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by German Lopez 10.26.2012
Posted In: News, Privatization, Budget at 03:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Manager Suggests Privatizing Parking

Council member says approach seems shortsighted

It’s nearly budget season in Cincinnati again. In a bit of a head start, City Manager Milton Dohoney has unveiled his plan to look into privatizing the city’s parking services.

In a memo to city employees, Dohoney claimed leasing could provide a few benefits to the city: “For example, a third party can invest in technology across the entire system more efficiently, can conduct enforcement and bill scofflaws, and can assume maintenance and facility upgrades to the system. ... Further, leasing the system could allow the City government to focus current staff on other services, and provide a pool of funding that could be paid immediately to support neighborhood investment among other priorities.”

Dohoney also wrote he had met with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers that would be affected by the change. He assured any new parking operator would have to interview AFSCME parking workers for jobs.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld responded to the proposal critically in a statement: “I’ll await more details, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget, and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t need while were experiencing an urban renaissance.”

Some have cited the experience in Chicago as a failure of privatization. When New York City moved to privatize its parking meters, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone criticized New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for his plan: “These deals involve a sitting executive selling off a valuable piece of city property at a steep discount to private financial interests (often, to friends or campaign contributors), in order to solve a current cash flow problem that, surprise, surprise, will still be there the year after you finish spending the proceeds of your sale.”

But New York City’s plan for privatized parking meters kept pricing in public hands. It’s possible Cincinnati could take a similar approach and keep meter rates at the same level.

City officials could not be reached to elaborate on the proposal. This story will be updated if more information becomes available.

The full budget proposal typically comes out in late November. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council will have to approve the proposal.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.30.2012
Posted In: Budget, News, Media at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Slashing Media Bridges Funding

Massive cuts endanger local public access media

Mitt Romney was criticized for wanting to kill Big Bird due to his proposed cuts to publicly funded media, and now City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. could face similar criticism. In his 2013 budget proposal, Dohoney suggested eliminating $300,000 in support to Media Bridges, an organization that provides public access TV and radio stations in Cincinnati.

Tom Bishop, executive director of Media Bridges, called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget. He described dire circumstances in which Ohio originally cut funding to Media Bridges in June 2011, leaving the organization with $198,000 from remaining money in the state fund and $300,000 from Cincinnati’s general fund. The state fund was provided by Time Warner Cable, and lobbying from the cable company is what eventually led to the fund’s elimination. The end of the Time Warner fund cut Media Bridges’ budget by one-third, forcing the organization to change facilities to make ends meet with less space.

With the city manager proposing to cut the citys $300,000 in funding, Media Bridges is essentially losing $498,000 in 2013. Bishop says that’s about 85 percent of the organization’s budget — a financial gap that would be practically impossible to overcome. “If it’s a complete cut, we’re looking at liquidation,” says Bishop.

When it was notified of the changes a few months ago, Media Bridges gave an alternative plan to the mayor’s office that keeps $300,000 in funding every year after a six-month transition period. But even that plan isn’t ideal, according to Bishop. It would force Media Bridges to cut four staff members, become more dependent on automation and charge $200 a year for memberships with a sliding scale for low-income members.

Media Bridges will be reaching out to the public, mayor and council members in the coming weeks to draw support in fighting the cuts.

At the government meetings, Bishop will make the plea that public access outlets are important for low-income families. He says it’s true that the Internet and cable television have expanded media options for the public, but, according to the 2010 Greater Cincinnati Survey, more than 40 percent of people in Cincinnati don’t have access to broadband. That’s a large amount of the population that will be left without a way to easily speak out in media if Media Bridges funding is dissolved.

In a world of saturated media, Bishop rhetorically asked why four TV channels that do a public service would need to be targeted: “Does it seem so ridiculous that the people should have a tiny bit of that bandwidth so that they can communicate with the community, share cultural events, share what’s going on in the community and participate politically?”

He added the organization also provides educational access, which allows institutions like the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Public Schools and various private schools to reach out to the community.

Media Bridges also sees the cuts as a bit unfair relative to other budget items. Bishop acknowledges “fiscal times are hard,” but he pointed out CitiCable, which broadcasts City Council meetings and other educational services, is getting more than $750,000 in the proposed budget to run one TV channel, while Media Bridges isn't getting $300,000 to run four TV channels and a radio station. He praised CitiCable — “Those guys do a great job over there; they provide a great service” — but he also says the disproportionate cuts are “just not right.”

The cuts to Media Bridges are some of many adjustments in the budget proposal by Dohoney. To balance Cincinnatis estimated $34 million deficit, Dohoney suggested pursuing privatizing parking services and other cuts, including the elimination of the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit and a $610,770 reduction to human services funding.

Update (Nov. 30, 3:45 p.m.): Meg Olberding, spokesperson for the city manager's office, called back CityBeat after this story was published. She explained Media Bridges was a target for cuts for two reasons: The program was ranked low in importance in public feedback gathered during the priority-driven budget process, and Media Bridges isn't seen as a core city service.

Olberding also said that while some funding does flow through the city to CitiCable, that money has always come from franchise fees from Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner. In the case of Media Bridges, the city was not funding the program until it picked up the tab in 2011. Until that point, Media Bridges was funded through the now-gone Time Warner fund. Only after funding was lost did the city government provide a one-year reprieve” in the general fund to keep Media Bridges afloat, according to Olberding.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.14.2012
Posted In: 2013 Election, Mayor, Budget, News, Privatization at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
cranley wiki copy

Fact Check: Cranley's 'Very Easy' Budget Plan

Mayor candidate’s budget suggestions are inadequate, impossible

Former Democratic city council member John Cranley is kicking off his 2013 mayoral campaign by getting involved in budget talks. In a public hearing at City Hall last week, Cranley tried to provide an alternative to privatizing the city’s parking assets, which City Manager Milton Dohoney has suggested to pay for $21 million of the city’s $34 million deficit.

