The announcement could provide an avenue for business and philanthropic leaders to help fund streetcar operations through SORTA in an attempt to meet demands from the mayor and some council members.
“SORTA’s willingness is based upon assurances from the Cincinnati business and philanthropic communities that they will work with SORTA in public-private partnership to secure the funds required to cover the short and long-term operating costs of the streetcar to the extent other sources of streetcar revenue, such as fares, advertising, sponsorships, etc., are inadequate,” the agency said in a press release.
But in a press conference following the announcement, Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient.” He argued SORTA’s assurances aren’t enough to pull streetcar operating costs completely off the city’s books.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment. But he cautioned the commitment could become a viable path forward for the streetcar project if SORTA provides more assurances in the next couple days, before a council vote on the streetcar.
SORTA’s commitment comes less than one week after Mayor John Cranley said he’d allow the $132.8 million streetcar project to move forward if private contributors agree to cover the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years. Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann, the two swing votes on City Council, approved of Cranley’s proposed compromise.
In support of the announcement, the Haile Foundation also announced a $1 million commitment in seed money to spur further contributions to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar.
“We are committed to seeing the streetcar through to completion and beyond. SORTA has stepped up and is more than qualified to serve in this role. This is another great example of community collaboration helping move to region forward,” said Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, in a statement.
Avner told CityBeat on Dec. 12 that private-sector leaders are working to meet the mayor’s demand with some financial assurances for the streetcar’s operating costs. SORTA’s announcement could act as that assurance.
If the streetcar project is completed, SORTA already agreed to help operate the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the public-private partnership would increase the agency’s commitment to the streetcar.
SORTA cautioned that bus service will not be affected in any way by the commitment.
It’s unclear whether SORTA’s assurances will be enough to
sway Cranley, Mann and Flynn. If Cranley threatens to veto a
continuation of the streetcar project, both Mann and Flynn would likely
need to vote in favor of the streetcar to overcome a veto and restart the project.
The streetcar project is currently on “pause” while KPMG, an auditing firm, reviews completion, cancellation and operating costs. City officials expect to receive the audit late Tuesday or early Wednesday, with a council vote scheduled for Thursday.
Updated at 3:23 p.m. with details from Mayor John Cranley’s press conference.
Ohio's weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich and other Republican incumbents' chances of re-election in 2014, even if they don't deserve the blame for the state of the economy, as some economists claim. For Republican incumbents, the threat is all too real as groups from all sides — left, right and nonpartisan — find the state's economy is failing to live up to the "Ohio miracle" Kasich previously promised. Economists agree state officials often take too much credit for the state of the economy, but political scientists point out that, regardless of who is to blame, the economy is one of the top deciding factors in state elections. For Kasich and other incumbents, it creates a difficult situation: Their influence on the economy might be marginal, but it's all they have to secure re-election.
Despite promising to move on after he failed to permanently halt the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the streetcar in interviews and social media. In a Sunday appearance on Local 12, Cranley threatened to replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to its offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.) The interview, held within weeks of Cranley mocking and arguing with pro-streetcar critics on social media, comes despite Cranley's promises to move on after City Council agreed to continue the project. "As I tell my son when he doesn't get his way, it's time to move on," Cranley said on Dec. 19.
Streetcar track installation will force the busy intersection at Elm and Liberty streets to close between Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. to Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., city officials announced yesterday. One northbound lane will remain open on Elm Street, but traffic heading east and west on Liberty Street will be redirected.
Commentary: "Bengals Loss Reminds of Terrible Stadium Deal."
Police are investigating three homicides in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine this morning.
Construction crews plan to turn the defunct Tower Place mall into Mabley Place, a new parking garage with several retail spaces on the exterior of the first floor. Across Race Street, other developers will turn Pogue's Garage into a 30-story tower with a downtown grocery store, luxury apartments and another garage.
Hamilton County is dedicating a full-time deputy to crack down on semis and other vehicles breaking commercial laws.
Ohio House Republicans' proposal to revamp the state's tax on the oil and gas industry would not produce enough revenue to cut income taxes for most Ohioans, despite previous promises. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the proposal would only allow for a very small 1-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
Ohio's education system received five C's and an A on a private national report card. The state's middle-of-the-pack performance is largely unchanged from last year's score.
