Councilman Chris Seelbach on Oct. 3 announced another concession in the ongoing city-county dispute over contracting rules for the jointly operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).
At the heart of the issue is a federal mandate requiring Cincinnati to retrofit and revamp its sewer system. The project is estimated to cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, making it the largest infrastructure undertaking in the city’s history.
But Hamilton County commissioners have put most of the project on hold until the county resolves its conflict with City Council, which unanimously passed in June 2012 and modified in May “responsible bidder” rules that dictate how MSD contractors should train their employees.
Critics say the law’s apprenticeship program and pre-apprenticeship fund requirements put too much of a burden on nonunion businesses. Supporters claim the requirements help create local jobs and train local workers.
The city law requires bidders to follow specific standards for apprenticeship programs, which are used by unionized and nonunion businesses to teach an employee in a certain craft, such as plumbing or construction. It also asks contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help teach applicants in different crafts.
The concession announced on Oct. 3 would replace a mandate with an incentive program.
The mandate tasked contract bidders to prove their apprenticeship programs have graduated at least one person a year for the five previous years.
The incentive program would strip the mandate and replace it with “bid credits,” which would essentially give a small advantage to bidders who prove their apprenticeship programs are graduating employees. That advantage would be weighed along with many other factors that go into the city’s evaluation of bidders.
Seelbach says the concession will be the sixth the city has given to the county, compared to the county’s single concession.
The city has already added several exemptions to its rules, including one for small businesses and another for all contracts under $400,000, which make up half of MSD contracts. The city also previously loosened safety training requirements and other apprenticeship rules.
Meanwhile, the county has merely agreed to require state-certified apprenticeship programs, although with no specific standards like the city’s.
The five-year graduation requirement was the biggest sticking point in the city-county dispute. It’s now up to commissioners to decide whether the concession is enough to let MSD work go forward. If not, the dispute could end up in court as the federal government demands its mandate be met.
An annual report on the nation’s highways found Ohio’s rank among states has dropped from No. 13 to No. 25 over three years, despite improvement throughout the nation as a whole.
The 20th “Annual Highway Report” released by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, looked at state-by-state road conditions and cost effectiveness, putting North Dakota in the No. 1 spot and Alaska in last place.
Ohio ranked No. 11 in fatality rate, No. 19 in urban interstate pavement condition and No. 24 in deficient bridges, but it ranked No. 29 in interstate pavement condition, No. 32 in total costs per mile and No. 46 in urban interstate congestion.
Among the findings: About 22.73 percent of Ohio’s bridges were deemed deficient in 2009, down from 24.51 percent in 2007. Twenty states reported more than one in four bridges as deficient — a threshold Ohio barely missed.
The study is based on 2009 spending and performance data submitted by state highway agencies to the federal government.
With 20,394 paved miles, Ohio had the ninth largest highway system in the nation. In comparison, North Dakota, which ranked No. 1 in the report, had 7,408 paved miles, and Texas, which ranked No. 11, had 80,212 paved miles — the second most in the nation.
Although the report’s findings were generally worse than previous years for Ohio, the report found overall national improvement.
“The system’s overall condition improved dramatically from 2008 to 2009. Six of the seven key indicators of system condition showed improvement, including large gains in rural interstate and urban interstate condition, and a reduction in the fatality rate,” the report read.
The report notes some of the changes may be attributable to the effects of the Great Recession, which were still lingering when states submitted 2009 data: “The U.S. economic downturn, which began in 2007 and continued in earnest in 2008 and 2009, is an important background factor influencing these trends. In 2008 total U.S. annual vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) fell about 3.5 percent from 2007 levels, lowering congestion slightly from prior years. Also, beginning in late 2008 and continuing into 2009 and 2010, federal stimulus funding contributed an additional 22 percent to funding resources.”
