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by German Lopez 02.19.2013
Posted In: Parking, News, Privatization, Government, City Council at 06:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan

Dohoney touts “public-public partnership”

In a presentation to City Council Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled an unexpected parking proposal that will solve a $25.8 million budget deficit for the 2014 fiscal year and avoid full privatization. The 30-year plan will also put more than $100 million toward economic development in the city.

The plan involves teaming up with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and some private operators to manage and modernize Cincinnati’s parking assets. Dohoney called it a “public-public partnership” that will allow Cincinnati to keep control over rates, operation hours and the placement of meters.

The money raised by the plan will be used for multiple development projects around the city, including the I-71/MLK Interchange, Tower Place Mall and a high-rise that will house a downtown grocery store.

The new parking plan will cap rate increases at 3 percent or the cost of living, with any increases coming in 25-cent increments. Private operators will not be allowed to change operation hours, but hours will be initially expanded to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods.

The proposal will not immediately increase downtown’s $2-an-hour rates, but it will increase all neighborhood parking meters to 75 cents an hour. Afterward, the rate cap will make it so downtown rates can only be increased every four years and neighborhood rates can only be increased every 10 to 11 years.

But the rate hikes will only come after technological improvements are made to parking meters. The new meters will allow users to pay with a smartphone, which will enable remote payment without walking back to the meter. After the plan’s 30 years are up, parking assets will be returned to the city with all the new technological upgrades, according to Dohoney.

Some critics were originally concerned that private operators will aggressively enforce parking rules to run bigger profits, but Dohoney said enforcement standards will remain the same.

Enforcement will be done through booting instead of towing, according to the plan. Booting will only be used after the accumulation of three unpaid parking tickets, which is similar to how towing works today. The boots will be automatically removed once the tickets are paid, which will be possible to do remotely through a smartphone.

The plan, which is a tax-exempt bond deal, will provide the city with $92 million upfront cash and $3 million in annual installments after that, although the city manager said the yearly payments will increase over time. The city originally promised $7 million a year from the deal, but Dohoney said estimates had to be brought down as more standards and limitations were attached to address expressed concerns.

The money will first be used to pay for a $25.8 million deficit in the 2014 fiscal year. Another $6.3 million will be set aside for the working cap reserve and $20.9 million will be put in a reserve to pay for a projected deficit in the 2015 fiscal year.

The rest of the funds will be used for economic development. About $20 million will go to the I-71/MLK Interchange, which would match $40 million from the state. The project is estimated to create $750 million in economic impact, with $460 million of that impact in Hamilton County. Dohoney says the economic impact will create 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, and ultimately bring in $33 million in earnings taxes, which means the plan will eventually pay for itself. He also says the funding from the parking deal will allow the city and state to complete the project within two to three years, instead of the seven to 10 years it would take if the city waited for support from the federal government.

If the state does not agree to take up the I-71/MLK Interchange project, Dohoney promised a “mega job deal” that will create 2,500 jobs.

With $12 million for development and $82 million in leveraged funds, the city will also take on massive development projects downtown. Tower Place Mall will undergo a massive conversion. The city will also tear down Pogue’s Garage at Fourth and Race streets and replace it with a 30-floor high-rise that will include 300 luxury apartments, 1,000 parking spaces and a grocery store.

The plan will also use $3 million for the Wasson Line right-of-way and $4 million for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park, which should be completed in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim will partner with the city and Port Authority for the plan. AEW will manage assets, Xerox will handle parking operations and on-street spaces, Denison will operate off-street spaces and manage facilities and equipment and Guggenheim will act as underwriter and capital provider.

After the City Council hearing, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement that raised concerns about expanded meter operation hours, which Sittenfeld fears could burden certain neighborhoods. He also pointed out the plan will not fix Cincinnati’s long-term structural deficit problems. Still, he said the local Port Authority’s management could make the plan “worthy of support.” 

Sittenfeld has been skeptical of the parking plan since it was first announced in October. In the past, he warned privatization could cause parking rates to skyrocket. ©

 
 
by German Lopez 03.04.2013
Posted In: Privatization, News, Parking, Budget, Economy at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Parking Meter Company's Past Problems Resurface

Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters

The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.

A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.

For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.

The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4 percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public management.

The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington, D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s parking meters today.

The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges.

All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.

Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.

CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today.

On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit.

Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.04.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Parking at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
city hall

Mallory Fires Back at Critics During Testy Council Meeting

Still no budget deficit-solving consensus in sight

If Cincinnati does not lease its parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, it will have to pay off a $35 million deficit in the fiscal year 2014 budget through other means, but those means were disputed at a special session of City Council today.

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and other city administration officials say the city will have to carry out Plan B, which would lay off 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. But council members Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Chris Smitherman claim there are other ways — casino revenue and cuts elsewhere — to balance the budget.

The meeting got testy after a few council members called the city administration “disingenuous” for framing Plan B and the parking plan as the only two budget options, prompting Mayor Mark Mallory to slam council members for attempting to pin the city’s budget woes on the city administration.

“I don’t think anyone in the administration wants to see their colleagues laid off,” Mallory said. “The administration makes a recommendation to this mayor and to this council. The final decision makers are the elected leaders.”

He added, “What’s disingenuous is to create a crisis and then criticize the administration for its response to the crisis when those responsible for dealing with the crisis are the elected leaders. It would be like an arsonist setting a building on fire and then complaining about how long it took the fire department to get there and what equipment they used to put out the fire.”

Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, said the ideas she heard at the special session today would not be enough to close the budget gap.

Throughout the discussion, the city administration repeatedly dismissed ideas presented by council members as not enough to overcome the city’s $35 million deficit and avoid layoffs. By the city administration’s admission, even Plan B would only close about $26 million of the projected deficit.

