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.
The full budget proposal typically comes out in late November. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council will have to approve the proposal.
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 city’s $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 Cincinnati’s 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
In the first of three debates for Ohio’s seat in the U.S.
Senate, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican challenger Josh
Mandel agreed on little and clashed on a lot. Each candidate mostly focused on the opposing candidate's record, but the debate today did move to substantial differences in policy at some
The debate started with opening statements from a noticeably feisty Brown, who criticized Mandel for calling his vote for the auto bailout “un-American.” On the other side of the aisle, Mandel began his opening statement with a joke about shaving before he turns 36. The joke was the last time either of the men spoke with a light heart.
The candidates blasted each other mostly for their records. Mandel touted Ohio's and the nation’s higher unemployment rate since Brown took office in 2006, energy prices and the U.S. debt. He also said the Senate had not passed a budget in three years, although Congress has actually passed budget resolutions in that time.
Brown fired back with claims Mandel had filled the state treasurer’s office with cronies. He also criticized Mandel for running for four different political offices in seven years. In his closing statement, Brown said Mandel is “too concerned about running for his next job” to be trusted.
On substance, Brown and Mandel criticized just about everything about each other. Brown claimed Mandel signed away his “right to think” by agreeing to lobbyist Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes while in office. He said the pledge makes it so if Mandel does take office, he’ll never be able to close tax loopholes for big corporations.
Mandel defended the pledge by saying, “I’m proud to stand
for lower taxes in our state and lower taxes in our country.” He added, “I will
do everything I can to advocate for lower taxes across the board for the middle
class and job creators as well.”
The term “job creators” is typically used in politics to reference wealthy Americans, who Republicans claim create jobs through the theory of trickle-down economics. The economic theory states that wealthy Americans will hire more lower-class Americans if they have more money and freedom, essentially creating a trickle-down effect on wealth from the rich to the poor. Although Republicans still tout the theory, some economists, including Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, say the financial crisis of 2008 and the deregulation that led to it prove trickle-down economics do not work.
The candidates also debated their positions on the auto bailout. Mandel said he would not have voted for the auto bailout if he was in the Senate in 2009. In his defense, he cited the experience of Delphi workers, who lost part of their pensions as part of the deal auto companies made with workers after the federal bailout. Mandel then said, “I’m not a bailout senator. He’s the bailout senator.”
Brown responded by saying, “These are real jobs and real people.” He then cited examples of people helped by the growing auto industry. Brown’s arguments are backed by economic data, which has repeatedly credited the growing auto industry for the nation’s growing economy. In the first quarter of 2012, the auto industry was credited for half of the nation’s economic growth.
When he was asked about higher education, Brown established the key difference between the candidates in terms of economic policy. Brown said his policies in favor of government investment in higher education are about supporting the middle class to create growth that starts in the middle and spreads out, while Mandel supports tax cuts that emphasize a trickle-down approach. Mandel did not deny the claims, and instead blamed Brown’s policies for the high unemployment rate and debt issues.
The men continued to show similar contrasts on the budget, taxes and economy throughout the entire debate, but there seemed to be some common ground regarding energy independence. When the topic came to hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — Brown said becoming energy independent would have to involve all possible energy sources. In substance, Mandel agreed, although he also praised fracking regulations recently passed by the Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich.
As far as energy issues go, the agreement stopped there. When Brown was asked about President Barack Obama's alleged “war on coal,” Brown said there was no war on coal and claimed there are more coal jobs and coal produced in Ohio than there were five years ago. Mandel disagreed and claimed there is a war on coal. He added if Obama is the general in the war on coal, Brown is Obama's “lieutenant.” Brown previously supported federal regulations on mercury that some in the coal industry, including the Ohio Coal Association, claim will force coal-fired power plants to shut down. The regulations go into effect in 2015.
On abortion, Mandel proudly claimed he was pro-life, while Brown said, “Unlike Josh Mandel, I trust Ohio women to make their own health care decisions.” Brown also criticized Mandel for not establishing exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother in his anti-abortion stance.
Many more issues, from term limits to Middle Eastern culture, were covered in the debate. The candidates drew sharp contrasts in all these areas with Brown typically holding the liberal position and Mandel typically holding the conservative position. But despite the feisty language and deep policy contrasts, when the debate ended, the candidates smiled, shook hands and patted each other on the back. They will meet again in Columbus on Thursday and Cincinnati on Oct. 25.
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 Kasich’s 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 Kasich’s policies have made the situation much worse.
The biggest deficit plug will come from privatizing parking services, which the city manager’s office says will bring in $40 million in one-time revenue and additional revenue over 30 years as part of a long-term contract. About $21 million of the initial lump-sum payment will be used to close the 2013 budget deficit.
In the past, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld voiced concerns about privatizing parking: “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 we’re experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Another concern is whether the city’s current parking employees will be laid off if parking services are sold. Dohoney said the deal for privatization will require the winning bidder to interview all American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers. Full-time workers who do not join the winning bidder will be hired in other parts of the city government. “No AFSCME employee will be placed on the street if they are full-time as a result of this effort,” Dohoney claimed.
The rest of the deficit plug will come in cuts, cost shifting, savings, revenue, embedded growth and one-time sources. Among these, notable items include the elimination of the Mounted Patrol for the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and a $610,770 reduction in Human Services Funding. A few departments and programs, including the CPD, will face further minor cuts.
The city manager’s office claims the changes in the budget are necessary mostly due to changes at the state level. Specifically, the state government cut the Local Government Fund by 50 percent and eliminated the tangible personal property tax reimbursement and estate tax; altogether, losing these sources of revenue cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in the 2013 budget.
Facing the large deficit, Dohoney said he wanted to avoid across-the-board cuts and other major cuts to growth and investment programs: “You’re not competitive if that’s your approach.”
The budget also includes some spending increases. The Focus 52 Program will focus on redevelopment projects in Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. If it’s successful, the new program will “grow the city’s revenue base, create new jobs and/or increase the population of the city,” according to the city manager’s office.
In other budget news, the city manager will also send out the Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which sets the millage rate for the operating property tax. That proposal seeks to raise the millage rate from 5.9 mills to 6.1 mills, which will provide an estimated $31 million in revenue, up from $23.5 million. For a $100,000 residential property, that means a tax hike of $46.