The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project, but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder” ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.
Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals” — massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In 2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above 1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.
As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence and unsanitary conditions.
About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job, and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic indicators.
President Barack Obama will make a speech tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require congressional action.
Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.
Plants apparently do math to get through the night.
Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.
Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council’s budget committee voted 6-3 Monday to use $29 million from other projects in part to move utility lines and pipes to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The plan will use $15 million from the Blue Ash airport deal and $14 million from a new financing plan to ensure the streetcar’s opening is not delayed further from the current 2015 deadline.
The city claims it will eventually get the $15 million back. That money, which was originally promised to neighborhood projects, will be used to move utility lines and pipes. The city is currently trying to resolve a dispute with Duke Energy over who has to pay to move utility lines and pipes. If the city wins out, Duke will reimburse the costs. If Duke wins out, the money will be lost in the streetcar project.
At the public meeting that preceded the vote Monday, neighborhood officials and streetcar supporters clashed. Opponents to the plan claimed the money should stay in neighborhood projects as originally promised, while streetcar supporters pointed to the benefits of the streetcar for neighborhoods and insisted the money will eventually come back.
Chris Smitherman, Independent; Charlie Winburn,
Republican; and P.G. Sittenfeld, Democrat, voted against the plan.
Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas, Wendell
Young and Chris Seelbach — all Democrats — approved the plan.
Jason Barron, spokesperson for Mayor Mark Mallory, says the mayor is in favor of the plan moving forward.
Although the vote included all City Council members, it was not the formal City Council vote. Instead, it was only the budget committee vote. The City Council vote will take place Wednesday.
CORRECTION: This story originally said the entire $29 million plan will be reimbursed by Duke. Only the $15 million from the Blue Ash airport deal will be reimbursed if the city wins in the dispute.
The City of Cincinnati and Duke Energy are still fighting over the streetcar. The city and company are both disputing who is required to relocate utility lines and pipes in order to accommodate for the streetcar. Cincinnati officials say Duke Energy is required to do it under state law, but the company disagrees. The city is considering legal action, so the feud might soon be heading to court.A recent campaign event might have been mandatory for workers at a mine in Beallsville, Ohio. The miners were allegedly pulled from work, refused pay and required to attend the event with presidential candidate Mitt Romney and senatorial candidate Josh Mandel. Romney, Mandel and the mine owner have all been criticized for the move.
Cincinnati Bell and StarTek plan on bringing back 200 outsourced jobs to Cincinnati. StarTek will also hire another 136 workers.
President Barack Obama’s administration finalized new regulations yesterday requiring the average gas mileage of new cars to be at 54.5 mpg by 2025. The new standard is double today’s standard. Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, said on Twitter the new standards will reduce national oil consumption by two million barrels a day. The United States currently uses about 20 million barrels a day. That reduction in consumption could help combat climate change, which is partly blamed for Arctic Sea ice hitting record lows this summer.
A federal judge ruled Ohio boards of elections must count defective provisional ballots if the ballots were counted defective due to errors from poll workers. The ruling protects voters from mistakes by poll workers. Secretary of State Jon Husted is expected to appeal the ruling because he says it disagrees with state law.Husted ended up firing the two Democrats on the Montgomery Board of Elections that voted for extending in-person early voting to include weekends. Democrats say not allowing weekend voting is voter suppression, but Republicans cite racial politics and costs as deterrents.
New rules for juries stop the use of Twitter and Facebook during cases.The Republican national convention is underway in Tampa, Fla. Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio will be there. For coverage, check out Twitter’s Republican convention page, which tracks all mentions of the convention.
Romney apparently agrees with Mandel that fact checkers don’t matter. This is despite Romney’s claim that President Barack Obama should stop running ads after fact checkers find them to be false or misleading. Mandel previously said he will continue saying wrong statements even after they’re declared false or misleading by fact checkers.
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland criticized Romney on his plans for Medicare. The former governor said the Romney-Ryan budget plan would “destroy Medicare as we know it.”
Republicans like to say that Obamacare will get employers to drop health insurance, but a new survey has found zero out of 512 employers plan on dropping health insurance.The U.S. economy grew at a 1.7 percent annual rate in the second quarter. The growth isn’t great, but it slightly beat expectations.
Apparently computer grading programs are judging student essays better than teachers.
And some scientists want to use HIV to fight cancer.
Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld is circulating a small business petition to stop Cincinnati from privatizing parking services. Sittenfeld threw his support behind the petition in a statement: “Individual citizens have made clear that they are overwhelmingly against outsourcing our parking system. Now we're going to show that small businesses feel the same way. I hope that when council sees that the small businesses that are the engine of our city are strongly against outsourcing our parking, we can then nix the proposal immediately.” The petition asks city officials “to find a smart, resourceful, sustainable alternative to address the budget situation.” City Manager Milton Dohoney says parking privatization is necessary to avoid laying off 344 city workers.
Gov. John Kasich’s expanded sales tax is going to hurt a lot of people. The tax is being expanded to apply to many items included in households’ monthly budgets, such as cable television, laundry services and haircuts. The revenue from the sales tax expansion will be used to cut the state income tax by 20 percent across the board, lower the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and slightly boost county coffers.
City Council and local residents are not impressed with the USquare development. At a City Council meeting Tuesday, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls described the development: “I have to say that it is underwhelming. And that’s about the kindest thing I can say about it. And also really repeats, on many different levels, virtually all of the mistakes that have ever been made in the city and in neighborhoods when it comes to creating public spaces.” But architect Graham Kalbli said he’s excited about the plan: “Because we’ve taken a vacant strip of land and really made kind of a living room for the Clifton Heights community. We wanted to do that, that was one of our overriding goals.”
The Hamilton County Board of Elections is subpoenaing 19 voters who are suspected of voting twice in the November election. Most of the voters being investigated filed provisional ballots then showed up to vote on Election Day.
David Mann is officially running for City Council. The Democrat has served as a council member, mayor and congressman in the past.
Traffic congestion isn’t just bad for drivers; it’s also bad for the environment and economy. The Annual Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found traffic congestion cost Cincinnati $947 million in 2011 and produced an an extra 56 billion pounds of carbon dioxide nationwide.
Leslie Ghiz is taking the judge’s seat a little early. The former city council member was elected to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in November, but she was appointed to the seat early by Gov. John Kasich to replace Dennis Helmick, who retired at the end of 2012.
The magic of capitalism: Delta is already matching a low-cost carrier’s fares to Denver at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
The U.S. Postal Service is ending Saturday mail delivery starting Aug. 1. The Postal Service has been dealing with financial problems ever since a 2006 mandate from U.S. Congress forced the mail delivery agency to pre-fund health care benefits for future retirees. Riddled with gridlock, Congress has done nothing to help since the mandate was put in place. This will be the first time the Postal Service doesn’t deliver mail on Saturdays since 1863.
It’s unlikely zombies could be cured by love, but it’s possible they could be cured by science.
The next Michael Jordan has been discovered:
Blue Ash City Council approved rescinding and redoing its airport deal with the city of Cincinnati in a 6-1 vote last night. The deal will free up $37.5 million for the city of Cincinnati — $11 million of which will go to the streetcar while $26 million will go to municipal projects. After the vote, the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) vowed on Twitter to lead a referendum on the deal. But COAST’s opposition is misguided, fueled by their disapproval of all things streetcar.
Three Greater Cincinnati universities were praised for their part-time MBA programs. The programs were in the top 100 of a U.S. News and World Report ranking.
Ohio has the second worst toxic air pollution in the United States, according to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council. The report also found that toxic air pollution has dropped by 19 percent nationwide. The report claims this drop is partly attributed to natural gas, which is cleaner than coal and has become cheaper thanks to a fracking boom in Ohio and other states. New pollution controls also played a role, according to the report.
JobsOhio is claiming to have saved 11,238 jobs and created 4,666 new jobs during the second quarter of 2012. All the jobs saved and created are expected to keep $712 million in new payroll, according to state data.
The successor to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner might not be much better. He also has a history of using state resources for personal reasons.
Former Judge William O’Neill, a Democratic candidate for the Ohio Supreme Court, has accused two Republican justices of taking campaign contributions from parties they heard cases from. O’Neill says the campaign contributions are a blatant conflict of interest. Mike Skindell, another Democratic candidate, chimed in to say he would recuse or refuse money instead of inviting a potential conflict of interest.
The Ohio EPA announced yesterday a new plan for cutting down on water pollution in Ohio rivers, streams and lakes. The new plan is a joint effort between Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky to make it more economically viable through incentives for businesses to cut down on water contamination.
Ohio voters can now change addresses online. The new system will save taxpayer money and combat fraud.
July was the hottest month ever recorded, and 2012 has already had more record temperatures than all of 2011. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney’s spokesperson promoted climate change denial on behalf of ExxonMobil.