How that budget gap is closed may come with additional expenses. Eriksen said the budget gap may reach $45 million if the city carries out Plan B because the city would also be forced to pay for accrued leave and unemployment insurance.

Still, Assistant City Manager David Holmes admitted the city could balance the deficit without Plan B or the parking plan, but the numbers must “add up” and would require direction from City Council.

When the discussion came to casino revenues, Holmes said the city administration feels “uncomfortable” projecting casino revenue because the state’s projections have trended downward in the past few years. 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.

Eriksen said the city estimates between $9 million and $11 million in casino funds will be available to the city. She said even if Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino hits its $100 million goal, the city will not be able to get the $21 million previously touted by Horseshoe Casino General Manager Kevin Kline because the money is pooled with money from other casinos around the state, which has fallen far below projections, before its distributed to cities and counties.

When asked about shifting parking meter revenue to the general fund to help balance the budget, Eriksen said doing so would ultimately be a “wash” because of expenses currently attached to parking meter revenue.

Seelbach suggested making more cuts through the priority-driven budgeting process. Eriksen explained Plan B does cut programs that were poorly ranked by the process — the mounted patrol unit, arts funding and recreation centers were a few examples she cited. But only relying on programs ranked poorly by the priority-driven budgeting process would “decimate” departments and programs that the city deems essential, she said.

In the original 2013 budget proposal put forward by the city manager, mounted patrol was cut, but Seelbach lobbied for the program’s restoration.

Multiple council members brought up traveling and training costs as potential areas to cut, but Eriksen said the city administration had not considered further cuts in those areas because the leftover expenses are currently used to get certifications that city employees “need to do their jobs.”

Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, asked the city administration if they tried to balance the budget without layoffs. Eriksen replied, “Yeah, that was called the parking plan.” She added without the parking plan, it would be mathematically impossible to balance the budget without layoffs.

When Winburn suggested city employees should take salary cuts, Eriksen said such cuts would require extensive negotiations with unions because about 90 percent of the city’s employees are unionized.

In November, Winburn was one of the prominent supporters of giving the city manager a raise and bonus.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat running for mayor, said she would be open to using any revenues possible for reducing the budget gap, but she said City Council must acknowledge the harsh budget realities facing the city — further re-emphasizing points she made in a blog post Sunday.

John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, has said in the past that the threat of layoffs is “the boy crying wolf.” Cranley released his own budget plan on March 28 that he says would avoid layoffs and balance the budget without the parking plan, but some critics say the budget’s revenue estimates are unrealistic.

Eriksen said Cincinnati has run structurally imbalanced budgets since 2001, but city officials say deficits have been made much worse by state cuts in local government funding carried out by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican legislature since 2010 (Enemy of the State, issue of March 20).

City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6 that would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority to raise funds that would help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years and pay for new development projects, including the construction of a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).

Opponents of the parking plan, who say they fear it will lead to rate hikes, filed their petitions for a referendum effort today. It is so far unclear whether they have the 8,522 verified signatures required to put the issue on the November ballot.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.13.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Mayor, Streetcar at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Parking plan called off, Cranley flips on streetcar referendum, streetcar supporters rally

Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council announced on Tuesday that, upon taking office in December, they will terminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, following an agreement with the Port Authority to hold off on a bond sale that would have financed — and effectively sealed — the deal. But it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the assets under the deal. The current city administration argues the parking plan is necessary to help balance the budget over the next two years, pay for economic development projects around the city and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, parking meters can accept credit card payments. Opponents argue the plan gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets by outsourcing their operations to private companies based around the country.

But some business leaders are upset with the death of the parking plan because it leaves no visible alternative for funding major development projects like the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.

Cranley now says he will not allow a referendum on any ordinance undoing the streetcar project and will instead try to work with supporters of the project to find another way to put it on the ballot if they can gather enough petition signatures. Cranley says blocking a referendum is necessary to avoid spending money during a referendum campaign that could last months. But for supporters of the streetcar, Cranley’s decision seems highly hypocritical following his repeated praise for the “people’s sacred right of referendum” on the campaign trail after City Council blocked a referendum on the parking plan. If the project is placed on the ballot, it will essentially be the third time it’s brought to a public vote; opponents of the project in 2009 and 2011 pursued two ballot initiatives that many saw as referendums on the streetcar.

Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents yesterday officially launched a campaign to save the streetcar project from Cranley and a newly elected City Council that appears poised to cancel the project. Touting the project’s potential return on investment and cancellation costs, the group plans to lobby newly elected officials to vote in favor of keeping the project going. The group invited Cranley and all elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying effort, a ballot initiative if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action against the city.

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board is apparently unpleasantly surprised that Cranley undid the parking plan, even though the board endorsed Cranley for mayor after he ran in opposition to the parking plan for nearly a year.

An Ohio Senate bill caps the spending ability of the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative board that previously approved the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite the Ohio legislature’s opposition. Gov. John Kasich angered many Republican legislators when he decided to go through the Controlling Board to get the Medicaid expansion, which is a major part of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is working on changes to Medicaid that would cap future cost increases and employ professional staff for a Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee that would have the ability to review Medicaid programs and agencies. The bill also includes a portion that clarifies its passage “shall not be construed with endorsing, validating or otherwise approving the (Medicaid) expansion.”

Despite attempts from city officials and local business leaders, Saks Fifth Avenue is leaving downtown to open a store at Kenwood Collection.

Kentucky’s state auditor will look at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport board’s spending policies and expenses, following reports from The Enquirer that the board spent exorbitant amounts on travel, dining and counseling.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser’s request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages. In a story titled “Cop's suspension called best move for city,” the newspaper wrongly implicated a Miami Township police officer who was previously accused but later exonerated of sexual assault.

Attorney General Mike DeWine warns that some typhoon relief requests could be scams.

