the deal, the county gets to use a suite in each stadium free of charge. At Great American Ball Park, the suite includes 12 seats in a box located along the third base line. At Paul Brown Stadium, the suite includes 16 seats located on the east side near the 35-yard line.
Lest readers think otherwise, commissioners don’t use the suites to party it up while watching our lackluster hometown teams. While it might make for great imagery, David Pepper isn’t swilling free martinis, Todd Portune doesn’t try to impress female acquaintances by retelling his old high school football tales and Greg Hartmann foregoes inviting his fraternity brothers there to flaunt his connections.
Rather, county officials frequently let service-oriented groups use the suite as a perk, like foster parents and their children, the Veterans Commission, the mayor’s Youth Initiative Program, Sheriff’s Office deputies who provide traffic control, the county’s employee of the year, firefighters and recipients selected by the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities board. Also, they occasionally raffle tickets off to random county residents.
Given the teams’ home schedules, it means 160 people can use the Bengals suite each season and 810 people can use the Reds suite.
Letting residents use the suites is only fair.
After a hard-fought campaign, county voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase in 1996 to build stadiums for the two teams as a gift for their millionaire owners. Since then, one of the politicians instrumental in pushing for the tax — Bob Bedinghaus — has left public office and is employed by the Bengals.
Opened in August 2000, the Bengals stadium cost $458 million to build; the Reds stadium, opened in March 2003, cost $325 million. In both instances, the vast majority came from public financing.
Because sales-tax revenues haven’t grown as quickly as predicted back in the ’90s, county officials might soon have to dip into the general fund to pay for stadium construction debt. That likely would require a cutback in services to county residents, if it occurs. What prudent decision-making by the GOP-controlled commissions of the last decade, all of whom got big campaign contributions from team owners.
“The amount an individual citizen has paid in taxes for the stadium over the past decade is far more than the value of the tickets they win through the drawings,” said one county employee. “To say they’re getting them for ‘free’ is absurd. They paid for them through the years.”
This all began earlier this month when Rhodes suggested county commissioners give the suites back to the teams and “receive something else of value from each team in the process.” He hoped the teams would agree to let the county carry $50 million in insurance instead of $100 million for the facilities, thus cutting costs at a time when some county workers are being laid off and benefits are being reduced.
“I urge you to seek to monetize the asset that is the ‘county suite’ at each stadium,” Rhodes wrote.
Commissioners replied they would investigate the matter but noted the teams have been loath to change the leases in the past. Any money generated by leasing the county suites would revert to the Reds and the Bengals under the current deal.
Rhodes, a Democrat (at least in name only), knows all of this because he’s been the county auditor since 1990, an impressive five terms.
After the gentle rebuff by commissioners, though, Rhodes made his unusual request for the names of all suite users. Whether this was done in a fit of pique is something only Dusty can answer, but we wonder why he didn’t make the request during all the previous seasons the stadiums were open. (Rhodes has said he did, but CityBeat couldn’t find any records to that effect.)
Regardless, once an Enquirer reporter confronted Rhodes about his letter, he seemed to back down. He only meant use of the suites might be taxable, Rhodes told the reporter, not that he planned on submitting the names to the IRS.
If so, then why ask for the names at all? Any reasonable person reading Dusty’s letter would believe he planned on giving the data to tax collectors.
Someone once said, “Any publicity is good publicity.” We think headline-loving politicians need to remember publicity can be a double-edged sword.
CityBeat is happy to report that a recent fundraiser for Milton’s Prospect Hill Tavern was a raging success.
As Porkopolis has noted, the Mount Auburn bar was robbed twice at gunpoint within a week around Memorial Day. In one instance, the robber fired a gun into a countertop to show he meant business.
Customers rallied to help owner Kevin Feldman, who raised more than $4,500 during a June 28 event. Feldman plans on using the cash to make security upgrades soon like indoor video cameras, increased outdoor lighting and fencing to enclose a patio area.
Meanwhile, although police weren’t able to catch the robbers as they fled on foot immediately after the crimes, they eventually tracked them down. As it turns out, two people who live on nearby Sycamore Street were casing the bar.
Who says we don’t like to report good news on occasion?
PORKOPOLIS TIP LINE: 513-665-4700 (ext. 147) or [email protected]