Standing in front of roughly 40 supporters, city leaders gave the order on Tuesday to lay down the first two streetcar tracks.
The milestone has been years in the making for the $133
million streetcar project — ever since City Council approved the streetcar plan in 2008 and the project broke ground in February 2012.
“This is another great day in our great city,” proclaimed Mayor Mark Mallory, a major proponent of the streetcar. “This is the project that will not stop.”
Political and financial hurdles snared the massive project in the past five years, but city officials say the construction phase is so far within budget and on time, putting it on track to open to the public on Sept. 15, 2016.
Until then, City Manager Milton Dohoney asked for patience as construction progresses.
But not everyone was happy with the milestone. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for not delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December.
“The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning,” Cranley said in a statement. “To lay track for a project that can’t be completed for three years right before an election that will serve as a referendum on the project is a slap in face to the voters.”
Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.
Multiple streetcar supporters at the event told CityBeat that Cranley’s demands are ridiculous. They say that delaying a project with contractual obligations and deadlines for two months because of a political campaign would cripple the city’s ability to take on future projects as weary contractors question the city’s commitments.
Streetcar supporters back the project as both another option for public transit and an economic development driver. Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the Over-the-Rhine and downtown loop will produce a three-to-one return on investment.
Opponents say the project is too costly. They argue the project forced the city to raise property taxes and forgo other capital projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 75 and Martin Luther King Drive.
The project already went through two referendums in 2009 and 2011
in which voters effectively approved the streetcar.
Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in federal funds from the project in 2011 after he won the 2010 gubernatorial election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, whose administration allocated the money to the streetcar.
Earlier in 2013, City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap after construction bids for the project came in higher than expected.
Despite the hurdles, city leaders remain committed to the project. They estimate the first section of the track — on Elm Street between 12th and Henry streets — will be finished in January 2014.
Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue. One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on council between 2000 and 2009.
Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund. With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city. That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011, even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.
Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.
The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.
Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking, an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.
Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.
Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.
HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.
Cincinnati plans to avoid a streetcar delay. Despite what the city told CityBeat Monday, it seems the delay was due to the ongoing conflict with Duke Energy, and the city wants to put an end to it. City officials are seeking to set aside $15 million from the recent sale of the Blue Ash Airport to ensure the streetcar stays on track by initially paying for moving utility lines and pipes to accommodate for the streetcar. The money is expected to be recovered once issues with Duke Energy are settled. Expect more details on this story from CityBeat this afternoon. CityBeat previously covered the connections between the Blue Ash Airport sale and streetcar here.
Cincinnati’s economic recovery is coming along. In August, Greater Cincinnati home sales hit a five-year high. The 2,438 homes sold were a nearly 16 percent increase from August 2011.
Voters First is suing the Ohio Republican Party for what the organization says are false claims over Issue 2. The complaint, filed to the Ohio Elections Commission Tuesday, points out three allegedly false accusations about the redistricting amendment. A hearing on the complaint is today. Also, it seems Ronald Reagan, who modern Republicans claim to greatly admire, would have supported Issue 2:
Natalie Portman was in Cincinnati yesterday. She talked
about her support for President Barack Obama’s reelection and women’s
issues. She did not mention the awful Star Wars prequels that ruined childhoods. Other speakers attended as well, and they all echoed the message
of Obama being better for women voters.
Kroger recalled bags of fresh spinach in 15 states, including Ohio, yesterday. The spinach, which was supplied by NewStar Fresh Foods LLC, may hold listeria monocytogenes, which could make a pregnant woman or anyone with a weakened immune system very sick. The specific product was a Kroger Fresh Selections Tender Spinach 10-ounce bag that had a “best if used by” date of Sept. 16 and the UPC code 0001111091649.
More than 450 apartments are being planned for downtown West Chester.The Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) is looking for advice. Every four years, the department hosts the Child Support Guidelines Advisory Council, which revises the state child support program, and gets citizen feedback on how the program can improve. The public meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Oct. 19 at the former Lazarus Building at 50 W. Town Street in Columbus. The council will report its findings and conclusions to the Ohio General Assembly in March 2013.
An underused plane at the could save the Ohio Department of Transportation $3 million, a new state audit found.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is reaching out to victims of fracking. With a new program, it will provide legal and other protections for individuals, communities and governments affected by fracking.
Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin are planning an Ohio bus tour next week. The state is considered a must-win for Romney, but recent aggregate polling puts him in a fairly grim position with less than two months to Election Day.
How do nuclear explosions affect beer? The U.S. government apparently found out.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave his suggestions for fixing the streetcar budget gap Tuesday, and CityBeat analyzed the details here. The suggestion, which include temporarily using front-loaded Music Hall funds and pulling money from other capital projects, are capital budget items that can't be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits in state law, so if City Council approved the suggestions, the streetcar would not be saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other city employees being laid off to balance the operating budget.
