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Hamilton County homeowners will get a lower stadium tax rebate next year

Bill Rinehart

Hamilton County homeowners will soon get a property tax rebate, but not as much as last year. The Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday to use 10.5% of the stadium sales tax revenue for rebates in 2023, which is about $9.6 million.

When voters passed a half-cent sales tax in 1996 to build and maintain Great American Ball Park and what is now Paycor Stadium, officials promised to give 30% of the revenue back to homeowners as tax rebates. That hasn’t happened consistently since 2011 because of budget problems.

"As a commissioner, I have the responsibility to look at the financial landscape and forecast for any emergencies that may come forth to us," said President Stephanie Summerow Dumas. "I do not want to go into the reserve if we don't have to."

The fund is used to pay maintenance and the debt service on the bonds issued to pay for stadium construction. If the fund runs out of money, the county is still obligated to pay for those things, which would mean taking it out of the General Fund.

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto recommended the 10.5% for rebates.

"This ultimately comes down to risk tolerance on the level of fund balance that we retain in the Riverfront Sales Tax Fund," Aluotto said. “[There was] a time when that fund essentially was reaching the point of insolvency. So the recommendation I've provided you is one designed to ensure that we don't hit that point again; that the fund remains solvent [and] viable well into the future."

Summerow Dumas and Commissioner Denise Driehaus ultimately agreed with Aluotto. Driehaus said using 30% for rebates could cause two significant problems.

"One is having the reserve dip so low that our [bond] rating changes and it's more expensive for the county to borrow money, which is not where I think any of us want us to be," she said. "And the other one is just dipping into the General Fund to the point where we're not able to do some of the things — competitive wages, community redevelopment — that the General Fund supports."

Homeowners will see their 2023 property tax bills reduced an average $32.39 per $100,000 of home value.

Vice President Alicia Reece voted against the measure and proposed an alternate resolution that would use 30% of revenue for rebates. Her motion to vote on that version failed without a second.

"I know next year we'll be talking about the Bengals and what do we want the [stadium] to look like?" Reece said. "And we'll be talking about the bells and whistles and do we want the concession stands? And do we want the screens? Do we want all those things? And they'll say, ‘We got to do it because we have a contract.’ I'm asking us to keep the contract with the homeowners who were told they will get 30%."

Reece succesfully pushed for the 30% refund last year, with Summerow Dumas and Driehaus supporting. Even then, however, the two expressed concern about the sustainability of doing so every year.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.