Arts Groups Don't Like One Plan To Plug Streetcar Budget

Jun 5, 2019

Some Cincinnati non-profit agencies are not happy with a city proposal to eliminate the admissions tax exemption on their organizations to help fund streetcar operations.

Several representatives attended Wednesday evening's City Council meeting to voice their objections and concerns.

The streetcar system is projected to have a $1.15 million operating deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1.  City officials pitched ending the non-profit admissions tax exemption as one way to fill the gap.

D. Lynn Meyers with the Ensemble Theatre said her organization could not pass on the admission tax to ticket buyers.

"Our economic engine at Ensemble is to make our theatre affordable and accessible, not just financially but physically as well," Meyer said. "We've just completed a $5 million renovation, passing this ticket cost onto our subscribers is not the answer. It is not the answer for us."

Elizabeth Pierce with the Cincinnati Museum Center said her organization cannot absorb the cost associated with eliminating the admissions tax exemption.

"This places a significant burden on CMC's ability to generate earned revenue and will negatively impact our attendance," Pierce said.

Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said the ticket tax is a bad idea for non-profits.

"I think we have a system that works, and I think you need a common sense solution to your long-term budget problems and it's not something like a ticket tax on people that go to the zoo, and museums and the arts," Maynard said.

Others speaking against the proposal included the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Contemporary Arts Center, ArtsWave and Cincinnati Arts Association.

Chart from city memo outlining how much revenue the city projects to collect if the non-profit admissions tax exemption is eliminated.
Credit Provided / City of Cincinnati

Declining streetcar ridership and therefore fares, plus decreasing advertising revenue, have cut into the operating budget. At the same time, expenses are increasing.
 
A city memo said ending the non-profit exemption would not include admissions tax from religious and educational institution events other than private colleges and universities.

Adding the admissions tax to non-profits is expected to generate $1.5 million annually for the streetcar.

The other option for closing the streetcar deficit would consist of a combination of things. Those include implementing the booting program for vehicles with unpaid parking tickets, increasing the price of Over-the-Rhine residential parking permits from $60 to $360 a year, and raising parking fines by $5 per citation.  Those various measures would raise about $1 million a year.

Council must decide how to close the funding gap by June 19.