Hamilton Co. commissioners approve Union Terminal sales tax proposal for Nov. ballot

Music Hall dropped from ballot initiative

CINCINNATI -- County voters will decide on tax support for necessary repairs on Union Terminal in November, but not for Music Hall.

By a vote of 2-to-1 Hamilton County commissioners decided to place a 5-year sales tax proposal on the general ballot for the Museum Center, dropping a proposal to also fund repairs to Music Hall.

The proposal offered by Commissioner Chris Monzel will offer a quarter-cent sales tax increase over 5 years to rehabilitate the aging train terminal located on Cincinnati's west side. Fellow Republican Greg Hartmann seconded Monzel's proposal. Democrat Todd Portune voted no.

RECAP: Hamilton County debates 'Icon Tax'

Monzel cited a host of other issues, from road repair to fire and EMS, the county faces that he believed took precedence over funding repairs to both buildings.

"I know everyone in this room has a lot of passion and commitment in saving both of these institutions, and I certainly appreciate that commitment and zeal," Monzel said before the vote. "At the end of the day, however, passion and zeal are sometimes trumped by hard realities, and that is dollars and cents."

The commission met Wednesday to debate a proposed ballot initiative that included a .25 cent tax over 14 years that would pay out a majority of the $332 million need to fix Cincinnati's two aging iconic buildings.

In attempt to save the original proposal, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation had offered an additional $2 million in private funding to help pay for both facilities' repairs as well.

The Cultural Facilities Task Force, a group of business and community leaders championed the 'Icon Tax' initiative.

Ross Sinclaire and Associates CEO Murray Sinclaire, a member of the task force, tried to sweeten the deal during the commissioners' meeting Wednesday. He said the organizations housed in Union Terminal and Music Hall had agreed to a user fee that would kick in another $10 million toward the construction project. He also said the task force had pledges of $10 million more in philanthropy if both buildings stayed in the plan. And he said the task force would agree to remove Dalton Street improvements – a $9 million cost – from the plan.

The total offered by private groups if the sales tax was put on the ballot for both buildings was $52 million.

Bob McDonald, current U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs and former Procter & Gamble CEO who led the joint tax ballot proposal, said that deal would threaten funding all together.

McDonald spoke from Washington D.C. at the hearing and ended by telling commisioners: "It's best that we choose the harder right than the easier wrong."

Portune urged his fellow commissioners to adopt the task force's proposal with the added user fee deal that he had negotiated with officials at the Museum Center and the arts organizations that call Music Hall home.

But after a roughly 20-minute recess, Hartmann said he couldn't support a plan that included both buildings and voted in favor of Monzel's proposal.

"I want to thank all the members of the task force for the impressive piece of work we've seen," Hartmann said. "But the request of us to include Music Hall in this proposal is a bridge too far for me."

After Wednesday's meeting, Museum Center CEO Doug McDonald called the proposal that passed "the easy wrong."

Cincinnati city council also responded to the news of the commission vote by going ahead with approval of an additional $10 million in funding to go toward both Union Terminal and Music Hall.

Across the council, members said they were frustrated and confused by Hamilton County Commissioners vote earlier Wednesday.

Mayor John Cranley said the move was “weird” and “bizarro."

“Weirdly, there has been this false debate that somehow we aren’t doing enough…. I’m offended when we are treated as second class citizens in a county of which we are a part of. We have done our part," he said.

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