CINCINNATI -- Tickets to concerts and Bengals, Reds and FC Cincinnati games may get slightly more expensive under a proposal unveiled Thursday by Cincinnati City Council members P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann.
Their idea – to raise the city’s admission tax from 3 to 5 percent – would generate $3.6 million each year to largely fund human services agencies.
“The majority of these new dollars -- $3 million -- would go to human services funding,” Sittenfeld said. “It is no exaggeration to say that the work these organizations do can literally be a matter of life or death.”
While the tax increase would be small -- a $25 ticket would rise to $25.50 and a $100 ticket would be $102 – it would set Cincinnati apart as charging a higher ticket tax than most other Ohio cities.
Two-thirds of the places in Ohio that have an admissions tax levy the tax at a rate of 3 percent, according to the latest statewide report from the Ohio Department of Taxation. Some cities, such as Columbus, charge no tax on tickets for sporting events or concerts.
Other cities charge more than the 5 percent proposed here. Cleveland has the highest admission tax in the state at 8 percent.
Sittenfeld did not believe the proposed tax hike would hurt development, instead saying it would make Cincinnati, “more attractive across the board.”
A large portion of the revenue stream would come from residents outside the city, including Kentucky, Indiana and many nearby Ohio suburbs, Sittenfeld said.
The largest chunk of the of the city's ticket tax is paid on football and baseball games, and concerts.
Nonprofits are exempt from the ticket tax. But Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra leaders told city council recently that they would charge the tax on tickets sold at the new concert venue at The Banks, generating roughly $300,000 a year for the city at the 3 percent rate.
The idea now needs the approval of at least six council members to be put on the November ballot, which Sittenfeld said he was “very optimistic” it would get. Then city voters would get the final say.
The tax hike would plug a deep hole in human services funding that city leaders grapple with each year. At public hearings last week, more than 170 speakers pleaded for city funding to help homelessness, poverty and fight drug addiction. Others asked for restoring funding cuts to neighborhood councils and development corporations.
“This is a day of great hope for people in Cincinnati who rely on human services,” said Gina Marsh, executive director of the Human Services Chamber. She noted that one in three local children live in poverty.
Over the past several years as the city has faced deep budget deficits, the fight over a small pot of money for human services agencies has gotten louder and more intense.
In order to fix a $32 million budget deficit this year, Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney recommended cuts of 25 to 50 percent to all outside groups the city funds.
“Here’s what we know we can’t continue to do: allow worthy organization to be pitted against worthy organization, each vying for the final chunk of the budget which is discretionary,” Sittenfeld said.
Raising ticket taxes would generate $3 million each year to fund human services agencies that the United Way vets. The new revenue would not fund groups such as the Center for Closing the Health Gap, which collects money each year directly from the city.
The new tax revenue would also funnel $600,000 annually to neighborhood community councils and the community development corporations for activities such as summer festivals, and to revitalize city blocks and clean up properties.
If the ticket tax is added to the November ballot, it is unknown how voters will respond.
In May, voters approved a new tax hike to fund libraries and a renewal tax for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority board has until the end of July to decide if a proposed sales tax increase will be put to voters in November.
Just days ago the Hamilton County commissioners voted to raise the sales tax rate by 0.2 percent to help help fix a $28 million budget gap.
The city’s admission tax is also the subject of a lawsuit that is pending in U.S. District Court.
The former owner of Bunbury Music Festival, Bill Donabedian, sued the city in 2015 claiming he was unfairly targeted to pay tens of thousands in admission tax, while other concerts and performances didn’t pay a dime. He claims the city treasurer’s office selectively chooses which concerts and performances are required to pay the city’s admission tax.