Commissioners split on admissions tax issue

Jim from West Adams Street in Sandusky asked whether city commissioners would consider raising the admissions tax to solve their financial challenges.
Andy Ouriel
Mar 24, 2014

 

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.

Comments

Josh31's picture
Josh31

So most of these people are in Cedar Fairs' hip pocket and would rather screw the year round citizens with having to pay for the tourists using our emergency services, tearing up our roads, and congesting the local area. The city of Sandusky is not worth a rise in city tax. These wingnuts need to be replaced by non-biased commissioners who actually want to make a real change.

DGMutley

You might be surprised. What a person claims publicly may be totally different from how he would mark the ballot.

An example would be that it is to Commissioner Murray's personal advantage to pass an admission tax rather than an income or property tax.

SamAdams

If the City took unfair advantage of Cedar Point, I'd be against an admissions tax increase. But the reverse is the case! No, I don't mean that Cedar Point is taking unfair advantage of the City. I DO mean that the admissions tax rate here is a LOT lower than it is everywhere else. A couple of percentage points of increase would STILL make the rate lower than average, and would solve a lot of problems. That the majority of Commissioners are pointing everywhere BUT an admissions tax increase is irresponsible -- and that's the NICEST word I can think to use!

Nor'easter

AMEN! ! ! AMEN ! ! !

reader

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Bogtrotter

Supporters of an increase in the admissions tax are planning on meeting at Mr. Smith's Coffee House on Saturday, April 5, 11 am. The idea would be to organize an effort to collect enough signatures to get an admissions tax increase placed on the ballot. The commission is NOT going to get this done.

SanduskyGuardian

My personal feeling is that the relationship between Cedar Point and Sandusky was changed from symbiotic to an unapologetic parasitism when cedar Point chose to no longer hire locals but bring in foreigners from all over Asia instead of hiring locals first. They have no problems charging locals $5 for a bottle of pop but they won't hire us. It is not cool. So my point is we owe them nothing. Let's keep jacking up the admissions tax, what will we lose? Wes Pool gives some quixotic response based on a fable as to why he is in Cedar Fair's pocket, well let's push and see if the place will roll up a billion dollars worth of equipment and take it somewhere else where the locals would be pushovers for a handful of minimum wage jobs. None of that stuff can be ripped apart and put back together. It is time we demand decent treatment.

SanduskyGuardian

Just wanted to make something clear. I first came to Sandusky in 1987. I was from a small town in Wisconsin and as you can see did the whole "Edge of Seventeen" thing here. That's right, that movie was about me and my friends. I just want to say this town was glorious. We were all supposed to be saving money for college but we went downtown and spent our whole check week after week. Look at those Chinese kids at Wal-Mart. Buying rice and beans, not spending a dime on fun. I imagine I spent all my money here with Ball State getting a few scraps. It was glorious, every Ride Operator at the park was in the game, Foods not so much, a lot of them doods were gross and stoopid. That was the way it was supposed to be. I guess I ended up being like the guy who graduates but can't move out of the Frat house, I just stayed, and stayed and stayed. Let's just make sure that CF pays their fair share. They took away everything else that was good about them.

Bogtrotter

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Babo

Most places they call it human trafficking. Harsh? Maybe ..maybe not. Why do you think the police records are kept private and Nuesse got run out by CP counsel Murray when she started demanding CP police report to her.

OSUBuckeye59

As others have noted, Cedar Point is not likely to pack up and move all the rides to another amusement park. After briefly perusing Cedar Point's financial statements starting with 2006, with the exception of both '07 & '10, Cedar Point's net income after taxes has been positive, especially 2012. But here's probably the most important Indicator of what Cedar Fair corp plans for Cedar Point: Capital spending. Cedar Fair continues to not only invest capital $$ in Cedar Point, but the spending continues to increase year-over-year. That's important. VERY important. If Cedar Fair had any intention of closing down Cedar Point, the first indication wouldn't be a decrease in net revenue. It would be a decrease in capital spending. Should capital spending start significantly decreasing and continue decreasing in two subsequent years, that would be an early warning sign of Cedar Fair's plans for Cedar Point as it would translate into Cedar Fair choosing to no longer invest in new rides to be placed at Cedar Point.

