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Hamilton County Commission likely to raise property taxes to continue funding stadiums

Posted at 12:02 AM, Dec 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-05 08:29:12-05

CINCINNATI -- Loveland resident Christine McGovern understands, she said Tuesday night: "No one wants to pay taxes. No one wants to hear their taxes are going to go up."

However, the Hamilton County Commission of 2018 can't afford to fully renew a property tax break promised by the Hamilton County Commission of 1996. An attempt to raise sale taxes to compensate for recent losses failed in August, leaving the commission in search of other ways to prevent its forecasted $28 million budget deficit from growing any larger. 

Voters in 1996 approved a half-cent sales tax hike to help fund the Bengals and Reds stadiums in exchange for a 30 percent rollback on property taxes -- a good deal as long as sales taxes continued to provide Clinton-era levels of revenue indefinitely.

They didn't.

"They counted on too rosy a financial picture," commissioner Todd Portune said. 

The recession that began in 2008 cut sales tax revenue off at the knees, he added. It never recovered. The summer's abortive effort to raise the sales tax by .2 percent arrived all but stillborn and had to be rescinded to prevent a likely referendum fueled by the anger of concerned citizens' groups.

If expenses in 2019 deplete the fund provided by sales taxes, the county will be forced to dip into its general fund to continue maintaining the stadiums and deepen its projected $28 million budget deficit in the process.

Doing that is even less appealing than paying taxes, McGovern said. She believes the Reds and Bengals are an important element of Cincinnati's culture, and continuing to fund their stadiums should be a priority.

"They're part of the city," she said. "It's a great place to be, and I think having professional sports here makes the city more compelling."

The proposed solution is to reduce the size of the rollback, although Portune would not share by how much. 

According to commissioner Denise Driehaus' chief of staff, Alexander Linster, a proposal under consideration would ask homeowners to pay about $42 more per every $100,000 their home is worth than they did in 2017.

The commission planned to vote Wednesday on whether or not to shrink the rollback and, if they did, by what amount.