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November 22, 2011
Hamilton County set to drain stadium fund for property-tax cut
The long-simmering Cincinnati Bengals and Reds lease controversies could be about to boil over, as the Hamilton County Commission appears set to approve a property-tax cut that was promised as part of the stadium deals, but which there's now no money for:
If Republican Chris Monzel and Democrat Todd Portune do that — and both of their plans have been deemed not practical by the county administrator — the stadium fund will be bankrupt by March.
That will leave Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes without the cash to meet all the obligations in the sales tax fund.
"It would be the height of irresponsibly to commit funds they knew were not there," Rhodes said. "I've long criticized various governments for living in dream world.
"This takes it to a whole new level," Rhodes said.
Backing up a bit: What happened here is that when Hamilton County raised sales taxes by 0.5% in 1996 to pay for new stadiums, it designated 30% of the proceeds to rolling back property taxes. Unfortunately, this happened, which meant that sales tax proceeds fell short of what was needed to pay off both the stadiums and the property tax cut.
Monzel and Portune have different ideas about what to do next: The Republican wants to sell a hospital to raise $13 million, but any proceeds there might need to be reserved for medical care. Portune, meanwhile, wants to raise money by hosting more events at the stadiums, getting the teams to pay up-front costs of repairs, and other lease concessions, something he's tried before to no avail. More likely is that the county has to dip into its general fund reserve, which could affect the city's bond rating or even, according to Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman, prompt a state takeover of the county's finances.
It seems clear that somebody is going to have to blink — just don't bet on it being the Reds or the Bengals, since neither of them has any incentive to, thanks to having those sweetheart lease deals in their back pockets.