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Commissioners split on admissions tax issue

Andy Ouriel • Mar 24, 2014 at 10:24 AM

This week, a reader sent in a Mailbag question that takes a little more space to explain.

Jim from West Adams Street in Sandusky asked whether city commissioners would consider raising the admissions tax to solve their financial challenges.

Before providing answers from each commissioner, here’s some background on the issue, taken from past Register reporting:

The tax:

The admissions tax, which is a 3 percent fee tacked onto ticket sales at Sandusky-based entertainment venues, largely depends upon attendance at Cedar Point — the undisputed giant in the region’s entertainment industry.

The amount:

City officials collected about $2.81 million in admissions tax in 2013, the most in recent times. Cedar Point’s new roller coaster, GateKeeper, surely propelled this amount.

The proposed raise:

Jim referenced how an 8 percent admissions tax rate would’ve generated about $7.5 million in 2013, virtually solving all of Sandusky’s budget problems.

If commissioners were to raise a tax, many residents favor hiking the admissions fee — as opposed to the 1 percent income tax or upping property taxes — since it largely targets tourists.

The decision:

For the past few weeks, commissioners have discussed whether or not residents would support a tax increase of some kind.

Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr. started the conversation by organizing town hall-style meeting, informing people about Sandusky’s budget challenges and seeking input for how to improve the city’s financial standing.

About a month ago, commissioners slashed $1.1 million of services, including eliminating four full-time fire positions — from 53 to 49 — and authorized closing the fire station on Venice Road for six months beginning in May.

But Murray, whose firm Murray & Murray represents Cedar Fair, won’t answer the question because of his work relationship with the amusement park. So the Register asked every other commissioner via email about whether they favor increasing the admissions tax or not. Any tax increase would likely have to be approved by a majority of voters. Here are their responses:

•Jeff Smith:

I would much rather work with Cedar Point as a corporate citizen than force a tax on (its) customers. I feel it is much more important for Sandusky to begin an aggressive economic development campaign focusing on our strengths. We need to build partnerships with local businesses focusing on creating more jobs within the city limits.

•Naomi Twine:

I am not in favor of supporting an increase in the admissions tax. I believe that if we are going to move this city forward, we, the commissioners, should take the lead and collaborate with city staff, citizens and business stakeholders. If this commission, after exercising responsible, measured and strategic assessment of where we are, what we need to do in order to get to where we want to go, make the appropriate adjustments when and where needed, and if all parties involved believe an admissions tax increase is something that they would be willing to support, I would consider it.

•Wes Poole:

“The Dog and (its Reflection)” An Aesop’s Fable: It happened that a Dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home he had to cross a plank lying across a running brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also. So he made a snap at the shadow in the water, but as he opened his mouth the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water and was never seen more.

•Scott Schell:

We can not hope to meet these challenges by cuts to staff and services alone. Part of that game plan has to be a strategy to increase revenues. We will need to look at every aspect of our current revenue stream and assess what can be improved or revised to help the city provide the necessary services to our citizens. The admissions tax is just one piece of this equation. I would be in favor of beginning the dialogue with our community partners who contribute annually to the admissions tax. Share with them the state of the city today and our analysis of where we are headed in the next two years. Investigate how the current levels of tax impact their business today and how any potential increase might impact their operations in the future.

•Dick Brady:

The admissions tax issue creates a potential conflict of interest for myself. I own Brady Sign Company and Brady Electric Inc. Over the last 34 years, both of these companies have been a vendor to the largest contributor to the admissions tax collected by Sandusky, Cedar Fair. Due to this potential conflict of interest, I will be required to refrain from discussing or voting on the admissions tax issue.

•Julie Farrar:

Yes, I am in favor of raising the admissions tax. The admissions tax has been the same amount since its inception. Cedar Point and the city are in this together in my opinion. I would use an admissions tax increase for streets and otherinfrastructure improvements and also ask the citizens to get behind a safety levy to fund our police and fire departments.

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