News Politics Transportation

Let’s talk tax structure and streetcars

There is no doubt that residents and businesses, in Downtown/OTR/Uptown, see the value in the proposed streetcar system. It is also quite understandable that community leaders in neighborhoods like Westwood, Price Hill, and Mt. Washington may not exactly see the benefits to their respective communities.

Every community would like to have more amenities and improved services. These are the things that help make neighborhoods successful and great places to live. At the same time they understandably don’t want to see their taxes rise. So lets break down the tax structure and how the streetcar will play into this whole situation…

Residential properties are accepted losers when it comes to taxes. They simply demand far more services than they pay for in taxes. Those services (i.e. trash, police, fire, schools, etc) are made possible by those that pay exceedingly more than they demand (i.e. office, industrial).

Therefore the commercial and industrial bases are the most important tax bases to preserve and grow in order to maintain service levels for your residential base. Of the Top Ten taxpayers, in 2006, 9 were based out of Downtown* (for what I could find).

With that said, residential properties can get close to offsetting their service demands. The best opportunity for this to occur is in the most densely populated (or built) areas where economies of scale factor in big time. In Cincinnati’s case there is no other residential neighborhood that has a potentially better return on taxes than Over-the-Rhine.

Chart illustrating the functionality of Economies of Scale

These most densely built areas need to be focused on first and foremost, and need to be populated with as many people as possible. This allows you to grow your residential base without significantly growing the demand for services (in OTR’s case you may actually decrease demand for services like police and fire by repopulating the neighborhood).

So while a streetcar line only serving Downtown, OTR, and Uptown seems to only benefit those 3 neighborhoods…it is really affecting the financial stability of the entire city, and allows for a growth in tax base without a significantly higher demand for services. This means extra tax revenues can then be used for increased services and funding for the other 49 great Cincinnati neighborhoods.

*Tax data from City of Cincinnati’s 2006 Annual Financial Report (pdf 5mb)

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By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.