Being one of the first to discover a critical memo put Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at the center of an ongoing drama regarding the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The memo criticized the financial details of the lease, but it was kept from the Port, City Council and the public for nearly a month. Ever since the controversial parking plan passed City Council and was upheld in court, concerned citizens, business leaders and critics like Sittenfeld have been calling on the city and Port to rework or halt the deal. So far, the city and Port have stuck to their support. The city will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the lease, which it currently plans to use to help balance city budgets and fund development projects, such as the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The latest state budget secured more cuts to city and county governments, putting local governments at a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two years compared to 2010 and 2011, according to a new report from progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio. Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local government funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But the latest state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash in extra revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts. For Cincinnati, the original cuts cost the city more than $22 million in revenue.
The Brent Spence Bridge was bumped up in a federal funding priority list through a successful amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican. The amendment prioritized $500 million for obsolete and structurally unsound bridges, but it’s so far unclear how much of the money will go to the Brent Spence Bridge project, which state officials estimate will cost $2.7 billion. Currently, Ohio and Kentucky officials plan to pay for the bridge project by enacting tolls.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor this year, is calling on the city manager to produce a plan that would structurally balance Cincinnati’s operating budget by 2016. “To build on the momentum Cincinnati is now experiencing, we must set a course now for a fiscally sustainable future,” Qualls said in a statement. “That’s why I’m urging that we have a plan to reach structural balance by 2016, restore reserves and increase the city’s pension contribution, minimize using the parking lease payment to restore budget cuts and continue to invest in neighborhoods and jobs to grow revenue.” The announcement comes more than one week after Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating and criticized the city for its exposure to unsustainable pension liabilities and reliance on one-time sources to fix budget gaps.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor, is rolling out his jobs plan today. The initiative will provide a job training program for individuals facing long-term unemployment or underemployment, which the Cranley campaign estimates will result in 379 individuals per year obtaining full-time, permanent jobs. The program will be mainly paid for by pulling funds from the city’s Office of Environmental Quality, Department of Finance, travel and the state lobbyist. “My deepest conviction is that there is dignity in work. I believe all able-bodied adults should work and be self-sufficient. And I believe society has an obligation to ensure the opportunity to work exists,” Cranley said in a statement.
On Second Thought: “Facts vs. Perceptions in Trayvon Martin Coverage.”
Police yesterday shot and killed Roger Ramundo, an allegedly armed Clifton resident. Officers had been called to the area of Clifton and Ludlow avenues by a mental health provider, who said there was a person with mental health issues armed with a gun, according to interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul Humphries. Police said they tried to first subdue Ramundo with Tasers during an ensuing struggle, but they were unsuccessful and the man pulled out his gun and fired a shot. That’s when one officer fired two shots that hit Ramundo, who was then taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Gov. Kasich isn’t providing clemency to a Cleveland killer who stabbed his victim 17 times, overruling a rare plea for mercy from prosecutors but siding with a majority of the state parole board. Billy Slagle will be executed on Aug. 7.
Ohio will take a hands-off approach
to promoting Obamacare, even though outreach will be crucial for the controversial
health care law. President Barack Obama’s administration estimates it
will have to enroll millions of young adults into health care plans to turn the law into a success.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County is investigating if Obamacare could result in lower property taxes by allowing the county to shift costs to the federal government.
A Cincinnati money manager is being accused of running an “elaborate Ponzi scheme” that cost investors “tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to a July 20 complaint filed in the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The average price of a flight from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport dropped, but the airport is still the second-most expensive in the nation.
CityBeat gave Internet cat-celebrity Lil Bub an in-depth look in this week’s issue. Find it online here.
Want to maximize your tan? Here is how close you could get to the sun and survive.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is calling for a quick police chief search following a bout of local violence during the past few weeks. In a memo to City Manager Milton Dohoney, Qualls argues a police chief replacement is necessary to clamp down on crime, particularly gun and gang-related violence. She asks the city manager to report to City Council on the hiring search in early August and have a full replacement ready by the end of the summer. Former Police Chief James Craig recently left Cincinnati to take the police chief job in Detroit, his hometown.
