Thursday, December 18, 2003

Museum Center tax on March ballot

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Museum Center leaders got a stern lecture but also unanimous support from Hamilton County commissioners Wednesday in their successful bid to put a tax proposal on the March ballot.

The Museum Center's expenses have outstripped revenue since a drop in visitors after the 2001 riots, officials say. This year, $13.6 million is expected to be spent, versus $11.2 million coming in.

The cost of maintaining Union Terminal is causing the gap, museum President Douglass McDonald said. A recent study said the 70-year-old Cincinnati landmark needs $26 million worth of work in the next 10 years.

The Museum Center, located in Union Terminal in the West End, got commissioners' approval to request a 0.2-mill property tax levy from voters.

It would raise $3.5 million a year and cost the owner of a $100,000 home $5.89 a year.

"Even though, frankly, the fault lies with their previous board and administration, I did not want to see us lose this valuable resource," Commissioner Phil Heimlich said.

Concerns by Heimlich and Commissioner Todd Portune had threatened to sink the request, but county and museum officials reached an agreement Tuesday that sets annual targets for private fund raising. The commissioners can withhold tax money if the Museum Center fails to reach the targets, which were structured to build a $38 million endowment within a decade.

The center will draw an estimated 1.1 million visitors this year.

County taxpayers are still paying for the late 1980s renovation of Union Terminal. That levy costs $4.71 a year on a $100,000 home and expires in 2009.


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