Chris Hicks: Taxing our way to prosperity with FC Cincinnati in Milford

Republicans, like me, are keen to criticize Democrat spending and tax increases with a simple phrase “You cannot tax or spend your way to prosperity.” Republicans usually view tax reductions (not increases) as the way to spur growth and activity. So, what is going on in Clermont County?

We are growing. From 2016 to 2017, county revenue increased nearly $12,000,000 (per the Auditor’s website). From 2014-2016, the hotel tax collections, at the current 6% rate, went up more than $100,000 a year. We are spending. In 2016, the Commissioners put $8,000,000 of your money into the (still empty) South Afton Industrial Park. We are taxing. Just this year we saw an average 14% increase in property values, leading to property tax increases of $300-500 annually for many. Just recently our Commissioners increased the license plate fee by $5 because, apparently, we cannot fund the roads properly without a tax increase.

Now enter FC Cincinnati and another tax increase that our conservative Commissioners seem to be primed to enact: Increasing the hotel tax for the benefit of FC Cincinnati.

We know almost nothing about the proposed FC Cincinnati plan in Milford. We have a few artist renderings, some rosy projections from a Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB) looking to save face, and a hyped sense of urgency, from FC Cincinnati, that grass fields need to be in place in 37 weeks.

About a year ago, Miami Township, Union Township and State Representative John Becker were all critical of the backroom dealings of Clermont County, the CVB and FC Cincinnati. With this new plan, the County Commissioners asked for the Miami and Union Township Trustees and Rep. Becker to support the tax increase, in writing, despite there being no detail. Union Township’s Trustees responded, in a June 28 letter, with a request for answers before rendering a verdict. This is one line from that letter:

“We look forward to learning more about the structure of the public involvement; specifically, the debt, intergovernmental agreements, public incentives (tax or otherwise), use of the lodging tax, Clermont County Port Authority involvement, ownership of the site, proposed upgrades to infrastructure to accommodate the traffic, safety service enhancements as well as any other potential modifications necessary for this project.”

That sentence illustrates two things. First, how little we know about this plan or its finances. Second, how “detail free” the CVB, FC Cincinnati, Milford presentation was at the June 27 commissioner’s meeting. We need honest details before taxpayer funds are committed to subsidize a private business and, I think, we all need to question if taxpayer funds are needed at all if our CVB is to be believed.

The CVB claims the FC Project in Milford will generate over 17,000 incremental hotel stays (already taxed at 6%) and tremendous incremental visitor spending (with 1% of the sales tax going to the county). So, if FC Cincinnati in Milford will be such an economic engine, why does it require a tax rate increase to make the plan work?

Commissioners Humphrey, Uible and Painter all proudly claim to be conservative Republicans. Last time I checked, conservative Republicans are supposed to be about transparency, smaller government, lowering taxes and spending more efficiently. Let’s all watch closely what each of them does, the details they demand and the creativity they exhibit to avoid tax increases.

Hicks was a former candidate for county auditor.