Ohio dropped from No. 13 to No. 25 in a state-by-state ranking of highways. The report from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, looked at highway conditions and cost effectiveness. Among the findings: About 22.73 percent of Ohio’s bridges were deemed deficient in 2009, down from 24.51 percent in 2007. Twenty states reported more than one in four bridges as deficient — a threshold Ohio barely missed. Despite Ohio being relatively worse off, the nation as a whole improved in major categories, according to the report: “Six of the seven key indicators of system condition showed improvement, including large gains in rural interstate and urban interstate condition, and a reduction in the fatality rate.”
Ohio Democrats now criticizing the state budget’s rape counselor restriction voted for the measure in a separate House bill on June 16. The “gag,” as Democrats now call it, prevents publicly funded rape counselors from discussing abortion as a viable medical option for rape victims. “Democrats supported the bill to fund rape crisis centers and we were led to believe that this offensive language gagging rape counselors would be fixed in the budget,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern told the Associated Press through a spokesperson. “It was not.” Democrats voted against the state budget that actually encoded the measure into law.
On July 11 at Fountain Square, anti-abortion group Created Equal plans to use a jumbo screen to show a graphic video containing footage of aborted fetuses and their separated limbs.
Three more statewide online schools — known as “e-schools” — are coming to Ohio following approval from the Department of Education. Proponents of e-schools call them a “valuable alternative” to traditional schooling. But some education experts and studies have found e-schools often perform poorly.
Mason is having some success using private-public partnerships to attract high-tech companies.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol says “pilot error” caused the stunt airplane crash that killed two at last month’s Dayton Air Show.
BBC explains why phones sometimes feel like they’re vibrating when they’re not.
New contact lenses give telescopic vision.
Fireworks would likely look boring in space.
Ohio and Kentucky officials will roll out a plan in September to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge project with tolling
— a decision that could lead to opposition from Northern Kentucky
officials who have long advised against using tolls to finance the $2.5
billion project. The funding choice comes as little surprise,
given the lack of major federal support for the interstate bridge project. But tolling could put the plan in
danger if the Kentucky legislature follows the lead of its Northern
Kentucky delegation. The announcement follows a December agreement between Ohio and Kentucky’s governors to get the project done.
Gov. John Kasich will be using a month-long tour to show off the new two-year state budget. The schedule for the tour is still being worked out, but at least one stop in southwest Ohio is expected. The $62 billion budget has many moving parts, but a CityBeat analysis found the plan disproportionately favors the wealthy and limits access to legal abortions and contraceptive care in Ohio.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino posted its worst monthly revenue gains since its grand opening in March. It was an equally poor month for the rest of the state, which saw the worst casino revenue gains since Cincinnati’s casino opened. If the trend holds up, that could be a troubling sign for proponents of using casino revenue to balance local and state budgets.
A prominent Ohio Republican and former Kasich cabinet member says he supports overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, giving a bipartisan jolt to FreedomOhio’s efforts to get the issue on the ballot in 2014. Jim Petro, former attorney general and previous head of the state’s higher education board, has a daughter who’s gay, which may have influenced his decision. He was joined by Ian James, co-founder of FreedomOhio, when announcing his support. CityBeat covered FreedomOhio’s same-sex marriage amendment when it was originally slated for the 2013 ballot here.
Cincinnati Gardens is for sale. Kenko Corporation, which has owned the garden for 35 years, announced its plans yesterday. “Our hope would be to sell, and see the historic venue move forward in its current state: a sports and entertainment venue,” explained Pete Robinson, president of the Cincinnati Gardens, in a statement. “However, we are prepared to explore other opportunities.”
At least two county commissioners are expected to approve the Cincinnati Zoo’s levy request, which could put the flat renewal of the five-year levy on the ballot this November.
In other zoo news, here is Gladys the gorilla with her family.