The number of underwater residential properties is declining around the nation, but Ohio remains among the top six states worst affected by the housing crisis, according to real estate analysts at RealtyTrac.
The state auditor's new app allows anyone to easily report suspected fraud.
Macy's plans to lay off 2,500 employees and close five stores to cut costs.Cincinnati Children's is reaching out to to 10,000 children left without a health care provider after several clinics closed.
Ohio drivers can expect lower gas prices in 2014, according to AAA and GasBuddy.com.
A new glue that seals heart defects could provide an alternative to stitches.
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.
The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it 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.
Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.
But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.
Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.
Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.
But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.
Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
City Council met today for the first time since June and passed several development deals and projects spanning six Cincinnati neighborhoods.
The approved deals include a 15-year tax abatement for the second phase of The Banks, which will produce 305 apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space; several other apartment projects; new Over-the-Rhine headquarters for Cintrifuse, a small business and startup incubator; the redevelopment of Emanuel Community Center; and a new homeless shelter for women in Mt. Auburn.
The projects are expected to lead to 575 new apartments around the city. That could prove particularly timely for downtown Cincinnati, which is currently struggling to meet high demand from a growing market of aspiring property renters, leasers and buyers.
"Today is a huge day of progress for Cincinnati," Mayor Mark Mallory said in the statement. "The momentum has been building in our city for a while. And now, developers and businesses are lining up to do projects in the city because they see all of the progress and they want to be a part of it. This is the vision — our success is leading to more success."
Among the other items, Council passed a motion asking the city administration to look into a disparity study and a resolution condemning a ballot initiative that would change the city's pension program by pushing future public employees into a less generous 401K-style plan.
Today's meeting was Council's only full session for July and August, which is why the agenda was so packed. That's irked some council members and critics, who argue Council should be in session for more of the summer.
"Council has no shortage of issues to consider and challenges to address — this should NOT be our only Council meeting of the summer," tweeted Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld during today's meeting.
Council is scheduled to meet again on Sept. 11.
For this week’s cover story, CityBeat analyzed the Ohio House budget bill that would defund
Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the
Medicaid expansion in favor of broader reforms. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House last week, but it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Ohio Senate President Keith
Faber announced yesterday that the Ohio Senate will not move forward
with the Medicaid expansion — a sign the Ohio Senate is agreeing with the Ohio House on that issue.
Facing the recent wave of deadly gun attacks around the nation, some moms have banded together to demand action. Moms Demand Action is using its political clout to push gun control legislation at a federal level, but it’s also promoting grassroots campaigns in cities and states around the nation.
Contrary to The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “exclusive” story, the mayor’s office is actually shrinking its budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1 despite plans to give some employees raises. The mayor’s office says the raises are necessary because the employees will be taken a bigger workload to make up for reduced staff levels, but the budgetary moves will save money overall. Originally, The Enquirer reported the raises without noting the savings in the rest of the budget plan, inspiring a wave of angry emails from readers to the mayor’s office through The Enquirer’s “tell them what you think” tool.
This week’s commentary: “Streetcar’s No. 1 Problem: Obstructionism.”
At the NAACP meeting today, members will ask independent Councilman Chris Smitherman to step down from his leadership position. The disgruntled members told The Enquirer that Smitherman, who is an opponent of the streetcar and often partners up with the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), is using the NAACP for his “personal and political agenda,” not civil rights. Smitherman told The Enquirer to focus on the legitimate work of the NAACP instead of a potential coup that he says isn’t newsworthy. Smitherman will not allow media into today’s NAACP meeting.
City Council unanimously passed a resolution yesterday to oppose anti-union laws that are misleadingly called “right to work” laws. The laws earned their name after a decades-long spin campaign from big businesses that oppose unions, but the laws’ real purpose is weakening unions by banning collective bargaining agreements that require workers to join unions and pay dues. The City Council resolution has no legal weight; it simply tells higher levels of government to not pass the anti-union law.
Metro’s budget would need to increase by two-thirds to implements the bus and public transportation agency’s long-range plan, which would add rapid transit lines, other routes and sheltered transit centers with more amenities.