Not satisfied with the mere wonder of beginning to exist, some stars explode in a rainbow of colors when they’re born.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
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• German Lopez: @germanrlopez

 
 
by German Lopez 03.28.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Budget at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

City Officials Warn of Parking Ruling's Consequences

City manager says he's already made preparations for layoff notices

Speaking at a press conference today, city officials did not mask their contempt for the ruling that put the parking plan on hold earlier in the day, saying it will force the city to make cuts and layoffs to balance the 2014 budget and potentially eliminate the passage of expedited legislation.

The press conference was in response to a ruling from Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler, which opened the parking plan to referendum and ordered a permanent injunction on the plan pending any referendum effort. City Solicitor John Curp said the city is appealing the ruling.

Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained the city will now have to close a $25.8 million shortfall in the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.

Dohoney said he has already ordered city departments to begin preparations for Plan B, which will lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, to balance projected deficits.

“Part of the irony is we're swearing in a recruit class tomorrow,” he said, then shook his head. “Too bad.”

In addition to meeting the July 1 budget deadline, the city has to expedite some layoff notices to meet union contracts, which typically require a notice 30 days in advance.

Curp said the ruling also poses significant legal challenges that will hinder the city’s ability to expedite legislation with emergency clauses. Emergency clauses are often used by City Council to remove a 30-day waiting period on passed laws, and the city argues they also remove the ability to referendum.

The layoffs could be retroactively pulled back if the city wins in appeals courts or if the referendum effort fails to gather enough petitions.

“Don't sign the petition,” Mallory said. “If you sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter.”

Dohoney said the delays make the city look sluggish — an image that he says the city has been trying to overcome. “One of the criticisms I’ve gotten is that this city takes too long to get deals done,” he said. “This complicates that.”

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

Opponents of the plan argued that there were alternatives that did not involve laying off cops or firefighters. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.

At the press conference, Mallory called the alternatives “unworkable.” He said Plan S in particular does not work because it relies on a ballot initiative that would have to be voted on in November. “We don’t have until November,” he said.

Opponents say they’re concerned the parking plan will cede too much control over the city’s parking meters, which they say will lead to a spike in parking rates.

The city says rate increases are initially capped at 3 percent or inflation — whichever is higher — but the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would be made up of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.

In the legal proceedings, the two sides are arguing whether emergency clauses eliminate the ability to hold a referendum on legislation. Opponents of the parking plan, headed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), say the city charter is ambiguous with its definition of emergency clauses, and legal precedent demands courts side with voters’ right to referendum when there’s ambiguity.

Supporters of the parking plan cite state law, which says emergency legislation is not subject to referendum. Terry Nestor, who represented the city in the court hearings, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.

Winkler sided with opponents of the parking plan in his decision. He wrote in his ruling, “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.”

Mallory says the city is not disputing voters’ right to referendum in a general sense; instead, he says the city needs to expedite the budget process to balance the budget before fiscal year 2014.

City officials say the parking plan is necessary largely because of Gov. John Kasichs local government funding cuts, which Dohoney previously said cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in annual revenues (Enemy of the State, issue of March 20). Opponents argue Cincinnati had structurally imbalanced budgets years before Kasich took office, but the city says Kasichs policies have made the situation much worse.

The parking plan is one of the few issues dividing Democratic mayoral candidates John Cranley and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Cranley opposes the plan, while Qualls supports it.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.28.2013
Posted In: Budget, Parking, News at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
downtown grocery

Judge Orders Permanent Injunction on Parking Plan

City may have to make cuts to balance 2014 budget

In a ruling today, Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler said the city will have to allow for a referendum on the parking plan and imposed a permanent injunction pending the outcome of a referendum.

The ruling means the city may be unable to rely on the parking plan to balance fiscal year 2014’s budget, and the city may be forced to find cuts elsewhere by July 1, when the new budget will kick in.

The ruling may be appealed, but City Solicitor John Curp says he is not aware of any filing yet. He says Mayor Mark Mallory and the city administration plan to hold a press conference later this afternoon to discuss the ruling in further detail.

For opponents of the parking plan, the ruling comes as a big victory that will allow them to put the parking plan on the ballot if they gather enough eligible petition signatures by April 5.

For the city, the ruling potentially leaves a $25.8 million hole in the 2014 budget.

When the restraining order was extended for two weeks on March 20, city spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat the delays were causing the city to approach a “pressure point”: We respect the court's right to do that (the extension), and know that every day that we cannot make the parking deal happen is a day that we are closer to having to lay people off.

In the past, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan will force the city to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions.

But opponents argue there are ways to solve the budget without laying people off. As an alternative to the parking plan, Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.

City Council approved the parking plan on March 6 to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund more than $100 million in development projects, including the creation of a downtown grocery store and more than 300 luxury apartments ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).

Opponents of the parking plan say they’re concerned the city will cede too much control over its parking assets and cause parking rates to skyrocket. The city says rate increases are initially capped at 3 percent or inflation — whichever is higher.

But the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would comprise of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.

The ruling comes after the city and opponents of the parking plan met in court on March 15 to discuss whether the plan is subject to referendum.

Curt Hartmann, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and opponents of the parking plan, said the city charter is vague on its definition of emergency clauses, and legal precedent supports siding with voters right to referendum when there is ambiguity.

The city cited state law to argue emergency clauses, which remove a 30-day waiting period on legislation, eliminate the possibility of referendum. Terry Nestor, who represented the city, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.

With his decision, Winkler sided with opponents of the parking plan. He wrote in the ruling, “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.”

The parking plan is one of the few issues dividing Democratic mayoral candidates John Cranley and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Cranley opposes the plan, while Qualls supports it.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.27.2013
 
 
downtown grocery

City Manager Lists Alternatives to Parking Plan

Plan B would lay off 344 city employees, eliminate Human Services Funding

If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, but critics argue there are better alternatives.