Bogtrotter

Mr. Smith's. April 5. 11 am. Let's get the ball rolling on increasing the admissions tax. If we wait on the commission, it isn't going to happen and more fire stations will close; more dead trees will line city streets posing a hazard to cars and homes; more roads will go unpaved; and, the Sandusky Bay Pavilion will remain forever fenced off and essentially inaccessible to the public (until something terrible happens due to the lack of visibility from the street).

SamAdams

A CAUTIONARY NOTE: Yes, the admissions tax should be raised. Yes, I'll be at the meeting on April 5. And yes, I'll help circulate the petitions to get an admissions tax increase on the ballot. But that being said...

Those few here who are demanding we take Cedar Point for everything we can are just as short-sighted and obtuse as is the current Commission! Cedar Point is a great asset. So is the City and its lakefront location. NEITHER should be using, abusing, or otherwise taking the other for granted. A small admissions tax hike isn't evil. Demanding Cedar Point fork over an UNfair amount just because it might happen to have it (this year, anyway) IS evil. Hypocrisy and greed aren't going to get either side anywhere. In fact, I object to referencing "sides" here. We're all in this together (with the exception, apparently, of the City leadership), so let's behave like it!

Bogtrotter

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SamAdams

Those who have done the math suggest that an increase from the current 3% to just over 4% would solve the City's current budget shortfall. Since we can't do this year in and year out, 6% sounds quite reasonable to me and is certainly an amount I'd support.

One question, though: If the tax is raised, is there any way to prohibit those monies from being spent as foolishly as some have spent City dollars in the past? Can it be earmarked, for example, for safety services? Or infrastructure? Or do we have to take the chance that, instead of putting the funds away for a rainy day, the City "powers that be" will increase the budget to equal any new income whether that spending is truly necessary or not?

Bogtrotter

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Babo

Cedar Point does not pay the Admissions Tax, the tourists pay it just like you pay the 7.5% sales tax which applies to most sales but not admissions prices in Ohio. Thus it costs Cedar Point NOTHING! In fact they have a bargain as customers only pay 3% on sales while other business have to collect 7.5% or more depending on the county.

However, Governor Kasich is proposing an overall reduction in the state sales tax to 5% by extending it to sales not currently taxed such as Amusement Parks. If that happens Cedar Point can justifiably argue that the current 3% is fair. The problem is sales tax revenue benefits the state and county much more than an Admissions Tax which remains in Sandusky.

From a PR stand point, Cedar Point should actually support an Admissions Tax to at least the Sales Tax level so it can argue that Admissions should not be subjected to sales tax as the burdens associated with Amusement Parks and Stadiums fall disproportionally on the city which has to support the Park.

Bogtrotter

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reader

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Nor'easter

Keep in mind that the admissions tax is paid by the tourists that use the facilities and IS NOT PAID BY CEDAR POINT. Orlando is 8%, Tampa Busch Gardens is 8%, Williamsburg is 8% and Las Vegas is 10%. What we really need to do is remove the city income tax to make the city competitive with Perkins Township when you work a business plan. What is needed to make Sandusky a great place to is to repair their streets, sidewalks, curbs and remove the dead trees. Keep in mind that the foreign workers do not pay income tax. Neither do the those who come in as vendors for Bike Week. Eliminating the Income Tax would help replace the losses of locals due to raised prices during the season.

Bogtrotter

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Tribester

You will only be able to raise it once, if at all. If 8% is good enough for Cleveland, it's good enough for Sandusky! Stop negotiating down to 6% or 4% before you even get started! Cedar Fair only COLLECTS the tax, they do not PAY the tax, the tourists PAY the tax!

DGMutley

You're right. If the tax would happen to be voted down at 8% we can always go back and try 6%. It doesn't work the other way around.

Bogtrotter

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DGMutley

From the looks of things most of the commenters aren't comfortable with 8 percent. 4 or 5 percent isn't enough though.

Little Giant

I think Cedar Point should be given the opportunity to do the right thing and offer to a 6% admissions tax. If they refuse to be a good corporate citizen..... make it 10%!

