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Playing the Stadium Cost Overrun Game

By Doug Trapp · August 3rd, 2000 · Burning Questions
Bob Drake, the Democratic candidate for Hamilton County treasurer, has a game for you.

Drake and his campaign advisor, Fred Anderson, created "Stadium Fiasco," a simple computer game centered on the approximate $50 million in cost overruns at Paul Brown Stadium. The game, which can be downloaded from Drake's web site (www.BobDrake.org), is a simple beat-the-clock contest that challenges players to build a stadium by placing seat sections, roads and offices in the proper order before the $500 million budget runs out. Occasionally, unexpected problems shrink the budget even quicker, such as soggy pompoms, which cost $10,000 to replace.

"My intent is for people to have a little fun with this," said Drake, a 12-year professor of mathematics education at the University of Cincinnati.

So what does the game have to do with the treasurer's job, which is largely confined to signing checks and investing county money for the safest and highest return?

Obviously not very much, at least directly, according to Drake, who acknowledged he was just trying to draw attention to himself and the usually low-profile treasurer's job.

But in a more general sense, he said, the game represents what's going on in the Republican-dominated Hamilton County government: a lack of opposing viewpoints and checks and balances.

No Democrat has held a county commissioner seat for more than three decades, and currently Auditor Dusty Rhodes is the lone high-profile Democrat in the county government.

And even though the treasurer has no decision-making authority over the stadiums, Drake said every elected official has a responsibility to speak up about problems in other parts of the system, such as the lack of financial controls that led to stadium cost overruns.

But Drake does have more than fun and games on his mind. He believes the county could reduce property taxes by 7 percent if it collected payments on a monthly basis rather than twice a year. The earlier collections could be invested to produce a larger return, which would enable property taxes to be lowered.

"There's really very little reason why it can't be used here," he said, adding that the system is used in Summit County -- where Akron is located -- among several other places in Ohio.

Drake also said that the dean of his UC department has no problem with him leaving his professorship to be a full-time treasurer.

"Frankly, (my dean would) be happy to have the salary back," he said.

Current Hamilton County Treasurer Robert Goering said state law doesn't leave Drake any choice.

"He would have to (quit UC) because he works for the state," said the nine-year Republican incumbent who's also a private attorney.

Goering said he began to implement a monthly property tax payment system a few years ago. So far, 13,000 people have opted in, allowing the county to reap an additional $250,000 in investment revenue.

But to save 7 percent, Drake's estimate, Goering said he'd have to generate a total of $52 million in revenue, something Goering considers unlikely to happen.

Goering briefly raised his profile a few years ago by proposing that tax dollars could be used to buy enough shares to control ownership of the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately for his idea, Ohio law prohibits municipalities owning anything but limited shares, which wouldn't give the county enough power to control the franchise. Also, county commissioners didn't approve of the idea.

Goering also said it's the auditor's job to watchdog the county's money. He suggested that Drake should talk to Rhodes if the job isn't being done well.

Goering hasn't played Stadium Fiasco and said he doesn't plan to.

"I'm not really a game player, to tell you the truth," he said.

BURNING QUESTIONS is our weekly attempt to afflict the comfortable.


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