The early 1990s saw a real threat to the identity and vitality of our community when the Cincinnati Bengals were drawn to Baltimore and the Reds needed a new stadium. The leaders of the two political parties got together and came up with a sales tax proposal that promised new stadiums on a redeveloped riverside and the maintenance of our two professional sports teams. For me, this has also provided the promise of significant continued relief from the burden of ever-increasing property taxes imposed on owners of owner-occupied properties.
Since it was promised that 30% of the sales tax to be collected would go to support these homeowners by reducing their property taxes, I supported the measure. This happened. The stadiums were built, our teams stayed, the related waterfront development known as The Banks was built, the schools were given a new source of income and the long-awaited stadium sales tax credit was provided. as promised.
The Stadium Sales Tax Credit was very carefully designed and explicitly authorized as a housing assistance program under Ohio law. This was not for all properties but rather for all owner occupied properties. It was designed to help people who faced the burden of high property taxes that school districts, local governments and our county increasingly relied on to meet their needs.
Things went well until Hamilton County’s financial situation deteriorated dramatically during the Great Recession around 2008. The promised property tax cut itself was reduced… with the county lacking the money to continue at the promised level. Less money, less housing assistance program, more property taxes. Breaking the promise was unfortunate but understandable, even though the county continued to fund other items that were, say, somewhat questionable.
Fast forward to today. The current county commission is now examining how to spend $ 159 million of US bailout funds sent by the federal government. As is often the case, there are guidelines and goals associated with the use of these funds. The current proposal before the county commission calls for 45% of those millions to go to helping people avoid “losing their homes”.
Yet there isn’t a single dollar spent on restoring the sales tax credit promised by the housing assistance program to help beleaguered homeowners in the county. Sales tax credit is an incredibly effective way to help these homeowners. All we do is take the amount owed off the tax bill owed and then the county pays so that the entities that would have received the funds are held in cover. There is no middleman to charge administrative costs and absorb part of the funds to pay an executive director and staff. The assistance goes directly to the intended beneficiaries – the owner-occupiers of the county.
The county must be willing to ask itself the precise question of allowing the use of these funds for this purpose. It is a housing assistance program. It only benefits owner-occupiers. This is not a property tax reduction for all homeowners.
Failure to dwell on the cause of this necessary goal is to move from an unfortunate but understandable breach of a promise during the recession due to the deteriorating financial situation, to a disdainful contempt for the very owners who have generously believed political leaders when they promised goods. the tax savings would be 30% of the sales tax proposal they approved.
When the county had no money, we asked people to understand. Now that there could very well be money available if we pursue it aggressively, that same generous audience can rightly see it very differently.
I supported the original sales tax and everything that went with it. I crossed the partisan divide to do so. Today I want to once again raise my independent voice to tell you that property taxes as a percentage of the market value of owner-occupied homes in Hamilton County are extremely high and threaten many people to leave their homes. This time, if we don’t act, it won’t be the Bengals who leave, but the very ones who voted to keep them here.
I am not that enthusiastic about this idea!
Dusty Rhodes is the Hamilton County Auditor.