Could sales tax increase fund Music Hall, Union Terminal repairs?

Current sales tax rates in local Ohio counties.
Current sales tax rates in local Ohio counties.

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Would you be willing to pay more the next time you buy something in Hamilton County to help fund repairs to Music Hall and Union Terminal?

County commissioners voted on Wednesday to hold public hearings on the possibility of raising the sales tax.

According to commissioner Greg Hartmann, the public request could be $50 million for Music Hall, and $100 million for Union Terminal.  That money could come by way of a sales tax, which is just one option on the table.

"These are cultural institutions.  We've got to figure out a way to pay for it.  There are lots of good ideas, lots of needs out there.  The million dollar question, in this case, $150 million question, is always, "How are you going to pay for it," said Hartmann.

On Monday, commissioners approved plans for public hearings about increasing sales tax to generate millions to pair with $34 million already privately raised.

"We've got to have a public discussion about, one, whether these public buildings are worth saving.  If they are, are we going to allow them access to the ballot?  If we allow them access to the ballot, is it going to be a property tax, or a sales tax," Hartmann said.

Jenny Plummer and her children spend a lot of time at Union Terminal, as they're members of the museum.

"It's just kind of getting run down in there," Plummer told FOX19.

She and her family live in Kentucky.  She'd like to see a sales tax pass in Hamilton County with voters, though.  If it passes, it's something that'll impact every dollar spent in the county no matter where you live.

"Sure there might be some other ways, but anymore, it's hard to come by any extra money," Plummer said.

But, some voters don't see a tax hike as a viable option.

"First of all, I can't even afford to go into the stadium that my tax dollars pay for, and you're asking me to support another thing that I can't afford to go into," said Dana Higgins of Cincinnati.

County leaders say the time is now to make a decision.

"The choice we've got right now is, fix these buildings now, or close these buildings," Hartmann told FOX19.

A task force has been put together to look at funding options for the repairs.

Hamilton County has the second lowest sales tax rate at 6.75%, tied with Clermont County and Warren County.  Butler County has the lowest rate in our viewing area.

Public hearings on funding options are set for next month.

Bob McDonald, chair of the Cultural Facilities Task Force made this statement:

"The Cultural Facilities Task Force has been evaluating and exploring a collaborative approach to fund the repairs and restorations of Music Hall and Union Terminal.  We were asked to conduct technical review of the plans, evaluate various options regarding Union Terminal, and recommend viable public/private funding strategies.   We have also worked in partnership with 3CDC on Music Hall.  We will present a plan that includes a wide range of funds including historic tax credits and private donations which to date totals $34M.  Today, a procedural action was required by the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners to preserve the option of a sales tax increase to fund a portion of infrastructure projects as one of the options under consideration.  We requested the Commissioner initiate this process to allow for the public discussion of this option, among others, in the coming weeks. We look forward to presenting sales and property tax scenarios to the BOCC on June 23rd for their consideration and the public vetting process over the next several weeks."

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