Ohio Senate Republicans seem unlikely to take up so-called "right to work" (RTW) legislation after it was proposed in the Ohio House. RTW legislation prevents unions and employers from making collective bargaining agreements that require union membership to be hired for a job, significantly weakening a union's leverage in negotiations by reducing membership. Since states began adopting the anti-union laws, union membership has dropped dramatically around the nation. Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, were quick to condemn the RTW bills and compare them to S.B. 5, a 2011 bill backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Republicans that would have limited collective bargaining powers for public employees and significantly reduced public sector unions' political power.
Hamilton County commissioners approved a county-wide collaborative between health and government agencies to help reduce the county's infant mortality rate, which has exceeded the national average for more than a decade. Funding for the program will come in part from the sale of Drake Hospital to UC Health.
With a 7-2 vote yesterday, City Council updated its "responsible bidder" ordinance, which requires job training from contractors working with the Metropolitan Sewer District, to close loopholes and include Greater Cincinnati Water Works projects. Councilman Chris Seelbach led the charge on the changes, which were opposed by council members Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn.
Ohio Senate Democrats are still pushing the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found would insure 456,000 Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade. Ohio House Republicans effectively rejected the expansion with their budget bill, which the Ohio Senate is now reviewing. CityBeat covered the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.
The state's Public Utilities Commissions of Ohio approved a 2.9 percent rate hike for Duke Energy, which will cost customers an average of $3.72 every month.
Concealed carry permits issued in Ohio nearly doubled in the first three months of the year, following a wave of mass shootings in the past year and talks of federal gun control legislation.
Real headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: "How much skin is too much skin for teens at prom?"
A Pennsylvania woman who had been missing for 11 years turned herself in to authorities in Florida.
New research shows early American settlers at Jamestown, Va., ate each other.
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will be stopping by Greater
Cincinnati next Tuesday. The campaign stop is part of a three-day bus
tour across Ohio. The state is considered a must-win for Romney’s
presidential campaign, but aggregate polling is not friendly to his
prospects in Ohio.
Will Romney dye his face for the Ohio events? Gawker was among a few outlets and individuals that noticed Romney dyed his face brown for an event on a Latino television network.
Ohio’s unemployment rate remained at 7.2 percent, the same as July and June. The state made gains in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, financial activities and government, but it had losses in trade, transportation, utilities and educational and health services. Still, Ohio’s unemployment rate remains far below the national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.
City Council is taking action to prevent further delays for the streetcar, but the city says the delay to 2015 is still set. By moving money around, the city will be able to front money to pay for moving utility lines and pipes, but it expects to get the money back eventually. The city says Duke Energy is responsible for moving the lines to accommodate for the streetcar, but Duke says it’s the city’s duty since the streetcar is the city’s project. If the city is right, it gets the fronted money back. If it’s wrong, the money is on the taxpayer dime.
The Cincinnati Park Board struck down Park Rule 28, a rule that had come under fire by homeless advocates. The rule allowed the city to put up signs that would immediately enact rules as law. Homeless advocates said the signs allowed Washington Park to make rules that discriminated against the homeless and poor. The dispute led to a lawsuit, which three Over-the-Rhine residents filed on Sept. 4. The city countered by saying they took down the signs weeks before the lawsuit and that the rules were never truly enforced on any individual
The Anna Louise Inn won a zoning appeal yesterday. The
appeal gives way to the $14 million renovation at the Anna Louise Inn.
But Western & Southern will continue its opposition to renovation of the historic
building, even though it could have avoided all its problems by simply
buying the Anna Louise Inn when it had the chance. In related news,
Western & Southern commissioned a study from the University of
Cincinnati to see how replacing the Anna Louise Inn with a hotel would
work, which prompted laughter from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls because the building isn't theirs.
The Cincinnati Hispanic Center is launching an initiative to connect bilingual and multilingual people around the region. The initiative will help multilingual individuals flaunt their skills to employers and anyone else in need.
In Butler County, fewer teens are using alcohol and tobacco, but more are using marijuana and prescription pills.
Procter & Gamble and a local manufacturing contractor are getting sued for religious discrimination. The dispute began when P&G and its contractor allegedly fired a Muslim employee after she was humiliated by another employee.
Bioscience looks to be a rising star in Ohio’s job market, according to a new study.
An Ohio woman unknowingly married her dad.Your next leather wallet may be grown in a petri dish.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick yesterday revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project, after accounting for $32.8 million in sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and $44.9 million in lost federal grant money. But Mayor-elect John Cranley flatly denied the numbers because he claims the current city administration “is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters.” Meanwhile, at least two of the potential swing votes — incoming council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn — showed skepticism toward the estimates, although Mann said, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.” Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.
Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in October, up from 6.9 percent a year before. The state added only 27,200 jobs, which wasn’t enough to make up for the 31,000 newly unemployed throughout the past year. The numbers
paint a grim picture for a state economy that was once perceived as one of the
strongest coming out of the Great Recession. In comparison, the U.S.
unemployment rate actually decreased to 7.3 percent from 7.9 percent
between October 2012 and October 2013. (This paragraph was updated with the nonfarm numbers.)
The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) will repay $30 million plus interest to businesses that overpaid taxes throughout the past three years. The announcement came after Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer found ODT had illegally withheld $294 million in overpayments over the years. Meyer’s findings were made through what was initially a probe into alleged theft at ODT.
Outgoing Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan could request an automatic recount because she came tenth out of the nine elected council members, right after Councilwoman-elect Amy Murray, by only 859 votes. But Quinlivan and Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke agreed the recount would be a long-shot. Still, Quinlivan noted that a flip in the count could be a big deal because she supports the streetcar project and Murray opposes it.
Cincinnati Public Schools are trying to expand their recycling efforts.
Here is an interactive infographic of meat production in 2050.
John Cranley is calling for the city to halt progress on the streetcar after a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer revealed the city’s construction bids are $26 million to $43 million over budget. City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city might throw out the bids and start the bidding process again, but no final decision has been made yet. But Cranley argues the city has no leverage over bidders because it already bought the streetcars. In CityBeat’s in-depth look at the streetcar, Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, said the cars had to be bought early so they can be built, tested and burned into the tracks while giving staff enough time to get trained — a process that could take as long as two and a half years. The city also cautions that sorting through the bids will take a few more weeks.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) landed a $2.5 million grant to purchase seven new buses. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, yesterday announced SORTA had won the competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The new buses will replace old ones that are no longer good for service.The Horseshoe Casino got approval from the state yesterday despite fears of bankruptcy surrounding the casino’s parent company. As a precaution, the Ohio Casino Control Commission is requiring Caesar’s, the troubled company, to undergo annual financial reviews and notify the commission of any major financial plans, including any intent to file bankruptcy. Caesar’s is currently $22 billion in debt.
Ohio legislators have a lot of questions about Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding formula. Kasich claims his formula levels the playing field between poor and wealthy schools, but Rep. Ryan Smith, a Republican, pointed out his poor Appalachian district is getting no money under the formula, while the suburban, well-off Olentangy Schools are getting a 300 percent increase. In a previous glimpse at the numbers for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), CityBeat found the funding increases aren’t enough to make up for past cuts — largely because of the phaseout of tangible personal property reimbursements.
Another report found low-performing schools could be forced to outsource teaching. The new policy has aggravated some local officials.
Kasich’s budget will apparently benefit the state’s mentally ill and addicted. Mental health advocates said the budget will expand treatment, housing and other services. Most of the benefits will come from the Medicaid expansion.
CPS says it will not lose any funding over the state auditor’s attendance scrubbing report. The report, released Tuesday, found CPS had been scrubbing attendance data, but the school district claims errors were not intentional.
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel will give the State of the County address later today.
Ohio Third Frontier approved $3.6 million in new funds to support Ohio innovation. About $200,000 is going to Main Street Ventures, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator.
Cincinnati Art Museum named an interim curator: Cynthia Amneus.
Covington is getting a new city hall.
New evidence shows lab testing on mice may not be helpful for humans. Apparently, mice and human genes are too different for treatments to be comparable.
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square last night to start a two-week campaign to prevent Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council from halting the ongoing project. The goal is to convince at least five of the nine newly elected council members to support the project. So far, streetcar supporters have at least three pro-streetcar votes: Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young. Now, they’re trying to convince another three — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld — to support continuing the project; all three spoke against the streetcar on the campaign trail, but they’ve recently said they want a full accounting of the project’s completion costs, cancellation costs and potential return of investment before making a final decision. CityBeat covered the campaign and the people involved in greater detail here.
Hours before the event began, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated canceling the project would cost Cincinnati nearly $41 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left under the discretion of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio. Cranley previously stated he could lobby the federal government to re-appropriate the money to other city projects, but the letter makes it quite clear that’s not in the plans right now. On the elevator ride up to the Mercantile Library event, Sittenfeld commented on the letter to CityBeat, “I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column.”
City Council yesterday accepted the resignation of City Manager Milton Dohoney, just one day after Cranley announced Dohoney’s leave and his support for it. Although council members acknowledged they had to accept the resignation in lieu of the Nov. 5 election results, they said they were unhappy with the behind-the-scenes approach that was taken by Cranley throughout the process. For the year following his resignation, Dohoney will receive $255,000 in severance pay and health benefits through the city, which will cost an already-strained operating budget that’s been structurally imbalanced since 2001.