Two Cincinnati economic entities are getting federal funds: The Cincinnati Development Fund will get $35 million to invest in brownfield redevelopment, nutritional access and educational improvements, and Kroger Community Development Entity will get $20 million to increase low-income access to fresh and nutritional foods and fund redevelopment projects.
As expected, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald officially announced yesterday that he will run for governor against Kasich in 2014.
Kasich appointed former State Rep. John Carey to head the Ohio Board of Regents, which manages the state’s public university system. Carey says his biggest goal will be to better align higher education opportunities with jobs that are available in Ohio.
In a blog post yesterday, Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, criticized President Barack Obama for not calling the Boston bombers “Islamic jihadists.” Public officials typically do not publicly jump to conclusions in the middle of an ongoing investigation.
A new app gives you an automatic nose job.
Researchers are developing a solar dish that produces electricity and fresh water at the same time.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Republican Gov. John Kasich, who’s running for re-election in 2014, to veto a bill that will prevent a full audit on JobsOhio, but Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols says the governor will sign the bill. The bill will define JobsOhio’s liquor profits, which the agency gets from a lease deal with the state government, as private funds, closing the profits to an audit. The bill will also prevent State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican who’s been pursuing an audit of JobsOhio, from looking into private funds in publicly funded agencies. The new limits on state audits could have repercussions beyond JobsOhio, making it more difficult to hold publicly funded agencies accountable. JobsOhio is a private nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development.
The Ohio Senate will vote on a budget bill Thursday that continues to push conservative stances on social issues and aims to cut taxes for small businesses. The bill will potentially allow Ohio’s health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The bill does not cut taxes for most Ohioans, unlike the Ohio House budget bill that cut income taxes for all Ohioans by 7 percent.
Local Democrats are unlikely to endorse a candidate
in this year’s mayoral race, which will likely be against Democrats
Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Even though both candidates are
Democrats, they have two major policy differences: Qualls supports the streetcar project, while Cranley opposes it. Qualls also supports the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, which Cranley opposes. CityBeat previously did Q&As with Cranley and Qualls.
The parties’ slates of City Council candidates are mostly set. This year, Democrats are running 10 candidates — more than the nine seats available in City Council. Meanwhile, Republicans are running four candidates and the Charter Committee is looking at three potential candidates.
Cincinnati already has some of the cleanest water in the nation, but Water Works is making improvements to its treatments. One new treatment will use an ultraviolet process to kill 99.9 percent of germs.
It’s National Internet Safety Month, and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is asking Ohioans to be safe out there.
A 131-year-old historic building in the West End collapsed after a car crashed into it. The driver’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
Ohio State’s president, who’s a Mormon, is in trouble for making fun of Catholics.
Mason and Sophia are Ohio’s most popular baby names.
Dogs are currently the best bomb detectors, but scientists are aiming to do better.
Early reports from the Hamilton County Board of Elections indicate Election Day is proceeding with minimal problems and voter turnout is considerably better than it was for the Sept. 10 mayoral primary.
“There’s always bumps in every election … but nothing highly unusual,” says Sally Krisel, deputy director of the board of elections.
Countywide voter turnout was estimated at 20 percent around noon, with turnout in Cincinnati stronger than the rest of the county, according to Krisel. But she cautions that the numbers are still unclear and could completely change, particularly after work hours.
Turnout is particularly strong in wards one, four and five, according to Krisel. That could be good news for mayoral candidate John Cranley, who handily won all three wards in the primary against opponents Roxanne Qualls, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble.
But since citywide voter turnout was an abysmal 5.74 percent in the
primary election, it remains uncertain how much primary results will
ultimately reflect on Tuesday’s election. Historically, Cincinnati’s mayoral primaries failed to predict the winner of the general election.
Cranley obtained nearly 56 percent of the vote on Sept. 10, while Qualls got slightly more than 37 percent. Both candidates received enough support to advance to Tuesday’s ballot, but the Qualls campaign acknowledged the lopsided results were disappointing.
To obtain the Election Day numbers, the county is for the first time tracking ballot usage. Krisel says the measure allows the county to gauge countywide voter turnout and whether more ballots are needed in different voting locations.