“It’s not the citizen’s job to balance the budget, but let me make it very easy for you,” Cranley said. “You have $12 million in casino money that can be used but is currently being used on pet projects, like street sculptures. The parking meters themselves produce $7 million a year. That’s $19 million. And $5 million for garbage cans. That’s $24 million. You only need ($21 million) to cancel the parking privatization plan, so I got you $3 extra million to spare.”

In short, Cranley's alternative to parking privatization is using $12 million from casino revenue, $7 million from keeping parking meters under city ownership and $5 million saved from not purchasing trash carts.

So how viable are Cranley’s ideas? In a memo, Dohoney’s office responded. The memo points out that casino revenue is currently estimated at $7.2 million, not $12 million, and $1.3 million is already included in the budget for Focus 52, a neighborhood redevelopment project. That leaves casino revenues $6.1 million short of what Cranley proposed.

Regarding parking meters, Dohoney’s office says revenue from parking meters is restricted to fund “operations and maintenance in the right-of-way.” The memo says City Council could authorize using the money to plug the deficit, but it would then have to find alternatives for funding operations and maintenance.

Even the trash cart proposal doesn’t work. Not buying trash carts would only save $4.7 million, not $5 million. And the plan, which is part of the city’s effort to semi-automate trash collection, is in the general capital budget, not the general fund operating budget that’s being debated. The memo concludes, “If the trash carts are not purchased, the funds would not be available to close the gap because this is a capital budget expenditure and resources supporting the capital budget cannot be used in the operating budget.”

In other words, Cranley’s “very easy” budget plan isn’t just difficult; it’s a mix of inadequate and impossible. If CityBeat was PolitiFact, Cranley’s suggestions would probably get him a “Pants on Fire” label.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.03.2012
 
 
milton dohoney

Budget Hearing Raises Questions About Parking Privatization

City Manager says without lease, 344 city workers would lose jobs

Cincinnati City Council members today focused a lot of attention on a contentious plan to lease city parking assets during a Monday committee presentation on the 2013 budget.

It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.

Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.

“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.

Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.

Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.

“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.

Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.

A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.

Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.

The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts Grants.

It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.

Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.

He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.

The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.

Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.

“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”

Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.28.2013
Posted In: News, Education, Budget at 01:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cps offices

State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding

Cincinnati Public Schools getting $15 million less than it did in 2009

Compared to the previous budget, the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly Thursday increased school funding by $700 million. But the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools received in 2009.

The result: Cincinnati Public Schools will receive $15 million less in state funding than it did in 2009, joining three in four school districts who have a net loss to funding between 2009 and 2015.

Still, Republicans are calling the funding boost the largest increase to education spending in more than 10 years.

“No school district in the state of Ohio will receive less funding than current levels,” says Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans. “Eighty percent of Ohio’s students … are in one of the school districts that is receiving an increase.”

Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says the claim is dishonest because it ignores longer-term trends in funding.

“It’s like they cut off both of your legs, give you back one of them and say, 'You should thank us,'” he says.

Republicans defend the cuts by citing an $8 billion deficit in 2011, which had to be eliminated under state law. Some of the cuts from that previous budget directly impacted school funding, but the decreases also eliminated subsidies that previously benefited schools, such as tangible personal property reimbursements.

Dyer says the state budget situation has changed since then. Instead of focusing on tax cuts, he argues state legislators should have prioritized education funding.

Another problem, according to Dyer, is how the increased funding is distributed. Although Dyer acknowledges the plan is more equitable than the governor’s original proposal, he says some of the most impoverished schools districts, particularly the poor and rural, will get the smallest increases.

Even if there was full equity, Dyer claims there’s not enough money going into education as a result of years of cuts. To illustrate his point, he gives an example: “If I’m going to go see Superman with three of my friends and it costs $10 each to get in, I’ve got $36 and I give everybody $9, none of us are getting in. Even though I perfectly distributed the money equally, … the fact is none of us are getting in.”

The budget’s tax changes could also impact future local funding to schools. As part of the changes, the state will not subsidize 12.5 percent of future property tax levies — something the state does for current levies. For local taxpayers, that means new school levies will be 12.5 percent more expensive.

That, Dyer argues, will make it more difficult to pass future school levies, and that could force schools to ask for less money if they want levies to get voter approval.

“The legislature and legislators are doing a real disservice to people to tell everybody that they’re getting an increase and no one is getting cut,” Dyer says. “They need to be honest with people.”

The budget also increases funding to “school choice” options, including the addition of 2,000 vouchers for private schooling that will be available to kindergarten students in households making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Republicans argue the vouchers give lower-income children access to schools and options in education that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

But a January report from Policy Matters Ohio found the extra mobility enabled by school choice options hurts student performance and strains teachers and staff by forcing them to more often accommodate new students.

The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it this weekend.

Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy
State Budget Rejects Medicaid Expansion
State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion
 
 
by German Lopez 12.19.2012
Posted In: Budget, News, Streetcar, Mayor, Development at 12:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Supposed City-SORTA Conflict Much Ado About Nothing

SORTA wants to limit transit fund, Mallory refuses

In the past few days, local media outlets have reported heavily on a supposed conflict between Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the city of Cincinnati. Essentially, SORTA wants the transit fund limited, while the city government says it doesn’t want to “undermine the city charter” with limitations.

At its heart, the argument is a political back-and-forth with little consequence. It’s two government agencies at a small divide over legalese in an intergovernmental agreement about how the streetcar will operate and how it will be funded.

The specific issue is SORTA, which runs the Metro bus system and will operate the streetcar, wants to include phrasing in its agreement with the city that makes it so the transit fund can’t be used for the streetcar. In a 7-6 vote Tuesday, SORTA's board pushed its preferred wording along with an application for an $11 million federal grant that will help fund the streetcar.

