Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Cincinnati Museum Center Demands $300 Million to Repair a Building

And wants to exempt themselves from the county's tax levy review process

The Commissioners have to deal with a last-minute request from The Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) to sneak a massive $300 million levy on the ballot. The CMC is seeking approximately $300 million (principal plus interest) to repair one building. As we noted in the last item, each Commission-controlled levy is required to go through their tax levy review process.

Shockingly, The CMC is disrespecting this process and expects the Commissioners to place their huge levy on the ballot without undergoing a formal review. COAST strongly opposes this request. Any entity seeking taxpayer money must go through a thorough review process before being placed on the ballot.

Due to The CMC's efforts to bypass the county's long-established review process, the Commissioners will have to make a decision without the ability to gather the facts. Therefore, the only responsible course of action is to deny the request for 2011, and invite the CMC to resubmit their proposal to the county in 2012 so that it may undergo the county's formal review process.

There are many substantive concerns as well. Tax dollars are finite, and $300 million is an extreme amount of money to repair one building. What happens if, a few years into the repair project, they "find" another $100 million in needed repairs? That scenario is fairly likely given that this is a building constructed in 1933 with major design flaws. Who would be responsible for the cost overruns? Taxpayers can't afford another Bengals stadium situation.

It should also be noted that the owner of this building is the City of Cincinnati. Yet county taxpayers are being asked, once again, to subsidize a city project. The county needs to ask itself why they are involved in this issue. Between $700 million to cover the stadium fund deficit and $300 million for this city building, Hamilton County taxpayers are facing $1 billion of higher taxes for toy buildings that don't serve any core government function. There are many questions that must be answered before the Commission can even consider advancing this issue to the ballot.

Hamilton County Commissioners Hold Public Hearings for Tax Levies

(Note: This was sent to the COAST mail list on 7/12/11)

This week the Hamilton County Commissioners will hold the first two of their three public hearings to determine the tax levies that will appear on this November's ballot. Those hearings are Wednesday July 13th at 11:30 AM, Thursday July 14th at 5:00 PM, and Wednesday July 27th at 11:30 AM. Each hearing will be held at 138 East Court Street in Room 605, the usual Commission meeting location. The public is invited and encouraged to speak. Expect a two-minute time limit.

These hearings and subsequent Commission action represent the final step to placing Commission-controlled levies on the ballot. In Hamilton County each of these levies are referred to the Tax Levy Review Committee, who then spends several months analyzing them with the help of a detailed consultant report. This year the Indigent Care Levy and Children's Services Levy are up for review. The committee's reports and recommendations to the Commissioners can be read here.

Unfortunately, as the July COAST newsletter revealed, the Tax Levy Review Committee failed to recommend sufficient cuts to uphold the Commissioners' promise to hold property taxes level. This promise was made after a dreadful December 2010 vote where Democratic former Commissioner David Pepper and Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann voted to repeal most of the Property Tax Rollback that was promised to the voters as part of the Stadium Sales Tax deal.

In order to uphold this promise, the combined size of the Commission-controlled levies must be cut approximately 20% to make up for the stadium property tax increase. Yet the Children's Services Levy, for example, was recommended to maintain the same funding as the prior levy cycle. And the Indigent Care Levy, which was previously cited by Commissioner Hartmann as the levy ripe for big savings, is recommended to receive a cut of only 13-23%.

It is the Commissioners who make the final decision on each levy. The Commissioners will not be able to uphold their promise to hold property taxes level if they accept the committee's recommendations. They will either need to cut these levies much deeper, or rescind their tragic 2010 decision to repeal most of the Property Tax Rollback. We encourage the Commissioners to keep their word to the voters.