Tuesday’s votes come in addition to 20,500 absentee and early voters across the county, about 90 percent of who already submitted ballots to the board of elections. Krisel claims that’s about half the amount of early voters from two years ago, but she says she doesn’t know whether that will reflect on the final turnout numbers.
The election is the first time Cincinnati voters will elect City Council members for four-year terms, which means Tuesday’s results will effectively set the city’s agenda for the next four years. Voters are also deciding on a new mayor, the Cincinnati Public Schools board, two property tax levies for the local library and zoo, and a proposal that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees.
Polls will remain open until 7:30 p.m. To find out where to vote, visit the board of elections website.
For more election coverage and CityBeat’s endorsements, go to the official election page here.
Mayor Mark Mallory and other community officials today jumpstarted a six-month effort to enroll uninsured Cincinnatians into the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) online marketplaces, which open for enrollment on Oct. 1.
“This is not politics,” Mallory said. “Obamacare is now the law of the land.”
The goal is to reach out to the 21 percent of Hamilton County residents who currently lack health insurance and hopefully help enroll them through the marketplaces, which will allow anyone to go online and browse and compare different health insurance plans.
Forty-six plans will open for enrollment in Cincinnati on Oct. 1, but coverage won’t begin until 2014. The three-month period is supposed to give consumers enough time to decide on a plan before insurance kicks in.
“A new day is starting tomorrow for millions of Americans who have been shut out of the health insurance market,” said Kathleen Faulk, a director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who will oversee the Cincinnati area’s marketplace.
At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Other options will range from catastrophic plans, which will cover the barest minimums for a low price, to “platinum” plans, which will provide the most expansive coverage at the highest price.
Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and $45,960, will be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest.
Throughout the enrollment period, outreach campaigns will attempt to enroll as many Americans as possible. Some of those efforts have been made more difficult through new regulations passed by legislators who oppose Obamacare, including Ohio Republicans.
The federal government estimates it will have to sign up 2.7 million young adults out of the 7 million Americans who are expected to enroll. Otherwise, older Americans, who are more prone to sickness and poor health, will flood the marketplaces, exhaust health services and drive up costs.
Enrollment will remain open from October through March. Afterward, enrollment will open annually from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, just like Medicare. There will be exemptions for those who have life-changing events, such as losing a job or turning 26, to allow people to sign up for coverage during unexpected circumstances.
Starting in 2014, most Americans — with exemptions for religious and
economic reasons, the imprisoned and those living outside the country — will have to enroll for health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The penalty will start at $95 per uninsured adult in a household or 1 percent of household income, whichever is higher, and grow in 2016 to $695 per uninsured adult in a household or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher.
Anyone interested in the marketplaces will be able to browse options and sign up online at www.healthcare.gov or www.mayormallory.com, by phone at 1-800-318-2596 or in person at various locations, including community health centers and the Freestore Foodbank.
Update: Clarified metal-based classifications for different health care plans.
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.
Officials working on the $133 million streetcar project are considering taking up extra shifts to speed up delivery of new rail and minimize disruptions caused by construction, project executive John Deatrick told CityBeat on Friday.
If it goes as planned, the extra shifts would reduce the time needed to deliver and install rails around Findlay Market and Liberty Street from one week to a couple days at each location. That would allow the city to avoid closing down surrounding streets for more than a weekend or a Monday and Tuesday, according to Deatrick.
“The main reason isn’t to speed it up,” he says. “The main reason is it would minimize the impact on the motoring public, walking public and biking public.”
Deatrick insists the move is absolutely not related to recent election results that have called the project’s survival into question.
One of Mayor-elect John Cranley’s top priorities upon taking office in December is canceling the streetcar project, which he says isn’t worth the cost and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. He says the outgoing city administration is continuing construction of the streetcar in “a political manner” and running up the bill to make canceling the project more difficult.
But Deatrick claims the 24-hour shifts won’t add much in the way of new costs. He says contractors currently bill the city about $1.5 million each month and that should continue into the future.
As of September, the city had already spent $23 million and contractually obligated another $94 million to the project. The obligations, along with the threat of litigation from contractors involved in the project and taxpayers and businesses along the streetcar track, have raised concerns about how much canceling the project would cost — and whether it’s even financially prudent at this point.