But the city government claims the limitation would go against the spirit of the city charter, which says the transit fund can be used for “public transit purposes generally and without limitation.”

UPDATE: City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar, although it has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar.

Still, Mayor Mark Mallory’s office has insisted time and time again that funding for the streetcar’s construction and operation is already allocated, so taking any money from the transit fund will be unnecessary. Specifically, the city will tap into casino revenue to operate the streetcar, on top of the $11 million federal grant.

In an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday, Mallory said the real issue goes back to an ongoing lawsuit between SORTA and the city. In 2010, the city diverted money from the transit fund to pay for street lights. That prompted a lawsuit from SORTA, asking the courts to define the limits of the transit fund.

The mayor’s office sees the wording from SORTA as an attempt from the transit agency to score a minor victory in the legal battle. If the city government accepted the wording, it would be agreeing to a limited transit fund, which is essentially what SORTA wants.

SORTA’s wording also makes it so all transit fund money will continue going to the Metro bus system, which is the agency’s sole service today.

But even SORTA says the disagreement is getting blown out of proportion by media outlets and public officials. Sallie Hilvers, spokesperson for SORTA, says the wording in the approved agreement was the board’s attempt to ensure the transit fund isn’t used for the streetcar, but, for the most part, it’s “really just procedures.” 

Hilvers insisted the disagreement over wording has plenty of time to be worked out, and it will not hinder collaboration between the city of Cincinnati and SORTA.

The agreement will need to be worked out before summer 2013 for the streetcar to stay on track.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.09.2012
 
 
niehaus copy

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio may get anti-abortion law, city budget proposal soon, state ponders health exchange

If Tuesday's election was supposed to be a strong message from social progressives, women and younger voters, Ohio Republicans are not getting it. Instead, they are continuing their pursuit of the heartbeat bill. That’s what Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus told The Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday.  At the time the heartbeat bill was originally suggested, it was called the most radical anti-abortion bill in the country. Yet Republicans, in cooperation with anti-abortion organizations, are pushing a version of the bill once again. Ohio Republicans have also shown interest in continuing their crusade against Planned Parenthood, according to Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

Cincinnati’s budget proposal is coming later this month. Specifically, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says it will arrive Nov. 26. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and his budget team are currently working on a budget to close a $40 million general fund deficit. One idea that was suggested recently in a memo was privatizing parking services, but it faces skepticism from Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. The budget will first go through Dohoney, then the mayor and then City Council. However, this calendar year’s budget will only cover six months, and then the city will transition into filing budgets based on fiscal years on July 1.

To match some of Obamacare’s requirements, Ohio officials are considering a hybrid approach to health care exchanges. The exchanges are federally regulated insurance markets. As part of Obamacare, states have the option of creating their own exchange programs, which have to be approved by the federal government; setting up a hybrid approach, which is what Ohio is looking into doing; or putting the responsibility on the federal government.

During the lame duck session, the Ohio legislature will take up legislation to regulate puppy mills and election reform. Regulations on puppy mills were previously covered by CityBeat when a group tried to get dog auctions banned in the state. Election reform could mean a lot of things. The current Republican-controlled legislature previously tried to restrict and limit in-person early voting before repealing its own rules. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has also suggested “more strict” voter ID laws.

In other election news, an upset federal judge demanded Husted’s attorneys explain a last-minute directive that changed rules on provisional ballots. U.S. District Court Judge Algenon Marbley told the lawyers, “You have a lot of explaining to do.” The directive, which Husted sent out Nov. 2, shifted the burden of providing identification for provisional ballots from poll workers to voters. Voter advocates argued the directive was against Ohio law and would lead to more provisional ballots, which are ballots filed when a voter’s eligibility to vote is uncertain, being wrongly rejected. Husted and Republicans were heavily criticized for alleged attempts at voter suppression in the run-up to the election.

City Council approved a $750,000 tax break for the E.W. Scripps Company. As part of the deal, Scripps will hire for 125 new local jobs and retain 184 current employees.

The Wall Street Journal covered Cincinnati’s “pie war” between Frisch’s and Busken Bakery.

CincyTech, a nonprofit venture organization, has invested $14.3 million since it began five years ago. Its investments, which focus on information technology and life sciences, have helped create more than 360 jobs, according to company officials.

As part of a national movement, Cincinnati-based Kroger will be making an effort to hire more military veterans. 

Republican Gov. John Kasich is focused on his re-election bid for 2014. When asked about whether he will run for president in 2016, Kasich said he has not made any announcements. The news came shortly after the Ohio Democratic Party began printing signs that say “Kasich... you’re next” on one side and “2014 can’t come soon enough” on the other.

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel won’t be leaving state politics any time soon. He says he’ll be running for re-election in 2014. Mandel is the Republican who led a failed bid for U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. His campaign was notorious for its dishonesty.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, may take up running the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2014. That would put him in charge of managing the Republican Party’s senate campaigns for the year. Republicans are expected to make gains in the U.S. Senate in 2014 because 20 Democratic seats will be up for grabs, in comparison to 13 Republican seats, and 12 of the Democratic seats are in swing or red states.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives won the popular vote, but they ultimately lost the House. The culprit for the discrepancy seems to be politicized redistricting. In Ohio, the Republican-led committee redrew congressional district boundaries to give Republicans an advantage. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn to include Republican-leaning Warren County, which slanted the district in favor of Republicans and diluted the say of Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urbanites. On this year’s ballot, Issue 2 attempted to tackle the redistricting issue, but Ohio voters overwhelmingly voted it down.

Some scientists are really excited by the discovery of “Super Earth.”

