Monday, March 11, 2002

City, hotels split over tax proposal

State lawmakers await decision

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Lawmakers in Columbus wanted Cincinnati politicians to speak with a single voice in deciding how to pay for an expansion and renovation of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.

        Instead they'll hear local officials and hotel managers with divided viewpoints on Tuesday.

        The House State Government Committee is considering a bill — introduced to help Hamilton County — that would allow counties to raise their hotel-motel tax from 3 percent to 7.5 percent. The tax increase is a necessary component to a $198 million expansion of the convention center.

        Commissioners Todd Portune and Tom Neyer voted for the tax increase, but dissenting Commissioner John Dowlin and a coalition of hotel managers in the northern suburbs are crying foul.

        They will state their case to lawmakers Tuesday, along with proponents of the financing plan, which include Mr. Portune and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken.

        Mr. Dowlin will ask that the proposed law be amended to give cities the authority to raise their hotel-motel tax above the current 3 percent maximum. Cincinnati raised its tax from 1.5 percent to 3 percent for convention center expansion.

        He also wants county commissioners to have the authority to decide how to split tax revenue between competing convention and visitors bureaus.

        That's in response to discussions about a new convention and visitors bureau being created in the suburbs.

        “That is going to happen,” said Mark Schutte, general manager of two Red Roof Inns in Sharonville.

        Mr. Schutte said the financing plan, as proposed, will put many of them out of business.

        Under the plan, for example, lodgers in Sharonville would pay a 16.5 percent tax. That rate of taxation, many hotel managers believe, will cause conventions and lodgers to avoid suburban hotels.

        Mr. Schutte said about half the hotels in the county, which have more than half the county's hotel rooms, oppose the plan. Downtown hotels support the plan.

        Committee chairman Rep. Ron Young, R-Leroy, said nothing will happen with the legislation until lawmakers from Hamilton County decide if they support it or not.


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