In a memo dated to Feb. 26, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. wrote that the city will also have to close three community centers and six pools; eliminate Human Services Funding, which aids the city’s homeless and poor; and reduce funding for local business groups, parks, nature education for Cincinnati Public Schools and environmental regulations, among other changes. In total, the cuts would add up to $25.8 million — just enough to balance the deficit that would be left in place without the parking plan.

In addition to the cuts, failing to approve the parking plan, which leases the city’s parking meters for 30 years and lots and garages for 50 years to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, would displace plans to convert Tower Place Mall, construct a 30-floor tower with a grocery store downtown, accelerate the the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail and add $4 million to the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).

Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor, has come out in favor of the parking plan, but John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, says he opposes the deal because it will hurt downtown businesses.

“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Cranley says. “In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened.”

Cranley says he would rather take $10 million from projected casino revenue and $7 million from current parking revenues to help clear the deficit. For the remaining $8.8 million, he would cut non-essential programs, which would exclude police, fire, garbage collection, health, parks and recreation, street pavement and Human Services Funding, across the board by 10 to 15 percent. If that wasn’t enough, he would then move to the essential programs, which he says make up about $300 million in the $368.9 million budget, with a 1-percent across-the-board cut.

He says his solution would have the upside of fixing structural deficit problems in Cincinnati’s General Fund, whereas the one-time lease of the city’s parking assets will only take care of the deficit for the next two years.

Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says City Council could use the casino revenue to pay for the deficit, but $4 million of it is already set for the Focus 52 program, which funds neighborhood development projects.

“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” Olberding says. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another plan.”

Cranley says he would not do away with the Focus 52 program, but he would instead find funding for it in the Capital Budget, which is separate from the General Fund.

Olberding says City Council could approve the use of about $3 million in parking meter revenue for the General Fund, but the rest of the parking money, which comes from lots and garages, is tied to an enterprise fund, which, by state law, means the city would have to sell its parking lots and garages before it could obtain money for the General Fund.

Cranley, who also opposes the streetcar project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23), says it would be possible to pay for the I-71/MLK Interchange and other projects if the streetcar wasn’t taking up funds. If it was up to him, he says he would remove streetcar funding and use it on other development projects “without batting an eye.”

In the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the Budget and Finance Committee will likely vote on the city manager’s parking plan on March 4 or March 11.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.07.2013
Posted In: City Council, News, Business, Racism, Parking at 11:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
disparity study

Council Members Rally Behind Racial Disparity Study

Proposal uses parking lease funds to measure disparity among contracted businesses

Cincinnati council members and community leaders today explained and defended plans to use the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.

But before City Council unanimously passed the motion at today's meeting, it was amended to allow the city administration to find alternate sources of funding.

Since the city dismantled its last minority- and women-owned business program in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses have plummeted, while rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively flat.

But because of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, governments must conduct a study to prove there's a race- or gender-based disparity before policies can be adjusted to favor such groups.

Cincinnati has not taken up a disparity study since 2002. That study found evidence of disparities but ultimately recommended race- and gender-neutral policies to avoid legal uncertainty that surrounded the issue at the time.

"This is an opportunity to respond to a complaint and concern that has been around for as long as I can remember," Councilman Wendell Young said.

City officials claim they couldn't conduct another study until the administration finished implementing recommendations from OPEN Cincinnati, a task force established in 2009 after Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration were criticized for neglecting the city's small business program.

But the holdup has also been brought on by the study's cost, which city officials currently estimate between $500,000 and $1.5 million. Some critics argue the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who's running for mayor this year, defended the cost by explaining a disparity study can potentially lead to economic development by lifting minority groups, who currently face unemployment rates higher than white Cincinnati residents. She said it's on the city to ensure everyone, including women and minorities, benefit from Cincinnati's economic growth.

Other critics, particularly mayoral candidate John Cranley, have criticized the motion's suggestion for funding. The motion asks the city administration to fund the study with part of the upfront money that will come from leasing the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it does allow the city administration to find other funding options if possible.

Cranley, who supports conducting a disparity study but opposes the parking lease, says the money should come from other, unnamed sources because parking funds are currently being held up while the city hashes out legal uncertainty surrounding the lease and the Port Authority works out contracts with private operators that will manage Cincinnati's parking assets.

In response to those concerns, Qualls said that "money doesn't grow on trees" and Council has to make do with what it has.

Councilman Chris Seelbach voted against the parking lease, but he supports using parking funds for the disparity study. He says that, while he may have voted against the lease, the vote is done and the money is there.

The amended motion was unanimously passed by City Council today. It asks the city administration to present a budget and timetable for the study at the Budget and Finance Committee's first October meeting.

Updated at 3:18 p.m. with results of City Council meeting.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.05.2013
Posted In: News, Immigration, Budget, Economy, Privatization, Parking at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_licenses

Morning News and Stuff

Senators push immigrant policy, JobsOhio gets funding, parking plan passes committee

Two Ohio senators, including Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, are pushing a bill that will require the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to grant driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants. The senators claim state BMV offices are inconsistently applying President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of prosecution, but the Ohio Department of Public Safety says the issue is still under review. CityBeat originally broke the story after hearing of Ever Portillo’s experiences at a Columbus BMV office here, and a follow-up story covered the internal conflict at the BMV over the issue here.

Ohio officials have said the state has only put $1 million toward JobsOhio, but records recently acquired by The Columbus Dispatch show $5.3 million in funding has been directed to the program so far, and the public investment could be as high as $9 million. State officials said the funding is necessary because constitutional challenges, which the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up, have held up the program’s original source of funding — state liquor profits. JobsOhio is a nonprofit company established with the support of Gov. John Kasich that’s meant to attract investment and bring jobs to the state. Kasich says he wants to replace the Ohio Department of Development with the nonprofit company in the future.

