Decision on stadium funding expected this week

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote this week on a plan to close the $14 million budget gap next year for Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park.

County commissioners are considering ideas that include county taxpayers giving back part of the property tax rebate put into place in 1996.

A plan must be agreed on by Nov. 30.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes says county commissioners Greg Hartmann, Todd Portune and Chris Monzel find themselves trying to make good on a promise their predecessors made in 1996 to rollback property taxes if two new stadiums are built.

"It is the fault of previous county commissioners who spent money way above and beyond what the original purpose was," said Rhodes.

"Its a complex issue and its one that's landed in our laps," said Portune. "We didn't create this. We're trying to solve it."

Portune likes the idea of a ballot initiative that would impose an additional tax on Reds and Bengals game tickets despite objections from Hartmann and the Bengals, who say a ticket tax is illegal because it violates the lease agreement.

"This is not a county initiated measure," said Portune.

Commissioner Chris Monzel would like the county to sell the Drake Center in Hartwell to cover the deficit.

But Monzel says the only interested party, University Hospital, will only pay about ten percent of what the hospital is worth, and that won't even cover the $14 million shortfall.

"We can't whine about it, complain about it and wish it were something different," said Hartmann. "We have to deal with the reality and do it in a responsible way."

In early October, Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman sent a proposal to the Bengals asking the team to pick up more of the maintenance costs at the stadium.

The Bengals like the proposal and for the first time have agreed to bear more of the burden for upkeep.

Hartmann likes this plan along with earmarking 100 percent of anticipated casino revenue for the stadium fund and asking taxpayers to give back a total of $800,000 of the property tax rebate the voted for 15 years ago.

"We've done a lot of work to patch up relationships with the teams and get them to be willing to chip in on the capital costs," said Hartmann. "And that's a big deal in trying to find a solution."

Monzel said in a phone interview that he agrees this is a do-or-die situation.  If he and his two colleagues can't agree on a plan to make up the budget deficit, the property tax rollback is "gone for good."

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