What doomed the Mayans? Climate change.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.24.2013
Posted In: Mayor, Media, Media Criticism, Budget at 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
mark mallory

Mayor Shrinking Staff Budget Despite Raises

'Enquirer' riles up angry readers with incomplete report

Even though some members of Mayor Mark Mallory's staff are getting double-digit raises, the mayor's budget is actually being downsized to rely on less staff members, ultimately shrinking the mayor's office budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1.

Some of Mallory's staff obtained raises because they will be taking up the former duties of Ryan Adcock, who left earlier in the month to help lead a task force on infant mortality and will not be replaced.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the raises earlier today, but the story at first did not mention that the budgetary moves will ultimately save the city money. The "Enquirer exclusive" includes a "tell them what you think" section in which citizens can email the mayor's office and copy Enquirer editors. The story was later updated to include the overall savings, though The Enquirer posted a separate blog titled, "Mallory getting an earful on raises," which was a collection of angry emails to the mayor based on the original version of the story.

CityBeat acquired a memo written by Mallory that outlines the rest of the plan, which will produce savings: "I will not replace Ryan Adcock on my staff. Instead, I have divided his responsibilities among my remaining staff. In addition, I will not hire the two part-time staffers that I had considered hiring. The additional work in the office will be supplemented by unpaid interns.

"In addition, I have enacted internal savings in order to return $20,000 from my FY 2013 office budget to be used for the FY 2014 city budget. Finally, in preparation of the Mayor’s Office Budget for FY 2014, I am reducing my office budget by $33,000 for the remaining 5 months of my term."

Mallory spokesperson Jason Barron says the mayor will also not be replacing staff that leaves from this point forward, which could produce more savings down the line.

As of 6:30 p.m., The Enquirer's homepage still prominently displayed the story out of context, suggesting that the raises will add to the city's $35 million deficit.


Shawn Butler, the mayor's director of community affairs, was given an 11-percent raise; Barron, the mayor's director of public affairs, was given a 16-percent raise; and Arlen Herrell, the mayor's director of international affairs, was given a 20-percent raise. Adcock also obtained a 20-percent raise briefly before leaving, which Barron described to CityBeat as a budgetary technicality.

Since Mallory is term-limited, Barron says the savings will only apply to Mallory's remaining five months. The mayor who replaces Mallory in December will decide whether to keep or rework Mallory's policies.

Last year, Barron was paid $66,144 in regular pay, Butler was paid $71,349, Herrell was paid $59,961 and Adcock was paid $66,049, according to the city's payroll records. But Barron explained that those numbers were higher because last year happened to have an extra payday. Under normal circumstances, Barron is paid $62,740 a year, Butler is paid $67,760, Adcock was paid $62,740 and Herrell is paid $62,031.
 
 
by German Lopez 03.29.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, News, Budget at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Cranley Proposes Budget Plan

Critics say mayoral candidate’s proposal is flawed

In response to the March 28 announcement that City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. has begun implementing a plan that will lay off cops and firefighters, mayoral candidate John Cranley released his own budget plan that claims to avoid layoffs and the implementation of the city’s parking plan. But critics say Cranley’s budget is unworkable.

Cranley’s budget uses casino revenue, parking meter revenue and various cuts to raise nearly $33.8 million — more than the $25.8 million necessary to balance the budget without a parking plan.

Cranley’s critics have taken to social media to claim Cranley’s revenue projections are “fantasy.” They also claim the across-the-board budget cuts ignore the city’s priority-driven budgeting process, and there’s no certainty that such broad cuts can be carried out without laying off city employees.

Whether avoiding layoffs is possible through Cranley’s proposal remains unclear, even according to Cranley’s two-page budget plan, which reads, “We need to identify only roughly $26 million to cover the 2014 deficit and will reduce some of these cuts to ensure that there are no layoffs.”

Cranley says there is no certainty that the cuts could be carried out without any layoffs, but he says he would do everything he can to prevent personnel cuts: “I believe that people should take pay cuts. … If I cut the office of the council members staff, I can’t force an individual council member not to lay someone off, but I would certainly encourage them to reduce salaries as opposed to layoffs.”

In government budget terms, a 10-percent cut to any department is fairly large — particularly for Cincinnati’s operating budget, which uses 90 percent of its funds on personnel. In comparison, the cuts from the 2013 sequester, the across-the-board federal spending cuts that President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats say will lead to furloughs and layoffs around the nation, ranged between 2 percent and 7.9 percent, depending on the department.

The cuts make up one-third of Cranley’s proposal, while the rest of the money comes from casino and parking meter revenue. For his casino revenue numbers, Cranley cites Horseshoe Casino General Manager Kevin Kline, who told City Council he expects the casino to raise $21 million each year, but city officials have said they only expect $10 million a year.

Cranley insists the extra $11 million will come to fruition. He says, “I would put my track record of being the chairman of the budget committee for eight years, which balanced budgets without layoffs, ahead of the people at the city that estimated the costs of the streetcar.”

Just in case, Cranley says his plan purposely overshoots the $25.8 million deficit to leave some leeway in carrying out cuts. But without the extra $11 million, Cranley’s plan would only raise about $22.8 million — $3 million short of filling the budget gap.

Jon Harmon, legislative director for Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office, says the city and state were originally expecting a lot more revenue from the state’s new casinos, but the legalization of racinos, which enabled racetrack gambling, has pushed revenue projections down.

In February, Ohio’s Office of Budget Management estimated the Horseshoe Casino will raise $75 million in tax revenue for the city, state and schools, down from a 2009 estimate of $111 million, after seeing disappointing returns from Ohio’s already-opened casinos. The local numbers reflect a statewide revision downward: In 2009, the state government estimated Ohio’s casinos would take in $1.9 billion a year, but that projection was changed to $957.7 million a year in February.

