Thursday, February 14, 2002

City OKs occupancy-tax hike

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The cost of a hotel room in Cincinnati will go up April 1, following Cincinnati City Council's vote Wednesday to raise the occupancy tax to help fund an expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.

        Though City Council's vote was expected — the tax increase is just one component of the $200 million expansion plan — Councilman John Cranley cheered it as an “anti-boycott move.”

        He said the vote shows the city is committed to tourism even as a loose coalition of civil-rights groups urges a boycott of the city.

        Others said it was an important step in the long-awaited expansion plan.

        “While I do not support the boycott, my vote is not predicated on that, because I think we need to expand the convention center anyway,” said Vice Mayor Alicia Reece.

        “The industry that would be hit the hardest is the hotel industry. If owners of hotels that are only 50 percent occupied right now are willing to step forward and take the risk, I am willing to do that as well.”

        The vote was 8-1, with Republican Chris Monzel the lone holdout. His objection was that the funding agreement removed a guarantee that the corporate community would contribute $20 million toward the project. If they don't, Mr. Monzel said, taxpayers could get stuck with the tab.

        Under the financing plan by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken — both Democrats — the room tax in the city will increase from 1.5 percent to 3 percent.

        The funding plan now goes to the Hamilton County Commissioners, who must approve an increase in the countywide room tax from 3 percent to 7.5 percent. In addition to the 6-percent sales tax on all rooms, the tax on a hotel room in the city would rise to 16.5 percent.

        Commissioner John Dowlin has offered a competing proposal to shift the burden back onto Cincinnati hotels, so it's not clear whether the Republican-controlled commission will approve the Portune-Luken plan.


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