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote yesterday, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote tomorrow. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered, would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration. Critics are worried the city will give up too much control of its parking assets as part of the deal, and concerns about the city’s long-term deficits remain. The alternatives — plans B, C and S — would fix structural deficit problems, while the budget only helps balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years.

The company that will operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the parking deal is approved by City Council had problems in the past, according to a tip received by multiple news outlets from Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing. One of the issues is a 2007 audit, which found ACS mismanaged parking meters in Washington, D.C. Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit was based on “faulty information,” and a lot of the problems found were because the auditor improperly read parking meter screen displays.

An approved commitment by the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (HCTID) may ensure a rail service is ready for Cincinnati in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing for local and state governments to break down any barriers for Oasis Rail Transit, which will carry passengers from Downtown to Milford.

The Ohio Board of Education will decide between two candidates for state superintendent next week: acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers or Dick Ross, Gov. John Kasich’s top education adviser.

After years of development and anticipation, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino opened yesterday. The casino comes with the promise of jobs and economic development, but it also poses the risk of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide. State and local legislators are also looking forward to extra government revenue from the casino, even though casino revenue around the state has fallen short of projections. For Over-the-Rhine residents, the grand opening, which culminated in a fireworks display, was sort of like being in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Livability.com named Cincinnati the No. 10 spring break destination because of the Cincinnati Zoo, Botanical Garden, IKEA, Cincinnati Art Museum, the 21c Museum Hotel, Newport Aquarium and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, among other places and family-friendly activities.

Science doesn’t want pregnant women to be capable of anything.

Here are two pictures of Venus from Saturn’s view.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.04.2013
Posted In: Budget, Economy, Privatization, Parking, News at 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Council Committee Approves Parking Plan

Plan will fund development projects, help balance deficit for two fiscal years

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote on March 6.

Council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young voted for the plan, and council members Chris Seelbach, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against it. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was absent, and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan abstained, although she said she could vote yes if she sees more details about how the city will curb its long-term budget problems.

The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.

Before the vote, several City Council members said the parking plan would not solve Cincinnati’s structural deficit problems, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan would help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development. 

“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said. If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.

Still, Dohoney admitted the plan would not solve all the city’s budget woes — just like he has repeatedly said in the past. Even with the parking plan, the city projects a $10 million deficit in 2014, $15.5 million deficit in 2015 and $20 million deficit in 2016.

The council members insisted there are alternatives to the parking plan and Dohoney’s Plan B, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. 

On March 1, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would not lease the city’s parking assets to balance the budget and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.

On the same day as the hearings, Winburn, the sole Republican on City Council, proposed Plan C, which would reduce city employees’ salaries across the board — with exemptions for police, fire, health, garbage, recreation, parks and road paving — and use casino and parking revenue to clear the deficit.

At the City Council hearings, Quinlivan listed a few other possibilities, including sharing public safety services with other local communities. She also advised the city to put together a long-term deficit reduction plan. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road any more,” she said.

Thomas suggested putting an earnings tax hike of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent on the ballot. He said, “It would solve this (deficit) problem once and for all.”

Some council members also raised concerns about the release of bond documents, which will further detail the framework of the parking agreement. Dohoney and Laura Brunner, president of the Port Authority, said the bond documents have not been crafted because a lease agreement has to be approved by City Council first, but the documents will be made public once they are put together.

Before the final committee vote, Smitherman successfully motioned to separate part of the parking plan from the budget, which opens the plan to referendum. The motion was in response to City Solicitor John Curp, who said appropriation ordinances, or ordinances that are essentially budgets, aren’t subject to referendum, according to state law.

 
 

 

 

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by German Lopez 02.27.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, History, Mayor, City Council, city manager at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Council backs parking plan, strong mayor gains support, museum keeps Dr. Seuss cartoons

City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s operating budget and pension system.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring, would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the plan to voters this November.

Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”

The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.

Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.

Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.

The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.

More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.

Robot suits could make mixed martial arts blood-free.

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by German Lopez 02.25.2014
Posted In: News, Marijuana, LGBT, Governor, Parking at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Kasich gives annual speech, Ohioans move left on social issues, OTR gets parking plan

Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State speech last night, promising to combat Ohio’s heroin epidemic, cut taxes and create jobs across the state. The speech didn’t promise any new, huge proposals; instead, it focused on expanding the approach Kasich has taken to governing Ohio in the past four years. Democrats criticized the speech for failing to note Ohio’s recent economic struggles, with the state now among the worst in the nation for job growth. Meanwhile, a recent analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s proposed tax cut would benefit the wealthy.

Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. The poll found 87 percent of Ohioans now support legalizing marijuana for medical uses, and 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. Meanwhile, half of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not. Whether the widespread support translates to ballot issues remains to be seen. CityBeat covered Ohio’s medical marijuana movement here and same-sex marriage efforts here.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) plans to alleviate parking problems in Over-the-Rhine by adding a parking meter to every parking space in the neighborhood and asking City Council to allow residential parking permits in neighborhoods that mix commercial and residential. (Today, the city code allows residential parking permits only in neighborhoods that are 100 percent residential.) The plan would add 162 metered spaces to the 478 currently metered spaces, and 637 spaces would be designated for residents.

City Council could move to officially dissolve the parking privatization plan as soon as Wednesday. What will replace the plan is still unclear, but CityBeat compared Mayor John Cranley’s proposal to the parking privatization plan here.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell says officers responded appropriately to an incident in which police shot and killed a suspect. Blackwell said police had to respond with deadly force when the suspect came out of his house with a rifle.

Cincinnati-based Kroger could buy supermarket rival Safeway.

