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Tax hike to fix Cincinnati icons?

CINCINNATI (Joe Webb) -- Are you willing to pay an extra one-fourth of a penny in sales tax to renovate Music Hall and the Museum Center?

That was the recommendation made to Hamilton County commissioners Monday.  The Cultural Facilities Task Force said it would take $187 million to repair and restore the Museum Center and another $109 million to do the same to Music Hall.  They said a quarter-cent sales tax hike for nine years could pay for it all.

Music hall turned 137-years-old in 2014.  The Museum Center turned 82.  They are so Cincinnati and so old they need a lot of work.  The murals in the old Union Terminal look great.  But when you go on the other side of the wall, you see the cracks, the leaks, the damage done by time and weather.

Museum Center Director of Engineering, Mike Reed, said, "A lot of the water is getting through the wall above us into here and actually the floor below us.  It's literally leeching through the wall."

So should they fix it or tear it down?  And if they fix it, how much does it cost and who pays for it?  That's what the Cultural Facilities Task Force has been working on since December.  Monday, they told county commissioners it was much cheaper to renovate than rebuild.  And the two must be renovated.

Bob McDonald of the Cultural Facilities Task Force said, "Procter and Gamble has 750 families in this community from outside Cincinnati. We could not attract those people to this community without those buildings and the organizations that are in them. It's really that simple."

As always, paying for it isn't so simple.  The task force recommended the quarter-cent sales tax hike.  Their sales pitch: nearly half of the tax would be paid by people from outside the county.  You could eliminate the Museum Center operating levy.  And the county-issued bonds needed for the project could be paid off in nine years.

The catch, commissioners would have to put it on the ballot.  In all, the project would need about $225 million in public funds.  According to their math, Hamilton County residents would only pay 36 percent of the total cost.  The rest would come from donations, tax credits and nonresidents who spend money in the county.

Before anything goes on the ballot, county commissioners will hold two public hearings on the tax hike.  The first one will be July 23 at 6:30 at the Sharonville Convention Center.  The second one will be during the regular county commissioner's meeting July 28.

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