As City Council winds down its sessions, Councilman Chris Seelbach will keep busy and help other city employees pick up garbage and clean sewers. Seelbach will be tweeting about his experiences in a different kind of public service here.
Kroger led Cincinnati stocks to a big start in July — a good sign for an ailing national economy that has struggled to get back on its feet. The Cincinnati-based grocer also announced on Tuesday that it will buy rival Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc. in a $2.4 billion deal.
Here are some pictures of carnivorous plants in action.
It’s Election Day. Polls will remain open today until 7:30 p.m. Find your voting location here. Check out CityBeat’s election coverage and endorsements here. Regardless of who you plan to support, go vote. The results will decide who runs Cincinnati for the next four years.
A gathering in Covington, Ky. over the Brent Spence Bridge signaled the community is still divided about using tolls to pay for the $2.5 billion bridge project, even as public officials admit tolls are most likely necessary to complete the project. Many local and state officials believe the federal government should pay for the interstate bridge, but they’re also pessimistic about the chances of receiving federal funds. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran says she’s concerned about safety at the functionally obsolete bridge, but she says tolls could have a negative impact on Covington.
On Wednesday, Hamilton County commissioners are expected to vote on an annual budget that nearly matches the county administrator’s original proposal. The budget is
the first time in six years that county officials don’t have to carry
out major cuts or layoffs to close a gap.
A study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and three other community organizations found idling school bus and car motors might pose a serious health risk to students. The most problematic pollutants are particularly concentrated when cars and buses are standing, and the toxic particles linger around schools and playgrounds for hours after the vehicles leave, according to the study. For researchers, the findings are evidence buses and cars should turn off their motors when dropping off children at school.
The Cincinnati Enquirer and other major newspapers lost thousands of readers in the past year, even though some newspapers managed to buck the trend and gain in certain categories, according to a circulation audit from the Alliance for Audited Media. Between September 2012 and September 2013, The Enquirer’s circulation dropped by more than 10 percent, while The Toledo Blade and Dayton Daily News increased their circulation. The drop coincides with readers resorting to the Internet and other alternate sources in the past few years. The losses have cost newspapers advertising revenue, and many have responded with cutbacks in staff and overall news coverage.More than half a million Ohioans qualify for tax subsidies under Obamacare, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Anyone between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four, is eligible. But for Ohioans to take full advantage of the benefits, the federal government will first need to fix HealthCare.gov, which has been mired in technical problems since its launch on Oct. 1.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was one of seven Republicans to support a federal ban on workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Senate yesterday. All Senate Democrats backed the bill. But the bill faces grim prospects in the U.S. House of Representatives, where it’s expected to fail. CityBeat covered state-level efforts to ban workplace and housing discrimination against LGBT individuals in further detail here.
Mitt Romney’s code name for Portman, a potential running mate for the 2012 Republican presidential ticket, was Filet-O-Fish.
One in five sun-like stars host Earth-like planets.
It’s not even two weeks since Gov. John Kasich signed the two-year state budget, and he’s already pushing for the federally funded Medicaid expansion again. Kasich, a Republican, called on fellow advocates and Democrats to lobby Republican legislators into supporting the expansion. The administration says it would need legislation passed by the end of the summer if it’s to get federal approval for an expansion by Jan. 1. Studies found the expansion would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans in the next decade. But Republican legislators passed on it, claiming the federal government can’t afford the expansion even though the federal government has long upheld its commitment to Medicaid. CityBeat covered the state budget and Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners are expected later today to repeal a funding hold on sewer projects, just a couple months after the hold was passed in response to controversial city laws. The city and county originally reached a compromise over the laws, but the deal appeared to have fallen through when City Council failed to approve its end of the bargain. Still, commissioners are moving forward with removing the funding hold, according to WVXU. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in greater detail here.
Designers, engineers and architects will compete over how they’ll cover Fort Washington Way in a few months, and Business Courier has some possibilities for where the project may go. The project is supposed to connect downtown and the riverfront, maximize economic development, encourage recreational activities, preserve openness and more. Although the first phase is just finishing, The Banks has already won awards, making the final connection between the area and downtown all the more important to city and county officials.