Even if Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino does much better than the state’s other casinos, the way casino revenue is collected and distributed by the state makes a $21 million windfall unlikely, according to Harmon. Before the state distributes casino revenue to cities, counties and schools based on preset proportions, the money is pooled together, which means all the casinos would have to hit original estimates for Cincinnati to get $21 million — an unlikely scenario, according to Harmon.

The other major revenue source in Cranley’s budget is $5.2 million in parking meter revenue, which the city manager’s office told CityBeat in February is usable for the general fund after months of insisting otherwise. Some of that money is already used in the general fund under current law, but the parking plan would remove that revenue altogether and replace it with new revenue. Cranley says his plan would forgo the parking plan and secure the $5.2 million in the general fund.

Among other cuts, Cranley’s proposal would eliminate some of the money that goes to software licensing. With the way the cut is outlined in Cranley’s two-paged budget proposal, it’s unclear whether it would hit all software licensing or just some of it, but Cranley says his plan is only reducing $531,554 of about $2.6 million, which he says still leaves a $1 million increase over 2012’s software licensing budget.

“I’m telling people what my priorities are: police, fire, parks, recreation, garbage collection, health department (and) human services,” he says. “I believe that elected officials should not be paying consultants from Denver to tell people in Cincinnati what their priorities are. I believe that elected officials should tell the voters what their priorities are.”

Cranley’s comments are critical of the the city’s priority-driven budgeting process, which ranked city programs based on feedback gathered through local surveys and meetings with Cincinnati residents.

With or without the parking plan, Cranley says the city is facing structural deficit problems. He says his plan permanently fixes those issues, while the parking plan would only eliminate the deficit for the next two fiscal years.

Cranley and Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns oppose the city’s parking plan, while Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another Democratic mayoral candidate, supports it.

The parking plan, which was approved by City Council on March 6, would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).

But the semi-privatization plan is being held up in court. Most recently, Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler ordered a permanent restraining order on the plan pending a referendum effort. The extended injunction sparked criticism from city officials, who say delays will lead to fiscal and procedural problems.

CityBeat’s coverage of other plans:

 
 
by German Lopez 11.27.2012
Posted In: Budget, Republicans, Democrats, News, State Legislature at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio Republican supermajority hangs on 14 votes, city unveils budget, county passes budget

In the Ohio House of Representatives, the difference between a Republican supermajority and a normal majority is now 14 votes. That’s how many votes are splitting Republican Rep. Al Landis and Democratic challenger Josh O'Farrell. The small difference has already triggered an automatic recount and likely a series of lawsuits from Democrats over counting provisional ballots. The supermajority would allow Ohio House Republicans to pass legislation without worry of a governor’s veto and place any measure on the ballot — including personhood initiatives — without bipartisan approval.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his 2013 budget proposal at a press conference yesterday. The proposal will pursue privatizing the city’s parking services to help close a $34 million deficit. The privatization plan has already faced some early criticism from Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld. The budget will also make minor cuts elsewhere. In addition to the 2013 budget, the Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which Dohoney passed to City Council and the mayor yesterday, also raises property tax rates.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners approved the 2013 budget in a 2-1 vote. Democrat Todd Portune was outvoted by Republicans Chris Monzel and Board President Greg Hartmann. The final budget was basically Hartmann’s “austerity” proposal, barring some minor tweaks. The cuts could cost 150 or more Hamilton County jobs.

Councilman Chris Smitherman is facing a challenge for his spot as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. The councilman’s opponent is Bob Richardson, a former officer of Laborers Local 265 and former president of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council. Richardson’s son told WVXU, “I think we have seen the NAACP veer off its core principles and turn into a tool for Smitherman and his conservative ideas.”

In a promising sign for the local economy, Greater Cincinnati banks are taking in more money from deposits.

The 21c Museum Hotel opened yesterday. But the hotel has critics, including Josh Spring from the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. Drawing a comparison to the situation between Western & Southern and the Anna Louise Inn, Spring said the hotel ended up displacing far too many people.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is taking up research into how autism develops.

A new report found expanding Medicaid in Ohio could cost the state $3.1 billion. The money would be enough to insure 457,000 uninsured Ohioans. Previous studies found states that expanded Medicaid faced less health problems.

One concern with the state's “fracking” boom: water supply. Some are worried that the amount of water needed to fuel hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique for oil and gas, will drain Ohio’s wells and reservoirs.

After some sentencing reform, Ohio’s inmate population is not decreasing as fast as some state officials would like. As the state deals with prison overpopulation and more expensive prisons, Gov. John Kasich’s administration has turned to privatization. CityBeat looked at issues surrounding private prisons and the connections between the state government and private prison companies here.

Ohio women are having fewer abortions in the state. The drop seems largely attributable to increased access to birth control. Better access to health care and improved health education are also factors.

Ever forget to take some medication? No longer. There is now a pill that can inform others when it's taken.

 
 

 

 

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by German Lopez 03.04.2014 50 days ago
Posted In: News, Development, Budget, City Council, Mayor at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Morning News and Stuff

Mayor blocks downtown development, city leaders push for Google Fiber, budget gap grows

Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.

Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”

Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.

Commentary:Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.

Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.

Kathy Wilson:Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.

At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Headline:Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”

“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

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by German Lopez 03.03.2014 51 days ago
Posted In: News, Taxes, Budget, Development at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Tax abatements benefit wealthy, group to market Cincinnati, winter raises city’s costs

About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program. While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.

With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels, Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau established the organization to reach out to national journalists and continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years. “Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work for companies based here.”

The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and chemicals alone. . The rest of the costs come through increased snow plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy salt when it’s cheap.

Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.

The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.

Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.

Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.

There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls asleep.

