Wednesday, October 22, 2003

County weighs 2 levies

Museum, Drake seek aid

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Two unique Hamilton County institutions - the Museum Center at Union Terminal and the Drake Center - say they need taxpayers' help to stay in the black.

"We come to you believing we really provide an important function in our community," said Douglass McDonald, CEO of the Museum Center. "In order to preserve that, we do need tax levy support."

McDonald made his case Tuesday before the Tax Levy Review Committee, which recommends whether the county commissioners should put levies on the ballot.

The Museum Center, which has never had an operating levy, wants to put a 0.2-mill levy on the March 2 ballot. It would raise about $3.5 million a year to help the nonprofit recover from a decline in attendance that officials blame on the poor economy, Cincinnati's 2001 riots and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Drake Center also plans to ask voters for new money because of increases in nurses' salaries, drug costs and malpractice insurance, hospital officials told the Tax Levy Review Committee on Tuesday.

The long-term facility needs $19.8 million a year in the next five years, up from $14.5 million this year, they said. The increase would keep the levy at 20 percent of the hospital's budget.

"We're a safety net," said Roberta Bradford, Drake president and CEO. "We're here for everyone in Hamilton County."

Still, committee member Chris Finney noted, Hamilton is the only county with a levy for a long-term acute-care hospital.

Drake's proposed millage has not been determined because the sheriff, probation department and drug and alcohol programs also get about a quarter of the hospital's current levy.

The Museum Center and Drake each underwent outside reviews as part of a process the county started in the spring to improve oversight. The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden - the first to go through a review - has a 0.40-mill levy renewal on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The Museum Center is a lean operation with bare-minimum staffing and 1.1 million visitors a year, according to a report by Maximus, a consulting firm hired by the Tax Levy Review Committee. Maximus' chief suggestion for making more money was to consistently collect parking fees from visitors.

At Drake, consultant A.T. Hudson & Co. Inc. made almost $900,000 in money-making and -saving recommendations, including overbooking physical therapy sessions to make up for missed appointments.

The Tax Levy Review Committee will have a public hearing on the Museum Center and Drake requests at 5 p.m. Oct. 29 on the sixth floor of the county building, 138 E. Court St., downtown.


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