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will hold a meeting tonight for its regional strategic plan. Details are sparse, but OKI’s first plan since 2005 will likely put a big emphasis on Cincinnati. A draft of the plan will likely be available in 2014. The meeting will be at Memorial Hall from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow was caught in a “pants on fire” statement by Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer after she claimed Ohio’s budget mandates women seeking an abortion to undergo a vaginal probe. The budget imposes new limits on legal abortions in Ohio and effectively defunds contraceptive care, cancer screenings and other non-abortion medical services at family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, but it doesn’t require women undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.
Cincinnati topped Terminix’s annual bed bug list for most calls related to the critters, but it avoided a spot on another list for the highest increase in calls.
Warren County’s racino is now hiring.
One good thing that came out of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign: swag for needy Kenyan youth.
Antimatter particles were detected erupting from solar flares.
One major problem in brain training studies: People always realize they’re being tested, particularly if they’re playing Tetris for hours.
The Drop Inn Center and 3CDC (Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation) on Friday announced a deal to move the region’s largest homeless shelter from its current location in Over-the-Rhine to Queensgate. The Drop Inn Center says the new location represents “most of the things on our wish list, which is fantastic.” And 3CDC has been pushing the shelter to move since it began its efforts to revitalize the Over-the-Rhine and downtown area, which some label gentrification. Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said in a statement that government officials and developers should be helping maintain affordable housing in all parts of the city instead of moving poor people to other neighborhoods.
Local sewer rates could rise by 6 percent and local water rates will skyrocket by 22.6 percent following proposed price hikes from the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The higher sewer rates are needed to help pay for a federally mandated sewer upgrade that will cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, according to MSD officials. MSD says the spike in water bills is necessary because water use is declining and treatment costs are increasing.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) has lost more flights and seats since 2005 than any other major airport across the country, which effectively cost the Cincinnati area 33,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion in annual economic activity in the same time span, according to an analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer. The 78-percent drop in flights — far higher than the national average of 19 percent — comes even as CVG’s average fares increased by 26 percent, which were also above the national average of 4 percent.
Commentary from The Business Courier: “(Mayor-elect John) Cranley doubles down on streetcar cancellation.”
Supporters of Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Cincinnati Hyatt Regency Ballroom to discuss their options to prevent Cranley from stopping the streetcar project. Supporters were recently reinvigorated by the current city administration’s projections that canceling the streetcar project could cost nearly as much as completing it.
As Ohio’s Republican legislators move to adopt a stand-your-ground law, the research shows the controversial self-defense laws might increase homicides and racial disparities in the U.S. justice system.
Economists generally agree that state officials don’t play a big role in changing the economy in the short term, but political scientists say the economy will still play a major role in deciding Ohio’s 2014 gubernatorial elections. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald argues Republican Gov. John Kasich deserves the blame for Ohio’s economy, given that Kasich initially credited his policies for Ohio’s brief economic turnaround early on in his term. But now that the economy is beginning to stagnate, Kasich refuses to take the blame and points to congressional gridlock at the federal level as the reason for Ohio’s slowdown.
Ohio paid nearly $1.2 million for a string of charter schools that closed weeks after they opened. The schools, which all operated under the name Olympus High School, are now facing an audit and have been ordered to pay back some of the money.
A state job program for disabled Ohioans could lose millions in federal funds after the U.S. Department of Education warned the state it is improperly spending the money on case management and other administrative activities. But the head of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities insists the state program is under compliance.
Ohio’s number of uninsured children is below the national average, according to a Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is fast tracking business permits to outpace neighboring states.
With Thanksgiving looming, Ohio gas prices rose in the past week.
Migraine sufferers who also deal with allergies and hay fever might suffer from more severe headaches, according to a study from three medical centers that include the University of Cincinnati.
Would you ride the world’s tallest water slide?