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by German Lopez 01.14.2014 98 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget, City administration, City Council at 04:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Acting City Manager Shakes Up Leadership Positions

New assistant city manager could "double dip" into pension and salary

Cincinnati’s city manager, law and budget offices will see major shakeups in the coming months, the city administration announced Tuesday, and one of the new hires is a former city retiree who might tap into his pension while receiving a salary from the city.

Bill Moller is a city retiree who will be eligible to “double dip” into his pension and a city salary ($147,000 a year) when the city rehires him in February to fill an opening for assistant city manager, city spokesperson Meg Olberding confirmed in an email to CityBeat. Whether he does is entirely up to the interim city manager, Olberding wrote.

The possibility could draw criticism from city officials looking to balance Cincinnati’s structurally imbalanced operating budget. Last year, City Council drew opposition for its decision to hire Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick and allow him to double dip on his pension and a city salary.

Update: Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at Wednesdays full council meeting, instead of a special session on Thursday as originally planned.

Moller will eventually replace Assistant City Manager David Holmes, who helped oversee efforts for The Banks and 2012 World Choir Games and filed to retire on April 1, Interim City Manager Scott Stiles wrote in a memo to City Council and the mayor.

“At this point in time, Cincinnati needs not only someone who is proficient in all aspects of municipal finance, but in the aspects of the city of Cincinnati’s finances in particular. Mr. Moller has that experience,” Stiles wrote, noting Moller’s budget and finance experience in Cincinnati, Hamilton and Covington.

City Solicitor John Curp will also leave his current position to instead act as chief counsel for the city’s two utilities, the Metropolitan Sewer District and Water Works.

“The utility has been undergoing a merger of back office functions to save ratepayers money, and also has been expanding services and service areas to decrease costs,” Stiles wrote. John (Curp) has the private sector experience to assist the utilities with a market-oriented approach, and is uniquely positioned to understand both the particulars of MSD and GCWW as well as the areas in which they can expand.

The move should save ratepayers money by allowing both utilities to rely on Curp instead of outside legal counsel when legal issues arise, according to Stiles.

Although widely praised by city officials, Curp’s move is unsurprising given the politics surrounding Mayor John Cranley’s election. Curp offered legal guidance for the parking privatization plan and streetcar project, both of which Cranley opposes.

Terrence Nestor, currently the city’s chief litigator, will replace Curp as city solicitor until a permanent appointment is made.

Stiles announced other changes as well:

• Markiea Carter, currently a development officer, will move to the city manager’s office to act as assistant to the city manager.

• Karen Alder, currently risk manager for the city, will begin assisting Finance Director Reginald Zeno as the city’s deputy finance director.

Stiles is currently filling as interim city manager while the city conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. Stiles could apply for the permanent role, but his application would need City Council support to win out over other potential candidates.

The city expects the city manager search to last through June, at which point further administrative changes could be expected if the city hires a new permanent city manager.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.10.2014 103 days ago
Posted In: News, Pensions, Human trafficking, Budget, Prisons at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City looks at railroad sale, sex trafficking mapped, youth prisons combat sexual assault

Councilman Charlie Winburn, City Council’s new budget and finance chair, suggested selling the Cincinnati Southern Railroad to help pay for the city’s $870 million unfunded pension liability. But other city officials, including Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Chris Seelbach and Councilwoman Amy Murray, voiced doubts about the idea, saying it would cost the city annual revenue when there are other options for fixing the pension problem. Meanwhile, the city and state’s retirement boards appear to be looking into what it would take to merge Cincinnati’s pension system into the state system, although that solution could face political and legal hurdles.

A new report from The Imagine Foundation found sex trafficking in the Cincinnati area follows the region’s spine on I-75 from Florency, Ky., to Sharonville, I-275 through Springfield and Fairfield and I-74 to Batesville, Ind. “This is real,” foundation Executive Director Jesse Bach told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “There are women and girls who are being bought and sold for sex in the Cincinnati area. The average person needs to take responsibility for what they might see. To use a sports adage, the average citizen has to be willing to say, ‘Not in our house.’ ”

Gov. John Kasich and other state officials yesterday launched a public awareness campaign to combat human trafficking in Ohio at HumanTrafficking.Ohio.gov. “We may not want to admit it — it’s almost too horrific to imagine — but the fact is that human trafficking is real and is happening across Ohio. Over the past two years we’ve improved our laws to fight trafficking and begin getting victims the help they need, but we must do more,” Kasich said in a statement.

In light of the public awareness campaign, some activists say human trafficking should be addressed by going after the source of demand: men.

The head of the Ohio Department of Youth Services told a federal panel that his agency responded quickly and aggressively to reports of high sexual assault rates at the state’s juvenile-detention facilities. A June report found three of Ohio’s facilities had sexual assault rates of 19 percent or above, with the Circleville Juvenile Correctional Facility estimated at 30.3 percent — the second highest rate in the nation. Since the report, the agency increased training, hired a full-time employee devoted to the Prison Rape Elimination Act and installed a tip line for prisoners, their families and staffers, according to Director Harvey Reed.

A northern Kentucky man was the first flu death of the season, prompting some tips from the Northern Kentucky Health Department.

Some national Democrats see Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld as a potential congressional candidate in 2022, assuming the next round of redistricting makes the First Congressional District more competitive for Democrats. The district used to be fairly moderate, but state Republicans redrew it to include Republican stronghold Warren County in the last round of redistricting.

Billions of health-care dollars helped sustain Cincinnati’s economy during the latest economic downturn, a new study found.

Downtown traffic came to a crawl this morning after burst pipes sent water gushing out of the former Terrace Plaza Hotel.

The U.S. economy added a measly 74,000 jobs in December in a particularly weak end to 2013.

Dayton Daily News: “Five things you need to know about butt selfies.”

If the law catches up, robot ships could soon become reality.