SanduskyGuardian

I am just loving it, seeing direct democracy, the citizens doing an end run around corrupt politicians. I do not blame our elected leaders for their flaccid craven cowardice. I am sure that the main Adversary will happily ruin any man that stands against them. Can they take on 30,000 free people? I have seen a lot of meaningful things happen lately with democracy, finally getting the right to marry whomever I want, I have seen direct democracy do good but it can also be misguided and a tool of hate. Still let's really stick it to CP. Go the whole 8%.

WhatTheHeck

Amen, I can remember when I was in business and just started. Two CP employess came and cashed checks that we're cancelled. I called the big wig 2002 in charge of payroll and he was rude. He told me I did not tell you to cash them, I said I am filing a small claims against them. He laughed and said good luck with that. The city would not let me press charges! Karma needs to wake them up! Ironey of of corrupt politians. Why do we keep voting people with a conflict of interest and wishy washy and do not have a mind of his own

reader

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SanduskyGuardian

CP has not paid diddly for years. And they made plenty of money, always tearing up stuff to put in more revenue generating items. Taking out Earthquake to put up a pizza place, ripping out Jungle Larry to put up that dizzy diner. Maybe they will just have to take out some rides and put up more Coke stands selling $5 cokes or $10 subs. People say that it isn't CP paying the tax but they know every penny we take to pay for their safety, to provide a huge waterworks, to pay for roads to allow their victims in, that is one less penny for them to yank out of their marks' pockets. If our tax would add $4 to a ticket, surely CP has considered already the consequence of $54 tickets and they certainly feel entitled to that $4, not the city. I really feel like Smith and Poole are just shameful cowards for not being in front of this. I bet Smith will cross over and join our side if he sees we have momentum, but keep in mind, he started out against us and trying to dissuade us.

Little Giant

Does Wes Poole think he is Jesus Christ speaking in parables? Sounds more like the joker!

SanduskyGuardian

I think it is the Riddler you are thinking of. Maybe that comic guy who can't fill out his ballot paperwork right will read this story and let you know.

Dcfred20036

Whose interests are the commissioners serving? People will not stop visiting Cedar Point and all the other entertainment venues in the area because of a modest admissions tax increase. Someone has to pay for services that also benefit all these venues, and I think is rather unfair to have the taxpayer --already tapped out, as it is-- pick up the tab!

Nor'easter

Commissioners are serving the interest of Cedar Point, not the citizens of Sandusky. When we had a manufacturing based economy, the factories funded the city. Now the city needs to turn to the tourist economy and collect the 8%.

SanduskyGuardian

No one can forget how Cedar Point so generously donates the spare change people throw into the fountains. That is right they give to Sandusky what their guests discard and throw away. That is what we deserve, in CP's twisted corporate mind.

SamAdams

It's more than that, SanduskyGuardian. Cedar Point also donates the change that falls out of riders' pockets. Now while that may not sound like any big deal, it's historically added up to a LOT at the end of every season! Shame on you for belittling charitable donations that add up to a hefty amount and which Cedar Point is under no obligation whatsoever to collect and give!

downthemiddle

Do what the democrats do... figure out how much you need and take it from a source that has it. Then give it to people who will never work and pay taxes just to get their votes. They stimulate the economy by giving it to drug dealers, liquor stores, lottery vendors and junk jewelry sellers.

Bogtrotter

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downthemiddle

There's no doubt that Sandusky needs all the police and fire protection that it can get... but why are current taxes not enough? Where does the money REALLY go... it goes to chasing drug dealers and other lowlife baby daddies who are reproducing at an alarming rate. Sandusky has become a multi-generational ghetto..... largely through redistribution via LBJ's great society programs.

YouMustBeJoking

If a single mother has to pay a 7.5% tax on everything she purchases (besides food) clothes, school uniforms, diapers, school supplies, etc. Then there is NO reason whatsoever, that there shouldn't be an 8% admission tax. Tourist that are on vacation should not pay less taxes on Cedar Point tickets, than the residents pay in taxes for a pack of toilet paper. This is just crazy. When I take my family to Disney World every other year, I expect to pay the 8% tax on our tickets. If next year when we arrive the tax has been increased to 10% then guess what? I'm going to pay the 10% and not think twice about it. I WILL support an Admission tax increase to 8%, anything less, is just a slap in the face to the people that live here, ALL YEAR.