An alarming video shows old arctic ice vanishing as a result of global warming, even though old ice is more resistant to melting.

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by German Lopez 02.20.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, Economy, Voting at 10:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Parking debate continues, mayors work to bring manufacturing, voting bills pass legislature

City Council watered down Mayor John Cranley’s parking plan to just two proposals: upgrading parking meters and increased enforcement. Council and public opposition ultimately proved too much for increasing neighborhood rates and expanded evening hours at major hubs. The changes mean less revenue for the city but reduced parking costs for residents. Still, with the parking plan changing almost daily, it’s unclear whether the current iteration will be the final proposal that the Neighborhood Committee and City Council ultimately pass.

Compare: Cranley’s original parking plan versus the parking privatization plan.

Meanwhile, Xerox, the private operator that took over Cincinnati’s parking meters in the parking privatization plan, proposed its own version of a parking plan in which the company manages parking meters while City Council retains control over setting hours, rates and enforcement. Xerox says its plan will generate more revenue. But Cranley rejected Xerox’s plan weeks ago.

Commentary: “County Should Accept Responsible Bidder Law.”

Cranley yesterday announced he’s partnering with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley to get a share of $1.3 billion in federal funds that would help attract manufacturing. The two cities will compete as one community for the federal Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The competition’s 12 winners will each receive part of the $1.3 billion pot. Even if Cincinnati and Dayton don’t win, Cranley said the competition will at least get them thinking about working together as a community for manufacturing jobs.

The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved controversial election bills that reduce the state’s early voting period by one week and restrict counties’ abilities to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats say the measures are meant to suppress voters, but Republicans argue the changes are supposed to set uniform standards across the state. At least one top Ohio Republican previously admitted the measures were supposed to suppress voters, particularly “the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Gov. John Kasich is now the only person that stands between the bill becoming law.

The city plans to undertake a pothole-fixing blitz in March.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority will begin its 14-neighborhood rehabilitation plan in Evanston, where the agency will target about 100 properties.

With a “virtual online menu” and access to vocational education in the seventh grade, Gov. Kasich says he wants to get Ohio students planning their careers much earlier.

The Ohio House approved a plan that will give schools four more calamity days — more popularly known as “snow days” — for the current school year. The bill now heads to the Ohio Senate and Kasich.

U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown wants to close a loophole in Medicare that costs seniors thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Quinnipiac University’s most recent poll found Ohioans would choose Hillary Clinton over Kasich and other Republicans for president.

Whooping cough appears to be evolving in response to its vaccine.

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by German Lopez 02.12.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, City Council, Mayor at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
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What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?

Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.12.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, Voting, Drugs at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Parking plan targets budget, GOP could restrict early voting, e-cigarette bill advances

Mayor John Cranley says his parking plan intends to alleviate Cincinnati’s ongoing budget woes by increasing parking revenue, but the plan will need approval from a majority of City Council to become law. The plan wouldn’t increase parking meter rates downtown, but it would increase neighborhood rates by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. The plan would also increase enforcement at parking meters, which could lead to more tickets, and extend enforcement hours to 9 p.m. around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the plan would not give control of the city’s parking meter rates and hours to outside entities, like the parking privatization plan did. Cranley plans to send the proposal to the Neighborhood Committee, with a full council vote possible in two weeks.

An Ohio House committee yesterday cleared a pair of controversial election bills that would reduce the state’s early voting period by one week — effectively eliminating a “Golden Week” in which voters can register and vote at the same time — and restrict counties’ abilities to mail out absentee ballot applications. The bills wouldn’t go into effect until after the May 6 primary. Democrats say the bills are blatant attempts at voter suppression, but Republicans, some of whom acknowledge they politically benefit from reduced access to voting, say the reform is necessary to eliminate voting disparities between urban and rural counties. The bills still need approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.

A bill placing age requirements on electronic cigarettes yesterday passed an Ohio Senate committee. Critics of the bill argue it doesn’t go far enough because it puts e-cigarettes in a different category than tobacco, which exempts e-cigarettes from higher taxes and stricter regulations even though they contain addictive substances and potential health risks. Kasich and the rest of the legislature need to OK the proposal before it becomes law.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reopened three school-based health clinics closed after Neighborhood Health Care’s abrupt shutdown.

A poll worker in Avondale allegedly voted twice, according to the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

The Ohio Department of Education plans to increase the number of weeks schools can administer state tests to alleviate time concerns brought on by excessive snow days.

Meanwhile, the Ohio House plans to vote on a bill that would let schools take on more snow days this year.

A Christian university located south of Columbus gets public dollars to teach “biblical truth,” an Akron Beacon Journal investigation found. And the school’s president and lobbyist just happen to sit on the Ohio Board of Education.

NBC correspondent Tom Brokaw revealed he has cancer.

RoboCop isn’t that far off from reality.

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by German Lopez 02.11.2014
Posted In: News, Fracking, Parking, LGBT at 09:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Another LGBT battle could reach court, Cranley crafts parking plan, fracking tax bill revised

A federal court in Cincinnati could soon decide whether married same-sex parents should be recognized by Ohio on their children’s birth certificates. Civil rights attorney Alphonse Gerhardstein filed the lawsuit on behalf of four same-sex couples who married outside the state and an adoption agency that helped one of the couples adopt a child in Ohio. The lawsuit argues leaving one parent unnamed perpetuates harmful social stigmas and potentially endangers a child’s life by making it more difficult for a parent to get his child help in case of emergencies. Although opponents of LGBT rights argue allowing gay couples to adopt hurts children, the research suggests widespread discrimination and same-sex parents’ limited rights are the real threats to gay couples’ sons and daughters.