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by German Lopez 01.08.2014 105 days ago
Posted In: News, Budget, 2014 election, Courts, Economy, Governor at 10:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Judge halts election law, unemployment benefits advance, city loses budget director

A federal judge halted a controversial election law that limited minor political parties’ access to the ballot and ruled that the state must allow minor parties to participate in the primary and general elections in 2014. But by merely agreeing that only the retroactive restrictions for 2014 are too burdensome for minor parties, the judge left room to keep the law intact for elections in 2015 and beyond. Still, the ruling comes as a major victory for the Libertarian Party of Ohio and other minor parties who took to calling the Republican-backed law the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” because it conveniently limited minor parties that are upset with Republican Gov. John Kasich’s support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman broke with most of his fellow Republicans yesterday to help advance federal legislation that would extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed. Still, he hinted that he would not support the three-month extension if the $6.4 billion cost isn’t covered by federal spending cuts elsewhere. Without the extension, 128,600 Ohioans could lose unemployment benefits through 2014 even as the state economy shows signs of weakening.

Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen yesterday confirmed she is leaving her high-level city job to take the same job in Long Beach, Calif. Peggy Sandman will fill in for Eriksen while a search for a permanent replacement is held. Eriksen’s announcement comes as a blow to the city but little surprise to political watchers. Shortly before taking office, Mayor John Cranley called Eriksen and other administration officials “incompetent” because of how they handled the $132.8 million streetcar project, even though their estimates for cancellation costs turned out to be mostly on point.

Newsflash: Global warming didn’t stop just because we’re cold now.

The worst of the deep freeze should be over for Ohio.

Cincinnati’s 2013 homicide rate of 25 per 100,000 residents compares to Cleveland at 22, Indianapolis at 14.85, Columbus at 11.24 and Louisville at 8.43.

An Ohio appeals court ruled Cincinnati can change medical benefits for retirees after all.

Construction for the uptown interchange could begin in July and finish in late 2016.

The city announced yesterday that it’s extending its Winter Holiday Trash Amnesty through Jan. 17, which means residents have until then to set out extra trash next to their city-provided trash carts.

Gov. Kasich is asking parents to tell their children about the dangers of drug abuse, as the state works to combat problems with prescription painkillers and heroin.

A Fairfield, Ohio, teacher who was fired for allegedly telling a black student, “We don’t need another black president,” will fight for his job.

Dozens of inmates at the Lebanon Correctional Honor Camp endured frigid conditions Monday evening after one of three furnaces broke, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A Cincinnati-area medical device firm is in a race with some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world to get a painless drug injector on the market.

People are stealing English ferrets used to hunt rabbits.

A survey of brown dwarfs found they’re racked by planet-sized storms of molten iron.

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by German Lopez 01.07.2014 106 days ago
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

State cuts hit local budget, police explain homicides, Democratic primary heats up

If it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments, Cincinnati might not face an operating budget gap in 2015. The city has lost roughly $26 million in annual state aid since 2010, according to city officials, while the budget gap for 2015 is estimated at nearly $21 million. The reduction in state aid helps explain why Cincinnati continues dealing with budget gaps after years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes. Still, some council members argue Democratic council members should stop blaming Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature for the city's problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.

Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department yesterday explained the local increase in homicides to City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. Police officials said gang-related activity, particularly activity related to the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade, is to blame for the spike in crime in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati. In particular, it appears disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories led to turf wars and other violent acts. Police also cautioned, "Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature."

The Democratic primary election for governor heated up yesterday after Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune called Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's commitment to blacks "appalling" in an email obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Prominent Democrats at the state and local level responded to the criticisms as more evidence Portune shouldn't continue to run and threaten Democrats' chances of a clean gubernatorial campaign. Portune announced his intention to run last week, despite calls from top Democrats to stay out of the race.

Cold weather led many area schools to close for another day. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

The weather also slowed down streetcar construction.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld: "Five Lessons From Cincinnati's Little Engine That Could."

The Cincinnati Board of Education chose its veteran members to head the school board in 2014.

Cincinnati-based Citigroup, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Humana and U.S. Bank gained perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign's index for gay-friendly companies.

About 34 percent of Ohio third-graders could be held back if they do not improve their scores on the state's reading assessments. The chairs of the Ohio House and Senate's education committees argue the aggressive approach is necessary to improve the state's education outcomes. But the National Association of School Psychologists found grade retention has "deleterious long-term effects" both academically and socially.

Kentucky is spending $32 million for substance abuse treatment to tackle the heroin epidemic.

Ohio Democrats named a new executive director for the state party: Liz Walters. The Silver Lake, Ohio, native began her political career with the Girl Scouts when she worked for the organization as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Typically allies on other issues, liberals and the scientific community disagree on genetically modified crops.

A pill normally taken as a mood stabilizer could help people acquire perfect pitch.

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by German Lopez 01.06.2014 106 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Budget, Governor, State Legislature at 03:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

State Cuts Contribute to Local Budget Gap

Republican state officials slashed local government funding in previous budgets

Cincinnati might not be facing an operating budget gap in 2015 if it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments.

Following cuts approved by Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature, Cincinnati officials estimate the city is getting $26 million less in state funding in 2015 than the city did in 2010.

At the same time, the city is facing a $21 million operating budget gap in 2015.

The reduction in state aid helps explain why the local budget gap remains after several years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes.

“It sounds like the city is doing a good job,” said Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach at Monday’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “Where we’re seeing these obstacles is these outside sources.”

Independent Councilman Christopher Smitherman countered that the cuts to the local government fund and the elimination of the estate tax, both of which drove the reduction in state aid, have been known since 2011 and 2012.

“Public policy makers have, in my opinion, continued to make decisions as if those public policy decisions from the governor’s chair or from the state … weren’t in play,” Smitherman said. “This is not new information.”

Republican Councilman Charlie Winburn agreed. He said it’s time to stop blaming the governor for the city’s problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.

