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January 15th, 2014 By German Lopez | News | Posted In: News, City Council, County commissioners, MSD, Homelessness, Development, Business

City Council Tackles Progressive Agenda

Democratic majority pushes initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion

city hallCity Hall - Photo: Jesse Fox
City Council on Wednesday advanced a largely progressive agenda that moves forward with initiatives aimed at job training, homelessness and inclusion.

The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.

The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.

Responsible bidder

Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.

The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.

The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.

Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.

But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.

The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.

With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.

“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.

Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal.

But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”

The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.

“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.

If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully continues.

Supportive housing project in Avondale

A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.

Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.

Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.

Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.

National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.

“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.

Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.

Disparity study

City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.

The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.

But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced doubts that the studys findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.

Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.

“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.

Other notable actions

• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.

• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.

• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.

• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the mayor and council originally established to look into halting the project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.

 
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