Today I attended the meeting of the Hamilton County Commissioners. The main topic of the meeting was voting on a proposed quarter of a percent sales tax increase that would be used to restore Union Terminal and renovate Music Hall. These are two buildings very important to the arts in Cincinnati.
I have been very involved in making sure this plan is fiscally responsible for the people of Hamilton County. I am proud to say that today, fiscal responsibility won the day. The plan that will be on the ballot this November is one that will not over burden tax payers and will save Union Terminal.
I had planned on writing a long post about the meeting, but decided that I couldn’t put it any better than Commissioner Chris Monzel did in his opening remarks and proposed resolution on the issue. The following is the transcript of Chris’s speech before a packed room of Union Terminal/Music Hall supporters.
Commissioner Chris Monzel:
This is a journey that we have been on for many years. It started last year, for me on the Commission with the work of our Tax Levy review committee. For the last several years, since 1988, we have been providing property tax support for Union Terminal/Museum Center. For the past 10 years we have had two property tax levies, five years in a row each, for providing funding to Cincinnati Museum Center/Union Terminal for an operating levy.
That levy is expiring this year. So with that, we asked our tax levy review committee, a group of citizens who volunteer, to look at tax levies to come forward with what their recommendations are for this levy… should we extend it…should we put it on the ballot… How do we handle the issues that are facing Union Terminal and Cincinnati Museum Center.
They came forward with a suggestion, we needed to resolve many issues, one of them being ownership. Who is the true owner of this entity? Two, coming up with a realistic plan that actually solves the issues that are facing Union Terminal; structural problems with the building, antiquated heating and air conditioning systems that are causing cost to become an issue. The building itself is falling down.
We needed to come up with a plan that is going to handle this in a responsible way for the citizens of Hamilton County.
In that regard, a group of volunteers came forward lead by Bob McDonald. They came up with a plan that now not only had Cincinnati Museum Center/Union Terminal, but also Music Hall. In a proposal that was a sales tax, a quarter cent sales tax increase that would go on for fourteen years that would fund the restoration of Cincinnati Museum Center/Union Terminal but also the renovation of Music Hall.
That was what was presented to us at the end of June. We had two public hearings on the sales tax item, one night in Sharonville, the other here at our County Administration Building. We have had thousands of emails and opportunities for folks to weigh in on this issue to give us what they think is important for the decision that is before us.
Today is the day we must act, per Ohio Revised Code. We must do something today if we want to put it on the ballot in November. If we do not act today, it will not be on the ballot. It could go potentially on a future ballot, next year…May primary ballot. If we do act today, there will be something for the voters to vote on in November.
My position, we have to look at this opportunity. One, these cultural assets are important to our community. Two, what is the amount of request that we need to put before the voters in November. That is something that I have been trying to deal with, myself as well as my fellow Commissioners, as something that makes sense.
I know everyone in this room has a lot of passion and commitment in saving both of these institutions. I certainly appreciate that commitment and zeal for being involved in this process. At the end of the day, however, passion and zeal are sometimes trumped by hard realities….and that’s dollars and cents, what makes sense for the big picture for our community. As commissioners, we are charged to keep our communities safer for families and individuals, provide an atmosphere that promotes jobs and businesses, and be fiscally responsible so our necessary services are available to meet the needs of everyday living in our communities such as Delhi Towhnship, Sharonville, Norwood, Colerain Township.
Right now, as Commissioners we are looking at such items as;
- 120 million dollars that is going to be necessary to maintain our county buildings
- Construction of the new crime lab that people around the county say that they desperately need and want, that price tag around 30-40 million dollars.
- Updated 911 system that we need to keep our citizens safe which would be 13-14 million dollars
- We have the replacement of the Board of Elections voting equipment, that I think everyone agrees is necessary to ensure our right to vote and keep that right safe from any intrusion.
Those are just some of the big ticket items that we are facing. We get reports every day from various elected county officials to consider upgrade for systems, services, man power to keep county services going at a minimum.
I know some people are tired of hearing my line about the two stadiums….they say Museum Center and Music Hall are different…well I disagree.
By Ohio Law, County Commissioners only have the authority to raise sales tax up to one dollar in their communities. We currently have fifty cents of that, 50% of that taxing authority is committed to our two stadiums. Every day when I am out in the community, people ask me, ‘How in the world did the Commissioners back in 1996 could box the county in to such a long term agreement that takes away half of your taxing authority?’
Today we are faced for another request for a quarter of a cent sales tax increase, for another significant period of time…fourteen years. Right now economic times are getting better. We have jobs and industry coming into the county, because we have fought to keep our taxes low to encourage this growth. Now we look around today, whether you believe it or not, I do support and cherish the two buildings. However, I cannot in good conscious support the plan committed by the Cultural Facilities Task Force.
I believe that it is in the long term best interest of the Hamilton County tax payer that we have a shortened period of sales tax should be submitted to the voters. That the plan will be a five year plan that would generate approximately $170 million dollars of capital revenue for the Museum Center alone. I believe a plan focusing on Museum Center is necessary to ensure the financial viability of our county. Again our local economic picture seems to be brighter today, but we all know that could change in a heartbeat. I believe the repairs to the Museum center are immediate and necessary. That’s where our focus should be.
So today, I am submitting a resolution for a five year quarter cent sales tax. Which again through the numbers that we are looking at, the public ask is about 163 million, with about 15.5 million in philanthropy… I am cutting that in half to get to the 170 million necessary to put forward the necessary repairs at the Museum Center.