Hamilton County property tax rates to increase after vote from commissioners

Vote was 2-1 to reduce rollback

CINCINNATI - Hamilton County property owners will have to dig a little deeper into their wallets to pay their taxes.

That's because Commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday to cut the property tax rollback in half to pay for debt service and operations at Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.

The property tax rollback was part of the package Hamilton County voters approved in 1996 to provide funds to build both ball parks. It raised the sales tax from 6.0 to 6.5 percent.

However, tax collections haven't kept pace with expenses and the stadium sales tax fund has often been in a deficit situation.

Commissioners chose that option over increasing the sales tax from 6.5 to 6.75 percent.

It will cost home owners to pay an additional $35 in property taxes for every $100,000 of their home's value. The move will generate about $10 million a year over the next two years to reduce the stadium sales tax fund's deficit.

Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel, both Republicans, voted "yes," while Democrat Todd Portune cast the lone dissenting vote.

Portune championed the sales tax increase, claiming $33 million in annual revenue generated will mean long-term solvency for the fund. Portune said the property tax rollback only buys commissioners one more year.

"We have two choices," he said. "One of which solves the problem for good and one of which kicks the can down the road for another year. One of which equitably spreads the burden among everybody who benefits and one of which imposes the burden solely on a small group of county taxpayers and county taxpayers alone."

Portune also proposed setting a 10-year limit on the tax, with regular reviews starting in the fifth year to make sure the proper amount of money is being collected.

Commission President Greg Hartmann said he couldn't support that plan.

"It's a bridge too far for me," he said. "It's too large of a tax increase. It's $33 million. It's not a targeted approach toward solving the problem."

While he appreciates the concept of a sunset clause, Hartmann doesn't trust future commissioners to let the tax expire. Instead, he called the property tax rollback the better of two evils.

"The property tax rollback is flexible and scaleable, meaning that the board can decide on what is actually needed in any given year," he said. "A property tax rollback reduction is cleaner, immediate and certain. It does not require for the elimination of levies or other actions which are required."

Commissioner Chris Monzel said he's been put between a rock and a hard place by the issue. In the past he promised not to raise taxes and keep the property tax reduction.

"I was put in the position that was diametrically opposed to each other," he said. "There was just no way I was going to walk out of here winning."

Monzel was conflicted by the vote.

"What I tried to do was logically and analytically look at what was going to be the less burden in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, they both involve things that I agree with, but my concept of the core principles is limited government, including government and lower taxes."

Mozel said a major concern about the sales tax revenue was that it might generate new requests for The Banks, Bengals and Reds.

"I don't think the Bengals will wait a second until they come down here at our doorstep and say I want that $18 million scoreboard because I know you have $33 million now," he said. "But right now, we know that they can't afford it and they've honestly been working with us and trying to get us through these hard times because they know we don't have the money."

All three commissioners want both the Bengals and Reds to contribute more toward debt service and operations. Calls by 9 News to both clubs for comment weren't returned Wednesday.

Before Wednesday's vote, numerous citizens voiced mixed opinions on both tax plans.

Amos Robinson asked commissioners to exert bold, powerful leadership.

"Increase taxes. Let's have a tax increase. Let's have a property rollback," he said. "Let everybody suffer. Let's get this over with."

That sentiment was not echoed by Kenwood resident Daryl Black.

"I oppose both of these taxes -- both property and sales tax," he stated. "We cannot afford any more taxes. We're already not competitive with other counties. We're already the highest tax rate around."

Rob Streicher, incoming president of the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors, came out strongly against the property tax rollback. The realtors favored the sales tax hike.

"Please, don't kick the can down the road," he said. "Consider doing the right thing. Solve the problem once and for all and be able to use this money wisely."

People in the audience chuckled when Blue Ash resident Jeff Capel compared Bengals owner Mike Brown to "Scrooge" in the Charles Dickens work "A Christmas Carol."

"Hamilton County residents do all the giving and the Bengals, Reds and Cincinnati Public Schools do all the taking," he said. "To them, that's a balanced plan."

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