Still, Winburn acknowledged he would be willing to meet with state officials to bring more revenue back to Cincinnati.

“Maybe Republicans will be willing to meet with a Republican like me and see if we can bring some money back to Cincinnati,” Winburn said.

Republicans at the state level passed cuts to the local government fund as a way to balance the 2012-2013 budget, which faced a projected gap of nearly $8 billion in 2011. They then approved the elimination of the estate tax — often labeled the “death tax” by opponents — in 2012.

But with Ohio’s economy slowly recovering from the Great Recession, the state budget looks to be in much better shape. The 2012-2013 budget ended with a $2 billion surplus because of higher-than-expected revenues.

Ohio Democrats point to the surplus as evidence the Republican-controlled state government could undo the $1 billion in cuts to local government funding. They argue the cuts have hurt local governments and forced cities to slash basic services, including public safety.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.02.2014 111 days ago
Posted In: News, Abortion, Budget, Governor at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
guttmacher abortion

Ohio’s Latest Abortion Restrictions Follow Nationwide Trend

States passed more abortion restrictions in past three years than previous decade

Ohio was among various states in the nation that passed more abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2013 than the entire previous decade, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Between 2011 and 2013, states passed 205 new restrictions on abortion. Between 2001 and 2010, states passed only 189 new restrictions.

The trend is unsurprising for Ohio, which the Guttmacher Institute says has been “hostile to abortion” since 2000, but the timeline shows a clear shift in state policies around the nation since the tea party rose to national prominence in 2010.

Ohio’s latest restrictions were passed last June by Ohio Republicans through the two-year state budget.

Among other restrictions, one measure forces doctors to perform an external ultrasound on a woman seeking an abortion and tell her if a heartbeat is detected and the statistical probability of the fetus making it to birth.

Ohio and Oklahoma were also the only states in 2013 to pass restrictions on federal funding for family planning providers, the Guttmacher Institute claims.

Abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, insist they don’t use public funds for abortions, instead funding the procedure with the help of private contributions.

But Ohio Republicans, who predominantly oppose abortion rights, went through with the restrictions anyway, ultimately hitting some family planning service providers that don’t even offer abortions.

“Members of the House who have issues with Planned Parenthood have only issues with the abortion services,” Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, told CityBeat last June. “The rest of what Planned Parenthood provides, I imagine they have no issue with whatsoever.”

Ohio Democrats, particularly gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, have made their opposition to the anti-abortion measures part of their campaigns to unseat Gov. John Kasich and other Ohio Republicans who hold top executive positions in the state. But given the Guttmacher Institute’s timeline, reversing the trend could require a radical shift in the state government of the past 14 years.


 
 
by German Lopez 12.18.2013 126 days ago
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Private backers support streetcar offer, city budget gap estimated, governor's race still close

More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community provided more assurances.

Other streetcar news:
• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected tomorrow.
• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.”
• The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.

Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking taxes or cutting police and firefighters.

The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.

A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.

Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups and small businesses.

This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.

Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.

Two won the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.

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by German Lopez 12.13.2013 131 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Budget, Redistricting at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar gets path forward, redistricting reform under works, federal budget deal approved

In what could be another chance of survival for the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley on Thursday announced he's willing to continue the project if private contributors cover annual operating expenses that would hit an already-strained operating budget. Although Cranley gave private-sector leaders and streetcar supporters only one week to get a legally binding plan together, Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation said he is quite confident that private contributors could pull together some assurances for the 30 years in operating expenses in the short time span. The potential operating costs have long been a concern for opponents of the streetcar project, even though supporters insist that they would be more than made up by the economic development spurred by the streetcar.

Commentary: "Cincinnati's Impoverished Continue to be Underserved and Undercovered."

A constitutional review panel seems to agree on a few key points regarding redistricting reform, which could fix a system that's long been abused by politicians on all sides of the aisle to give their political parties an advantage during elections. The panel agreed to create a seven-member board that would redraw Ohio's congressional and legislative districts after the next census is taken in 2020, but it's undecided how much power the minority party should hold on the board. In the last round of redistricting, Republican leaders redrew Ohio's political maps to deemphasize demographics that typically support Democrats and provide stronger spreads for demographics that typically support Republicans. CityBeat covered the issue and its potential impacts in greater detail here.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, was the only federal legislator from the Cincinnati area to approve a budget deal that will avoid the threat of future government shutdowns. The deal replaces some of the controversial, blunt budget cuts known as "sequestration" with revenue from hiked fees and savings from cuts elsewhere. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both Republicans from Cincinnati, voted against the deal because it makes cuts over a long period of time. But many economists agree long-term cuts are necessary to avoid the negative effects of budget cuts on today's already-weak economy. The Washington Post ran through the budget deal in further detail here.

Weigh in on the Eastern Corridor project here.

An Ohio House bill would eliminate the license requirement for carrying a concealed handgun in the state.

Health Care Access Now, which helps low-income people in Ohio and Kentucky get health care, obtained a $600,000 grant that could reach 4,500 more patients in the Cincinnati area.

Drug abusers might be intentionally injuring their pets to obtain painkillers.

Expect more snow tonight, according to The Weather Channel.

The University of Cincinnati filed a lawsuit against Crayola that claims the toy company uses technology invented and patented by UC without the university's permission.

A former Miami University president is now warning of the potential issues caused by recruiting too many wealthy, out-of-state students.

A public memorial will be held for William Mallory Sr., a prominent local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory's father, at the Cincinnati Museum Center on Sunday. RSVP here.

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation received a $1.5 million gift from the Anderson Foundation to underwrite the pavilion in Smale Riverfront Park.

A climatologist argues nuclear power is the only way to curb global warming.

Scientists created a pen that allows doctors to 3-D print bones right onto patients.

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