Flaherty & Collins, the Indianapolis-based developer that’s building a downtown apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, said it’s interested in the retail space being left vacant by Saks Fifth Avenue.
Northern Kentucky residents last night got a look at a regional strategy to fight the growing heroin problem in the area. The report, put together by substance abuse and medical experts, law enforcement officials, governmental leaders and business representatives, calls for more physicians and long-term treatment options to address the issue. “We cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the problem,” said Dr. Lynne Saddler, director of the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department. “The success of this plan really hinges on having sufficient treatment options and resources available so that everyone seeking and wanting treatment can easily access it.”
Union Township Rep. John Becker introduced a bill in the Ohio House this week that would ban most public and private health insurers from providing abortion coverage. The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. Becker describes himself as one of the most conservative members of the Ohio legislature. He’s also supported the Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected; called needle-exchange efforts part of the “liberal media agenda”; and lobbied for the impeachment of a judge who allowed the state to recognize the same-sex marriage of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who recently passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted urged the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission to address politicized redistricting. Under the current system, the political party in charge — the last time around, Republicans — can use demographic trends to redraw congressional district boundaries to maximize the votes of supporters and split and dilute the votes of opponents. Although Husted is now calling for reform to make redistricting more representative of the state’s actual political make-up, he opposed a ballot initiative in 2012 that would have placed an independent committee in charge of redistricting.
Speaking at a Cleveland steel mill, President Barack Obama talked up U.S. manufacturing and its potential for economic growth.
The Christmas holiday tree arrives at Fountain Square tomorrow.
Tomorrow is also the day of the One Stop Drop recycling event, where anyone can drop off electronic and other waste — TVs, computers, cellphones and chargers, No. 5 plastics such as butter tubs and yogurt containers, single-use grocery bags and used writing instruments like pencils and pens — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Whole Foods Market in Rookwood Commons, 2693 Edmondson Road.
Five crashes in Covington, Ohio, left six horses dead and one injured.
More Ohioans also died on the road in 2012 than the year before.
The world’s oldest animal — a mollusk — missed Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas by 14 years.
A misleading advertisement by pro-SB 5 group Building a Better Ohio has been pulled from nearly 30 TV stations, including two in Cincinnati. Here's the original report about Building a Better Ohio splicing the an ad created by We Are Ohio. The Columbus Dispatch's “Ad Watch” had already designated the Building a Better Ohio version as “misleading” because Republican spending cuts are largely to blame for any firefighter layoff decisions local governments are facing.
In Cincinnati, an ankle MRI can range in price from $367.46 to $2,865.42, but weak transparency laws make it difficult for consumers to compare prices. But to make up for the lack of transparency, some companies are providing compiled price and quality data to paying employers. A previous report from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave 29 states an “F” for health-care price transparency, Ohio and six other states a “D” and only New Hampshire and Massachusetts an “A.”
Ohio House Republicans killed Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion plan, but Ohio Democrats are planning to introduce the expansion as a standalone bill. The expansion, which was one of the few aspects of Kasich's budget that Democrats supported, would have saved the state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of Kasich’s budget proposal here.
In two 5-4 votes yesterday, City Council approved the executive director position for the streetcar project and a repeal on a “double dipping” ban. The city says it needs the measures to hire John Deatrick, the current manager of The Banks project, to head the streetcar project, but critics argue the city should not be making hires when it’s threatening to lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters to balance the budget — even though the hire is through the capital budget used for the streetcar project, not the general fund that is used to employ cops and firefighters. CityBeat wrote more about the new position and the double dipping ban here.
This week’s commentary from CityBeat: “Religious Birth Control Exemptions Are a Double Standard.”
City Council also approved the Music Hall lease, which will enable extensive renovations. CityBeat covered some of the original details of the renovation plan when it was first announced here.
StateImpact Ohio has some information on how Ohio House Republicans’ plan for school funding differs from Kasich’s proposal. The big difference is Kasich’s plan was based on property taxes, which ended up being regressive, while the House plan is based on the average cost to educate each student, which makes it so less schools, particularly poor and rural schools that fell under Kasich’s plan, have their funding reduced. The House plan also expands performance-based pay and school choice, which Policy Matters previously found may hurt students and teachers. CityBeat covered Kasich’s proposal in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio posted an interactive map showing the county-by-county benefits of a state earned income tax credit. The credit, which mostly benefits low- and middle-income earners with children, is already used by the federal government and some states to progressively reward employment.
Freedom Ohio and Equality Ohio will debate the Family Research Council today over whether Ohio should legalize same-sex marriage. The debate will be streamed here. CityBeat covered Freedom Ohio’s same-sex marriage legalization efforts here.
The U.S. Postal Service will drop its threats to stop delivering on Saturdays after Congress denied the action.
A new study found humans tend to think strangers are staring at them.
Headline: “Why Are Monkey Butts So Colorful?”