Mayor John Cranley is crafting a new plan to upgrade Cincinnati’s parking system while retaining local control. Under the drafted plan analyzed by The Business Courier, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority would issue $25 million in bonds backed by parking revenues. To pay for the new costs, parking meter rates in neighborhoods — but not downtown — would increase by 25 cents per hour to 75 cents per hour, and the city would hire more officers to increase enforcement. The new parking meters would take credit card payments, but smartphone payments currently aren’t in the plan.

A revised version of the Ohio House’s fracking tax bill increases the severance tax on oil and gas companies but cuts the income tax more and directs funding to areas most affected by the state’s oil and gas boom. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. Following its widespread adoption, the United States, including Ohio, began pumping out natural gas at record levels. But critics worry the technique could pollute and contaminate surrounding air and water resources. CityBeat covered fracking in greater detail here.

As a result of the harsh winter, Cincinnati’s winter shelter for the homeless has been extra busy this year. Some City Council members appear to be considering a more standardized funding plan for the shelter, which traditionally relies largely on private funding.

The Cincinnati Reds Opening Day Parade will take a slight detour this year to avoid streetcar construction.

No surprise here: Ohio is among the worst states for funding transit projects.

Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland want to know what it would take to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, which will name the GOP’s presidential candidate.

Fixing food deserts alone won’t make people eat healthier, a new study found.

A Los Angeles newscaster mixed up Samuel L. Jackson with Laurence Fishburne.

Astronomers say they found the oldest known star in the universe. At more than 13 billion years old, the star is about three times the age of the Sun.

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by German Lopez 02.05.2014
Posted In: News, Death Penalty, Fracking, Parking at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

Morning News and Stuff

New parking deal soon, warden denies botched execution, fracking tax bill under works

Mayor John Cranley appears to be working on another parking deal to upgrade Cincinnati’s parking meters, although the mayor’s office says this plan won’t give up control of the city’s parking meters to a private entity. At the same time, it seems the deal won’t produce a large lump-sum like the defunct parking privatization plan did. Cranley and other opponents of the old parking plan have long said that, even without privatization, the city’s parking meters need to be upgraded to accept credit card payments, among other modern features.

The warden who oversaw Dennis McGuire’s 26-minute, seemingly painful execution says it went “very well.” The execution, the longest since Ohio restarted use of the death penalty in 1999, drew international attention, particularly because many blamed the long time to kill on the state’s use of a cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The warden’s statements essentially reject those concerns. Still, state officials say they’re conducting a third review of McGuire’s execution in particular, which is apparently uncommon. CityBeat covered the execution in further detail here.

An Ohio House bill could boost funding to local governments affected by the fracking boom by hiking the severance tax on oil and gas companies. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. Its widespread use has spurred an economic boom across the country, including northeast Ohio. While it’s boosted the overall economy, it’s also raised environmental and displacement concerns, particularly in areas where the boom is most active. CityBeat covered the fracking boom in further detail here.

In response to complaints about slow snow plowing, the city tweeted, “We’ve got 2,800+ lane miles to clear. It’s going to take some time. Please, go slow & be patient today as our crews work ’round-the-clock.”

In light of yesterday’s “debate” over evolution and biblical creationism, here are four things the anti-science crowd denies.

An Ohio Senate bill would prohibit sales of e-cigarettes to those younger than 18, but some anti-smoking activists worry the bill’s classification of e-cigarettes as an “alternative nicotine product” instead of a tobacco product could loosen regulations on the potentially cancer-causing product.

Meanwhile, CVS plans to stop selling tobacco products as it focuses more on health care.

Ohio’s standardized tests for grades 3-8 could be delayed after winter storms forced so many school closings.

The Cincinnati Fire Department is looking into the possibility of using drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — in the future through a partnership with the University of Cincinnati.

A Salvadoran newspaper used a drone to cover a presidential election.

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by German Lopez 01.06.2014
Posted In: News, 2014 election, Governor, LGBT, Parking at 09:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Tea party drops challenge to Kasich, gay marriage in 2014 election, city faces parking issues

Tea party leader Ted Stevenot won’t run against Gov. John Kasich in a Republican primary after all. The development came just four days after Stevenot announced his candidacy. Stevenot said his decision to pull out had nothing to do with his running mate’s tax problems, which The Columbus Dispatch uncovered shortly after Stevenot announced his intention to run. Stevenot’s withdrawal comes despite building tea party opposition against Kasich over his support for the Obamacare-funded Medicaid expansion and his unwillingness to support anti-union “right-to-work” legislation.

The debate over same-sex marriage reached the state attorney general’s race Friday when Democratic candidate David Pepper published an online petition calling on Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine to stop the state-sanctioned legal battle against a local gay couple. On Dec. 23, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black ruled that state officials must recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates, including the union of Cincinnatians Jim Obergefell and John Arthur. But the state is appealing the ruling. DeWine’s office said it’s up to the Ohio Department of Health, the plaintiff in the case, to appeal Black’s decision. Citing attorney-client privilege, DeWine’s office declined to comment whether he advised for or against appeal.

When Pepper and DeWine face off in the November election, same-sex marriage legalization could appear on the ballot as well — despite LGBT groups’ disagreement over the ballot initiative’s timing.

With the parking privatization plan presumably dead, Mayor John Cranley and City Council plan to address what to do with Cincinnati’s lackluster parking system in the next couple months. By all accounts, the system is broken and in need of upgrades. The question is how to fund the upgrades and leverage parking revenue so it can better finance basic services and development projects. When asked whether privatization is still on the table, Cranley says he’s only open to leasing parking garages, not parking meters, to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority.

Another issue looming for city officials: Their desire to structurally balance the budget without raising taxes or draconian spending cuts. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Frigid weather led area schools to close today, including the region’s public universities. For developing weather information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.

Dayton gets a new mayor today.

Ohio was snubbed for a coveted drone testing program, much to the chagrin of state officials who are now touting partisan claims as reasons why.

