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Columbus Council Approves Ticket Tax And Crew Stadium

Columbus City Hall
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Columbus City Council on Monday approved a 5 percent tax on tickets with a last-minute amendment exempting most non-profit organizations. The proposal will support grants for local arts organizations and maintenance at Nationwide Arena.

Council members approved the ticket surcharge at their last meeting of 2018. Council President Shannon Hardin insists his plan will benefit communities throughout the city.

“If it’s not for all, it’s not for us,” Hardin says. “We would not be passing this ordinance if it was not for all.

And despite an often bitter and contentious path to passage, no organized opposition showed up to the meeting. An amendment protecting non-profits’ fundraising efforts brought some opponents into the fold.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, who earlier opposed the fees, changed course. In a letter to council, President Mike Priest stopped short of a full-throated endorsement, but called the plan “a more reasonable framework.”

But Mike Gonidakis with the group Advocates for Responsible Taxation says he’s committed as ever to opposing the fee.

“It’s about time the citizens of this city stand up and say enough is enough and we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired and we’re going to give them that opportunity when we get the signatures and go to ballot.”

He’s planning a two-pronged approach challenging one part in court and the other through a referendum.

Crew Stadium

Council members began the evening approving a plan that would redevelop MAPFRE stadium and use $50 million in city funds on infrastructure for the Columbus Crew’s planned new home.

David Miller, who's been active in the #SaveTheCrew movement, is confident the team will be sticking around. He’s already looking forward to Franklin County Commissioners voting on their planned $50 million contribution toward the stadium project.

“We also need that to happen and then I think that’s the last hurdle to actually completing the sale of the team and finally 100 percent securing it here forever,” Miller says.

The city and county may be chipping in $50 million each for the stadium project, but Columbus leaders aren’t letting any of the city’s money go toward building the stadium itself. Columbus Auditor Megan Kilgore assured council members it wouldn’t.

“The closest that the city of Columbus is going to get to a stadium itself are the sewer and water tap lengths that go into the stadium,” she explained. “Just as it would a grocery store or anything else.”

Campaign Finance

Also on Monday, Council stepped back from a campaign finance measure proposed by Mayor Andrew Ginther. The ordinance would institute more stringent disclosures and cap individual contributions.

It’s the sort of thing organizers with Yes We Can Columbus tend to like, but Steven David says a donation limit of nearly $13,000 is far too high.

“The amount that would be allowed for individual contributions is an unimaginable sum for most of the residents of this city,” he says.

Organizers are pushing for the city to survey residents before setting the contribution caps. Former state Rep. Marian Harris notes the council paid for surveys about its ticket tax.

Council member Michael Stinziano will host a public hearing on the idea January 3.

Minimum Wage

City Council also approved up a minimum wage provision for jobs tied to tax incentives. Council member Elizabeth Brown says each job created through local tax breaks will have to pay at least $15 an hour.

“When a job doesn’t pay a living wage, employees struggle to support their families the opportunity gap widens and often those same families need to seek public assistance to bridge that gap. Bottom line not all jobs are created equal.”

The $15 an hour benchmark was already city policy, but the ordinance codifies it into city law.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.