Hamilton County Commissioners trying to balance stadium fund - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Commissioners trying to balance stadium fund

Posted: Updated: Nov 20, 2012 06:07 PM
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Hamilton County Commissioners have two weeks to decide how they will come up with the money to balance the Stadium Fund in 2013.

The fund, officially titled the "Sales Tax Fund" will be partially funded in 2013 through a one-year $9.4 million loan that secures a requirement for the Sales Tax Bonds. Another $5.5 million in casino revenues has been projected to help balance the fund in 2013. Commissioners now have to come up with the $7 million needed to close the rest of the gap.

"I was very surprised by it and actually disappointed that we weren't told sooner, that we didn't have more time to kind of come up with alternatives to what we can do," Commissioner Chris Monzel told FOX19. "In fact I feel like they've put us in a box."

Monzel expected the deficit to be closer to a million dollars than seven million.

County Administrator Christian Sigman argues the gap should be no surprise given the fund's history. He says the stadium fund has had projected deficits since 2001 when the sales tax revenues stopped bringing in the money they'd planned on. 

The Administrator is recommending that the county take back all of the property tax rollback that was promised in 1996 when voters passed a sales tax increase to fund the stadiums. He says sales tax revenues have dropped in large part due to Internet sales, 9-11, and a prolonged recession.

The Administration estimates eliminating the property tax rebate would generate $19.4 million for the country next year.

"What we need to do is keep bridging ourselves until we have the full casino revenue coming in, until we get through this tough economy in the next year or so and the sales tax increases," Monzel argued.

In a memo he sent to commissioners, administrator Christian Sigman recommended against any "piece meal solutions", instead suggesting that the entire property tax rebate be eliminated starting next year which he says would balance the fund long-term. The memo also highlights efforts by the administration to increase revenues including having wireless carriers pay rental fees to put in signal boosting equipment into each stadium. They also reference the Brothers of the Sun concert at Paul Brown and effort to gauge interest in divesting County-owned property by posting the properties online. 

Monzel argues creative solutions are still viable to keep commissioners' promise to property owners. 

"I will not support touching the property tax rollback at all," Monzel said Tuesday.

He is considering potentially pulling money from the reserve fund, cutting funding to riverfront development and re-evaluating parking revenues and sales tax projections to keep the fund balanced for another year.

"There's no silver bullet besides raising taxes that can solve this problem and I don't support that," Monzel told FOX19.

Sigman argues pulling money from the reserve fund could be ‘dangerous' and negatively impact the county's credit rating. In his memo he states, "The Administration continues to recommend against operating below a 10 percent reserve to ensure a positive monthly cash flow".

The county released a report that details factors that could negatively impact the its credit rating. Such factors include "Continued use of one-time revenues or expense savings to fill budget gaps".

Todd Portune tells FOX19 he cannot foresee breaking a commitment to property tax payers that he has kept for 12 years, but went shy of committing to a vote. Portune believes the revenue numbers released by the administration are ‘unreasonably low' and expects the deficit to be closer to three million which he believes can be managed without touching the rollback.

Portune is not considering any fire sale of county property to generate cash, noting, however, that he believes Drake Hospital was sold at a fair value. He says pulling money from the reserve fund is not out of the question depending on the amount in question, but says he would look to pull from the Sales Tax Stabilization fund first. He says he will be reviewing his own previous proposals including the ticket tax to evaluate which options might still be viable.

Greg Hartmann on the other hand believes the Board has few options remaining, and that a tax increase in some form is likely necessary to balance the fund. He says commissioners also have the option of considering a sales tax increase which he argues would help spread the tax burden across a greater population including non-Hamilton County residents.

Both Portune and Hartmann made a point to say they will not support any plan that does not include team participation from the Bengals and the Reds.

The current county sales tax sits at 6.5 percent which according to an Ohio Department of Taxation report is one of the lowest rates in the state.

The Board of Commissioners has until Dec. 5 to act on the property tax rebate. If they cannot agree on a plan the rollback will automatically go away next year. 

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