Icon tax proposal denied; alternative plan offered
Hamilton County taxpayers will not get to vote on a proposed sales tax to repair both Music Hall and Union Terminal. Commissioners today instead voted 2-1 to approve a five year, quarter cent sales tax increase to go on the November ballot. It would fund repairs at Union Terminal only.
Supporters of the original proposal say they have many questions about how the new proposal would work and are disappointed by the commissioners' actions.
"This is a politically chosen number," says Museum Center CEO Doug McDonald. "Their own consultants don't support this." When asked if supporters will go ahead with the five year tax for Union Terminal only, McDonald would only say, "We're looking forward to Commissioners Monzel and Hartmann telling us how they think this plan works."
The disgust was evident on the face of Cincinnati Museum Center Board of Trustees Chair Francie Hiltz. "This is a total failure and a total lack of leadership," says Hiltz. "No one has shown us how this five year plan is going to work."
Commissioner Chris Monzel's five-year, quarter cent sales tax plan, which was approved by a 2-1 vote (Hartmann - yes, Portune - no), doesn't include Music Hall because he says the county has no history with the building. That's unlike Union Terminal which the county has had a financial stake in for several decades. Monzel says his plan should generate $170 million in revenue.
Commissioner Greg Hartmann provided the key swing vote. Negotiations between Hartmann and task force members continued up until the commission meeting began. He later asked for a recess before returning to vote in favor of Monzel's plan. Hartmann said he just couldn't support task force request. "The request of us to include Music Hall in this proposal is a bridge too far for me." Hartmann reiterated that there's a lack of relationship between city-owned Music Hall and the county. The county, he noted, doesn't appoint anyone to the Music Hall board. He calls including Music Hall in the ask was a rushed decision. That said, Hartmann said he wouldn't call this an end to the Music Hall dialogue and is encouraging other cultural institutions to get involved.
Commissioner Todd Portune voted against the five year plan. He had proposed a modified version of the Cultural Facilities Task Force plan. The modified plan called for a 14 year, quarter cent sales tax which Portune said would likely could have been ended after 10 years. It also included a pledge to raise another $10 million in philanthropy, the removal of repairs to Dalton St., and the addition of a user fee at both facilities. Task Force member Mu Sinclair (also a Cincinnati Public Radio board member) said the changes amounted to $30 million in adjustments. Portune said now was the time to act for both buildings and argued the needs of both are pressing. In a bit of self-admitted theatrics, Portune raised one of his crutches (Portune uses crutches to walk because of tumors on his spine) to drive home his point saying, "For me, accessibility is a need not a want."
Cincinnati Council responds
Commissioner Greg Hartmann had wanted to see a larger commitment from Cincinnati to fund repairs at Music Hall, which is owned by the city. Council members had agreed to pass a resolution committing to provide $400,000 per year for 25 years for the two buildings. That is a continuation of current city funding for the facilities and represents no new funding. Despite the county's decision, the council voted to move forward with that commitment. Mayor John Cranley said he's tired of hearing that the city hasn't done anything for Music Hall. "As the mayor of this city I am offended when we are treated as second class citizens in the county of which we are a part. We have done our part." He encouraged council members to pass the resolution despite the county's decision. "We have a deal, and we intend to follow through on our part of the bargain."