CLEVELAND -- Ohio's most populous county is considering whether to put a sin tax renewal before voters to go toward downtown Cleveland's three professional sports stadiums.
The Cuyahoga County Council has until Feb. 5 to put a 20-year renewal of the tax on alcohol and cigarettes on the May 6 ballot. Otherwise, it will expire in 2015.
The council began hearing arguments on both sides at packed meetings this week and could come to a vote as soon as Tuesday.
Renewing the tax could produce a projected $260 million over 20 years.
The county first approved of the tax in 1990, drawing just more than $350 million for construction and maintenance of the stadiums for the Cleveland Indians, Cavaliers and Browns.
At a meeting of the council on Thursday to consider putting the renewal to voters in May, the Indians submitted a preliminary capital repair list with a price tag between $61.2 million and $67.2 million over 10 years, including a $14.9 million state-of-the-art scoreboard.
The Cavaliers' preliminary repair list estimated costs at between $55 million to $65 million, with the priciest item being a new high-definition, $9 million scoreboard.
If the sin tax is not renewed and the repairs are not made, the Indians and the Cavaliers would have legal leeway to break their leases with the county and city, said Tim Offtermatt, chairman of Gateway Corp., the nonprofit that acts as landlord for the teams' stadiums.
The City of Cleveland is the landlord of the Browns' stadium. In November, the Browns and the city reached agreement on a 10-year, $120 million plan to update the stadium. The lease runs through 2029.
Because the city or county owns each stadium, they will have to find a way to pay for many of the repairs, with or without the sin tax.
Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said he hopes the measure makes it to the May ballot and that voters pass it.
"The money for repair will have to come from somewhere," Kelley said. "Better to have it come from an extension of the sin tax than from the city's general fund."
Opponents of renewing the sin tax criticize some of the items that the money generated would go toward, including the new score boards, arguing that money could come from team owners.
Information from: The News-Herald, http://www.news-herald.com/jrc-html/index/index_p33.html