Hamilton County sales tax might increase

Would pay debt service on Reds/Bengals stadiums

CINCINNATI - Tim Jones was searching for Cincinnati Reds gear at Koch's Sporting Goods, downtown, Wednesday when he heard that Hamilton County's sales tax might go up.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune suggested raising it from 6.5 to 6.75 percent to erase deficits in the fund paying debt service on Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park.

"I think it's a bad idea," Jones said. "If you go to Kentucky or Butler County and the tax is cheaper, you're going to go where you can get the best deal."

Portune said his proposal is a last resort to give the fund the long-term stability it lacks. The projected deficit for 2013 is $7 million and $18 million for 2014. The tax hike would generate $30 million a year.

The increase would add 25 cents to the purchase of $100 worth of taxable goods. The sales tax on a $20,000 car would go from $1,300 to $1,350.

"We've tried everything," he said. "All the easy answers have been exhausted.  All the hard answers have been exhausted. We're now at the point where there are just no good solutions other than coming up with some new revenue source."

Commission President Greg Hartmann said he would study the Portune proposal, but favors reducing the property tax rollback voters approved in 1996 to pay for stadium construction.

"In that stadium fund model right now, $18 million a year goes to the property tax rebate," he said. "We could reduce that a little big and fix this fund combined with help from the teams. That's my first preference, but I'm going to take a look at the sales tax."

Bob Bedinghaus, Director of Business Development for the Cincinnati Bengals, said the team wasn't able to comment right now because there isn't enough information available on the proposal.

Cincinnati Reds Senior Vice-President of Business Operations Karen Forgus wrote in an email, "The Reds are unable to comment on a plan we have not seen."

Commissioners have to come up with a plan by Dec. 5 to make the fund solvent so that Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes can set rates for property tax bills.

"This is another last minute deal," he said. "It could have been done two weeks ago."

Rhodes said the Portune proposal is worth reviewing and that he'd rather keep the property tax rollback in place.

Greg Koch's concern is that raising the sales tax could drive more people outside Hamilton County or shop online where no tax is charged.

"I think they'd be better off to leave it alone," he said.  "We need taxes to support all of the things that the city needs to do or the county needs to do, but we keep adding it and adding it it's just driving it in other directions.  People will do without or they'll buy at another venue."

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