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Commissioners debate 'icon tax,' user fee expected, Music Hall could be removed


Update: Supporters of the so-called "icon tax" are worried about signs Hamilton County Commissioners may remove Music Hall from the proposed sales tax. Such a move, they say, would result in the loss of millions in promised philanthropic gifts. Commissioner Monzel has already voiced his support for such a plan and Commissioner Hartmann wants to see a bigger commitment from the City of Cincinnati, which council members haven't so far done.

In a memo, Cultural Facilities Task Force attorney Charles Gerhardt writes, "The Task Force examined both facilities and explored various financing scenarios. It is important to note that removing Music Hall from the project would result in the loss of $40 million in philanthropic donations and eliminate the guarantee of city of Cincinnati support for long-term maintenance for both facilities."

Original story:

Supporters of a sales tax to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal continue waiting to find out if the proposal will go to voters in November. Hamilton County Commissioners have until Wednesday to make a decision on a proposed quarter cent, nine-year sales tax.

Where things stand:

Commission President Chris Monzel

  • Remove Music Hall from the proposed “icon tax.” Says county doesn’t have a relationship to Music Hall, which is owned by City of Cincinnati.
  • Remove Dalton Street and Union Terminal Fountain repairs, City should fund those.
  • Would like a shorter taxing period.
  • Concerns this will turn into another stadium tax issue.

Commissioner Greg Hartmann

  • Wants to see a commitment from City of Cincinnati before deciding on whether Music Hall should be included in a possible sales tax. Says to Cincinnati City Council, “Make your best offer.”
  • Says Mayor John Cranley’s proposal is an important and encouraging step.
  • User fees must play a part.
  • Supports taking Dalton Street repairs out of the proposal.

Commissioner Todd Portune

  • “We’re going to have a user fee on all tickets” at both venues. Any ticketed event will be covered by a user fee likely to be not less than five percent.
  • Repairs at Music Hall are needs not wants. More than 50 percent of the ask is for safety repairs.
  • This proposed tax will sunset.
  • This is not another stadium tax.

There have been questions surrounding which governmental entity would own the buildings should the proposal go forward. County Administrator Christian Sigman says ownership would not change. The buildings would remain city property, which is important in order to qualify for certain historic tax credits.
Sales tax proposal supporters have shied away from user fees in the past. Monday, Museum Center CEO Doug McDonald said, "Higher prices have an impact on visitorship. I think the county understands that and we understand that. Our goal is to increase the number of people coming and to make sure that we’re sensitive to what’s possible. We certainly want to make sure that the user fees are significant in terms of helping to pay for the cost of the project as well as not significant in terms of deterring people from visiting."

City of Cincinnati

Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday forwarded an ordinance to full Council which would continue to provide $400,000 per year for 25 years for the two buildings. Council will consider the issue Wednesday.

Council member P.G. Sittenfeld says, “What we’re doing today represents the city continuing and securing what we already do. I don’t want taxpayers to think, ‘another $10 million? Where did this come from?’ We are codifying and securing for the future a commitment that the City already makes today and has made for many years previously to supporting these two institutions which drive a lot of economic development.”