Rosa

I totally agree with you Joking... It is a no brainer to raise the tax and should be an unanimous vote on part of the commissioners and one has to wonder why it is not!

DEATHnTAXES

Farrar just recently jumped on the admissions tax increase ship. For years, when the admissions tax was discussed, she would always change the topic to an increase in the income tax stating "it (income tax) hasn't gone up in 40 years. It's time citizens pay their share".

WhatTheHeck

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).

WhatTheHeck

Well, I can not write anything about this comment! Just please get your facts straight! you sound like Mr. Weaterhold! Are you in the same club! The reason why I ask my last comment got deleted!

downthemiddle

Your problems are solved.

Today's front page states that CP will hire 5000 for the summer.

Simply pay them at least $15.00/hr like the democrats want and the city income tax of 1% will deliver $750.00/hr for every hour they work.

40 hr week means $30,000 per week. How many weeks...12- 15.. you should end up with about half a million bucks. That should put 5 or 6 full time (unionized) safety personnel back to work.

This is eeeaassyyyyy.

Nor'easter

The 5000 foreign workers DO NOT PAY CITY INCOME TAX. Raise the admission tax to 8% and allow the tourists to begin to reimburse the city for creating a CEDAR POINT corridor and repaving it and not fixing city streets, Creating a water and sewer plant for ten times the city population to subsidize Cedar Point while failing to update and separate city sanitary and storm sewers, repaving and adding lanes to the RT250 overpass while failing to repair the Camp St underpass( Is it because it serves the lower income residents?). It is time for the City Commission to serve the residents and stop worshiping The Golden Goose that is in reality laying lead turds. Sandusky's residents have paid the price for failed leadership, it is time for accountability.

Babo

How do foreign workers avoid paying local income taxes? Are they also exempt from federal and state income taxes as well as social security and medicare? If these foreign workers are not paying social security or medicare taxes than CP is getting a huge break because as the employer the company is not paying the employer tax on social security and medicare as well. That's about 10% that CP saves on payroll taxes that every other employer has to pay.

Assuming CP doesn't pay the employer's share on social security and medicare (about 10%) on foreign workers and doesn't have to collect sales tax of about 7.5% on ticket sales; this means CP has a 14.5% (17.5 less 3 admission tax) pricing advantage over businesses that must pay or collect these taxes and their employees are doing very little to contribute or improve the community.

Oh but CP donates $50,000 to the police and collected spare change. Give me a break, how much corporate welfare does CP and its taxpayer subsidized employees and customers deserve?

Nor'easter

Those under the age of 18 are exempt from the city income tax.

Nor'easter

Foreign Agricultural Workers on H-2A Visas are exempt from Federal Income tax withholding according to IRS website. They come here, displace our jobs, and take all the money with them since China, Russia and others are not going to make them pay taxes. Cedar Point hides under the this worker system to make more money.

WhatTheHeck

To DEATHnTAXES: "FACT CHECK" You may want to go back and read the city commission minutes from the year 2009. I remember the meetings that year because they were talking about putting a income tax increase on the ballot that year. Farrar spoke up then, and now about the admissions tax increase. If it were not for her insistence the other commissioners would have NEVER put the 1/4% (joke) CP admission tax increase on the ballot combined with the 1/2% income tax increase. Check it out before you start talking about things you do not know about.

Truth or Dare

The way I feel as a taxpaying resident of this City, our City Manager, backed by 5 Commissioners should be petitioning this to be on the ballot, with the support of not only LE and Fire, but every last city employee! Because they don't, speaks volumes and explains why the only levy I will vote YES on is the school (renewal) levy. Also, bump that figure all the way up to 8%, just for GP.

Not a supporter at all of "taxation w/o representation". Since graphs and %'s seem to be the ex-officio mayors thing, If possible, I would like to know what % of the folks that fall into the two wage-earner categories (30% at $100K or more, and 70% below), what % of those folks don't live in the city and therefore have no vote as to a raise in their income tax?