Romney says campaigns should pull ads that are found to be dishonest or misleading by fact checkers. Well, his campaign should get to it.
The U.S. women's soccer team beat Japan for the gold medal yesterday.
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.
By the time a new mayor and City Council candidates take office in December, the city will have laid out roughly half a mile of track and spent or contractually obligated at least $117 million for the streetcar project. The contractual obligations mean it could cost more to cancel the project than to finish it, which will cost the city an estimated total of $88 million after deducting $45 million in federal grants. Still, mayoral candidate John Cranley and several council candidates insist they will try to cancel the project upon taking office. Check out CityBeat’s full in-depth story here.
The parking plan’s upfront payment has been reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city, as opposed to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets, according to an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city manager claims the lump sum payment dropped as a result of rising interest rates and the Port Authority’s decision to relax parking meter hours outside Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District. The parking plan leases Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which plans to hire private companies to operate the assets. CityBeat covered the plan in greater detail here and the controversy surrounding it here.
Gov. John Kasich is considering using an executive order to expand the state’s Medicaid program with federal funds. The executive order would expand eligibility for the government-run health insurance program so it includes anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $15,900 in annual income for an individual. Kasich would then on Oct. 21 ask Ohio’s seven-member legislative-spending oversight panel to approve federal funds for the expansion. Kasich, a Republican, has aggressively pursued the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government promises under Obamacare to completely fund through 2016 then phase down and indefinitely hold its payments at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs. But Republican legislators claim the federal government might not be able sustain the payments, even though the federal government has met its payments for the much larger overall Medicaid program since it was created in 1965.
At its final full session before the November election, City Council approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance to bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years. Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only one to vote against the tax incentives. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Gov. John Kasich’s administration was originally supposed to provide some tax incentives to the company, but it ultimately reneged after supposedly deciding that the company isn’t part of an industry the state typically supports. Critics say Kasich’s administration is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio yesterday announced it’s suing Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions passed in the 2014-2015 state budget. The ACLU claims the restrictions are unrelated to the budget and therefore violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.
Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s monitoring the impact of the federal government shutdown with some concerns. “I’m more concerned if this goes more than four weeks or so, when we start talking about reimbursement programs for our larger social programs such as food stamps and cash assistance to the needy and those types of things. We just don’t have the money to front that type of thing,” he said. CityBeat covered the shutdown in further detail here.
Hamilton County’s government shrunk by more than one-third in the past decade.
City Council yesterday passed a resolution condemning State Sen. Bill Seitz’s attempts to weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on their electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.
Early voting turnout is so far “anemic,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Ohio has the No. 12 worst tax environment among states, according to a report from the Tax Foundation. The rank is unchanged from the previous year’s report.
A central Ohio school might ban Halloween.
Bill Nye explains Jupiter’s big red spot:
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
Federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project are on hold
until City Council votes to continue the project, according to a Dec. 2 email from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to Cincinnati officials.
The decision means Cincinnati can no longer tap into $44.9 million in federal grants until Mayor John Cranley and a majority of the newly sworn-in City Council, both of which have shown opposition to the streetcar project, agree to continue with ongoing construction.
“As per our telephone conversation, early last week, the Administrator decided to restrict further access to the Federal project funds until the FTA received an affirmative signal from the city’s newly elected officials that the city intends to proceed with the project on the agreed-upon schedule,” wrote Marisol Simon, FTA regional administrator in Chicago. “This measure was taken to protect the taxpayer funds not yet drawn down by the city from being subject to a potential debt collection action.”
The FTA’s decision shows Cranley and other streetcar opponents were in the wrong when they insisted they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the money to other projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
But the consequence should come as little surprise to elected officials. In two letters to former Mayor Mark Mallory and a phone conference with City Council, federal officials warned the city they would pull the funding if the streetcar project were canceled.
The news comes on the same day City Council plans to vote to pause the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed against the costs of continuing.
It also comes two days after streetcar builder CAF USA warned the city of substantial costs that would be incurred if the streetcar project were canceled.
Even if council only pauses the project, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick says the path forward is unknown because it’s unclear how the city will fund costs associated with a pause.
The costs would presumably come out of the project’s contingency
fund, according to Deatrick, but pulling money out of the contingency
fund for a delay or pause changes the scope of the project and could face federal resistance.
On Nov. 21, Deatrick said the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself. Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.
The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox, which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement. But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it. The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.
Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016 after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.
Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like Media Bridges.
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.
A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.
The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence. Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up 48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.
A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.
Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”
A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.
Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.