The dispute stems from a plot of land that, through some legal wrangling and a Joint Economic Development Agreement, Harrison Township officials say can only be used for industrial purposes that create jobs.
The Southwest Ohio Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses wants to build a massive assembly hall that they say would be a draw to the 28,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region and create jobs in surrounding service sector businesses.
The Hamilton County Rural Zoning Commission denied permission to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing fear over the impact to local businesses and traffic, causing the religious group to appeal the decision to the Board of County Commissioners.
Board President Greg Hartmann said commissioners would set a date in the coming weeks to arrive at a decision.
Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes lawyer Chris Finney represented the Witnesses before the board.
Finney argued that the Zoning Commission was wrong to deny permission to build the assembly hall. He pointed to the positive economic impact such halls have had in other states and brought witnesses to testify about the potential impact it could have on Cincinnati.
According to a slide show presented before the board, the hall could result in $1.19 million in annual tax revenue and create 421 jobs in the service industry surrounding the site.
Being a religious institution, the hall would be tax-exempt and would be staffed by volunteers.
Harrison Township officials argued that the area was created under a special agreement that requires industrial use and that any businesses located there create jobs and enhance economic development.
Mayor Joel McGuire said the township had offered up other locations for the assembly hall, but the Witnesses were fixated on the one.
“That’s why we’re in the all-or-nothing situation we’re in because they insist on this particular spot as opposed to the many other locations where there’d be no problems at all,” McGuire said.
Keller's IGA, located at 319 Ludlow Ave. in Clifton, shut down Thursday citing tax issues. While the doors are still locked, it has been announced that the store's liquor license is no longer suspended.
Cliftonites have been shopping at IGA's Ludlow location since 1939. Nestled near Arlin's Bar and Esquire Theater, Keller's was one of the only grocery stores in walking distance from The University of Cincinnati and has been a staple for many students and locals, especially those on foot.
While there is a CVS Pharmacy and United Dairy Farmer's nearby, the closest full-service grocery stores are the Kroger stores on West Corry Street (1.5 miles away) and off Spring Grove Avenue (1.7 miles away). The absence of Keller's not only leaves locals with fewer shopping options, but leaves a gap in array of locally-owned businesses in the Gaslight District.
While many former Keller's shoppers will turn to new stores where they can purchase deli items and fresh produce, they will most likely have to forgo supporting a neighborhood store and resort to a larger chain. A sign on Keller's door urges patrons to do what they can to save this local business.
Even as the local Republican Party searches for a competent person willing to take on Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune in next year's election, the GOP chairman insists the party won't be cutting another deal to let Portune run unopposed.
With the Dec. 7 filing deadline now past, the Hamilton County Republican Party has listed one of its staffers, Finance Director Maggie Nafziger Wuellner, as a placeholder to reserve a spot on the ballot against Portune, a longtime Democratic incumbent.
A proposal made today by a Hamilton County commissioner involving sewer work related to the city of Cincinnati's planned streetcar system won't harm or delay the project, city staffers said.
That's because the motion introduced by County Commissioner Chris Monzel, a streetcar foe, would only affect additional improvements sought by the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), said Chris Eilerman, the city's streetcar project manager. The city already has allocated $3 million of its own money to relocate manholes needed for the streetcar project and do some of MSD's other improvements.
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.
A Democrat who was challenging Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann in this fall’s election has left the race due to work commitments.
Greg Harris, a West Sider who is a former Cincinnati city councilman, said Monday night that a contract awarded to his educational consulting firm means he will be spending a large amount of time outside of the region. Harris’ firm, New Governance Group, recently was awarded a major contract with a nonprofit group in Delaware that seeks to improve public education in that state.
“When I filed (to run for commissioner), I filed in all sincerity,” Harris said. “It was before I got this contract.”
He added, “I feel bad. This was a race I really wanted to run in, but with all the traveling, I’m not equipped to give it the time it deserves.”
Harris, 40, announced his candidacy in early December, when he filed paperwork to run against Hartmann, a Republican incumbent who is seeking his second term.
The Hamilton County Democratic Party now will be able to select a replacement for Harris on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Harris was appointed in January 2009 to Cincinnati City Council to fill the unexpired term of John Cranley, who was facing term limits. But Harris lost in an election that November, finishing 10th in balloting for the nine-member group, missing the final spot by about 3,400 votes. During his brief term, Harris angered the city’s police and firefighter unions by suggesting changes that he said would improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Through his consulting firm, Harris had served as public policy advisor for Cincinnati-based KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a national education philanthropy that seeds educational practices and policy reforms.
An Illinois native, Harris moved to the region in 1993 to attend graduate school at Miami University in Oxford. He stayed here after graduation and served from 2000-05 as executive director of Citizens for Civic Renewal, a nonprofit public advocacy group that promotes good government, volunteerism and civic involvement.
Harris ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood) twice, in 2002 and 2004. He also was prepared to challenge Hartmann for the Hamilton County Commission seat in 2008 until Democratic Party leaders cut a deal with the GOP and asked Harris to step aside and let Hartmann run unopposed. A reluctant Harris complied.
Some people might call it the “Case of the Conveniently Disappearing Blog Item.”
In an instance of revising history to suit changing political circumstances that would make old Soviet-style bureaucrats proud, a conservative anti-tax group has deleted a nasty blog item attacking a local official now that the person has agreed to help a fundraiser for the group.
The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every $100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.
The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.
“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same thing we are doing today,” Portune said.
Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to 6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10 years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the first five.
Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.
Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund stable in years to come.
Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow the tax increase to expire.
Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.
Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with either choice.
“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.
Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for the rollback reduction.
Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change, a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make to help out with the stadium funding burden.