Ohio gas prices dropped in time for the first full work week of 2014.

A study found no evidence of time travelers on the Internet.

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by German Lopez 11.13.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Mayor, Streetcar at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Parking plan called off, Cranley flips on streetcar referendum, streetcar supporters rally

Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council announced on Tuesday that, upon taking office in December, they will terminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, following an agreement with the Port Authority to hold off on a bond sale that would have financed — and effectively sealed — the deal. But it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the assets under the deal. The current city administration argues the parking plan is necessary to help balance the budget over the next two years, pay for economic development projects around the city and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, parking meters can accept credit card payments. Opponents argue the plan gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets by outsourcing their operations to private companies based around the country.

But some business leaders are upset with the death of the parking plan because it leaves no visible alternative for funding major development projects like the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.

Cranley now says he will not allow a referendum on any ordinance undoing the streetcar project and will instead try to work with supporters of the project to find another way to put it on the ballot if they can gather enough petition signatures. Cranley says blocking a referendum is necessary to avoid spending money during a referendum campaign that could last months. But for supporters of the streetcar, Cranley’s decision seems highly hypocritical following his repeated praise for the “people’s sacred right of referendum” on the campaign trail after City Council blocked a referendum on the parking plan. If the project is placed on the ballot, it will essentially be the third time it’s brought to a public vote; opponents of the project in 2009 and 2011 pursued two ballot initiatives that many saw as referendums on the streetcar.

Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents yesterday officially launched a campaign to save the streetcar project from Cranley and a newly elected City Council that appears poised to cancel the project. Touting the project’s potential return on investment and cancellation costs, the group plans to lobby newly elected officials to vote in favor of keeping the project going. The group invited Cranley and all elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying effort, a ballot initiative if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action against the city.

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board is apparently unpleasantly surprised that Cranley undid the parking plan, even though the board endorsed Cranley for mayor after he ran in opposition to the parking plan for nearly a year.

An Ohio Senate bill caps the spending ability of the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative board that previously approved the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite the Ohio legislature’s opposition. Gov. John Kasich angered many Republican legislators when he decided to go through the Controlling Board to get the Medicaid expansion, which is a major part of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is working on changes to Medicaid that would cap future cost increases and employ professional staff for a Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee that would have the ability to review Medicaid programs and agencies. The bill also includes a portion that clarifies its passage “shall not be construed with endorsing, validating or otherwise approving the (Medicaid) expansion.”

Despite attempts from city officials and local business leaders, Saks Fifth Avenue is leaving downtown to open a store at Kenwood Collection.

Kentucky’s state auditor will look at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport board’s spending policies and expenses, following reports from The Enquirer that the board spent exorbitant amounts on travel, dining and counseling.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser’s request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages. In a story titled “Cop's suspension called best move for city,” the newspaper wrongly implicated a Miami Township police officer who was previously accused but later exonerated of sexual assault.

Attorney General Mike DeWine warns that some typhoon relief requests could be scams.

Not satisfied with the mere wonder of beginning to exist, some stars explode in a rainbow of colors when they’re born.

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by German Lopez 11.12.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Mayor at 04:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

Parking Plan Called Off

Port Authority and newly elected mayor and council agree to end deal

Mayor-elect John Cranley, the newly elected City Council and the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Tuesday agreed to eliminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority once newly elected officials take office in December.

But it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the assets under the deal.

The announcement follows the Nov. 5 election of Cranley and a City Council supermajority opposed to the parking plan.

“It is a tremendously positive announcement for the city and its citizens that the current parking deal is now dead, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. I was glad to help sound the alarm on this deal from the beginning, but this victory ultimately belongs to the public, who were instrumental in providing sustained public pressure. This has shown us that the public values its public assets and wants long-term solutions to our financial challenges, not short-term fixes.

Cranley and Sittenfeld were joined by Councilman Christopher Smitherman, incoming council members Amy Murray and David Mann and Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner for the announcement. They discussed continuing the city’s partnership with the Port Authority, including the possibility of establishing a development fund for the agency.

Cranley also reiterated his intention to pursue some of the development projects originally tied to the deal, particularly the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. He also said the city will try to find other ways to leverage the city’s parking assets, including the possibility of stricter enforcement and better technologies.

From the start, opponents of the parking plan claimed it gave up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. The plan would have leased the assets to the Port Authority — a local, city- and county-funded development agency — but the Port planned to sign off operations to private companies from around the country.

The plan grew particularly controversial in July, after a previously concealed memo critical of the plan was leaked to media outlets and council members.

The city administration originally claimed the parking plan — and the lump-sum payment it would produce — was necessary to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops and firefighters.

But when the plan was held up in court following the current City Council’s approval on March 6, council managed to balance the operating budget without layoffs by making cuts elsewhere, including council members’ salaries, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues.

City Council also managed to use alternative funding sources to finance the development of a downtown grocery store and luxury apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, which city administration officials originally touted as a major selling point of the parking plan.

Still, city administration officials claimed the plan was necessary to fund other development projects around the city, help balance the budget for the next two years and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, all parking meters would have the ability to accept credit card payments.

City Manager Milton Dohoney, a proponent of the parking plan, also proposed using the lump-sum payment to pay for a parking garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets. Under the original parking plan, the Port Authority was supposed to pay for the garage; after the Port Authority completed its review of the deal on Oct. 9, it backed down from the commitment.

The Port Authority’s review also reduced the lump-sum payment to $85 million from $92 million. Cranley and other critics said the reduction and the new $14-$15 million cost brought on by the parking garage effectively reduced the upfront payment to $70-$71 million.

Without the parking plan, the planned projects will require new sources of funding if they are to proceed. But to critics, the plan’s dissolution is an intangible victory that has been months in the making.

Updated with more details.

 
 
 
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