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by German Lopez 11.08.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

City Considering Around-the-Clock Work on Streetcar

Project executive says third shift would help minimize disruptions to public and traffic

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.14.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor, Development at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar supporters to meet today, Dohoney to resign, city continues with retail plans

Supporters of the streetcar project are rallying in a last-stand effort to save the streetcar from an incoming city government that’s threatening to cancel the project. Supporters plan to meet today in a town hall-style meeting at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100, downtown Cincinnati. Some of the supporters of the movement are residents, business owners and realtors in Over-the-Rhine who told CityBeat that canceling the project will set the city’s economic momentum back. Mayor-elect John Cranley disagrees, but the decision is ultimately up to the newly elected City Council to cancel the project, and at least three of nine newly elected council members previously seen as streetcar opponents — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — told CityBeat they’d like to evaluate the costs of canceling the project and the potential return of investment versus the cost of completing construction.

City Manager Milton Dohoney will resign on Dec. 1 and receive one year of severance pay, Cranley announced yesterday. To political watchers, the news comes as very little surprise. Cranley and Dohoney disagreed on two key issues — the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Cranley opposes and Dohoney supported and helped get off the ground. Once the new mayor and City Council take over in December, Cranley says he will appoint a yet-to-be-named interim city manager and begin looking for a permanent replacement.

Despite Saks Fifth Avenue’s departure, the city intends to move forward with its plans to build a retail corridor downtown, and others have approached the city about taking Saks’ space, according to Kathleen Norris, managing principal of Urban Fast Forward and the city’s retail leasing consultant. Saks announced yesterday that it’s closing down its downtown store and moving to Kenwood Collection. Although the move is a blow to the city, a few city officials were quick to point to other growth in downtown Cincinnati as an example of what will attract new retail outlets in the future.

A deal is nearly set to fund the $107 million interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. As part of the deal, the Ohio Department of Transportation will pay for $52 million, and Cincinnati and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will take a loan from the state infrastructure bank to pay for their share. OKI says it will pay for its portion of the loan through $25 million in federal funding, but it’s so far unclear how the city will pay for its share of the project. The outgoing city administration intended to pay for the project through the now-canceled parking plan, which would outsource the city’s parking meters, lots and garages.

Cranley says the city can get out of the parking plan without defaulting on the lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but Cranley’s position is at odds with the stated opinion of officials in the outgoing city administration and Port Authority. Cranley announced on Tuesday that the parking plan will be called off once he and the new council take office in December, but it’s unclear how much it will cost to break out of the plan and its various contractual obligations.

The Ohio House held a hearing yesterday for two bills that would increase safeguards for victims of domestic violence, including new housing and employment protections. CityBeat previously covered the story of Andrea Metil, a domestic violence victim who is calling for greater protections.

Only 1,150 Ohioans signed up for Obamacare through the troubled HealthCare.gov portal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday. Both the Ohio-wide measure and nationwide number — 106,185 — fell far short of the federal government’s expectations for the first month of enrollment. But many of the troubles are caused by technical problems that have made HealthCare.gov largely unworkable for most Americans. The federal government is working to correct the errors by December, but The Washington Post reports that the website likely won’t be fully functional by then.

Meanwhile, Ohioans will be able to enroll in the now-expanded Medicaid program on Dec. 9. Republican Gov. John Kasich got the federally funded Medicaid expansion for two years through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, despite the Republican-controlled legislature’s opposition.

The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that reforms municipal taxes, which businesses support but cities oppose. Supporters argue it will simplify the tax code so businesses can more easily work around the state and from county to county, but opponents claim it will reduce how much revenue cities receive.

Kasich temporarily delayed convicted child killer Ronald Phillips’s execution so Phillips can donate his non-vital organs to his mother and possibly others.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is shuffling some of its top positions.

Here is how Mars might have looked 4 billion years ago.

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by German Lopez 09.11.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, Health care at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
roxanne qualls

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley and Qualls win mayoral primary, state limits Obamacare, zoo levy renewal on ballot

Ex-Councilman John Cranley decisively defeated Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls as both Democratic mayoral candidates won the primary election and advanced to the general election. With all precincts reporting, Cranley got 55.9 percent of the vote and Qualls picked up 37.2 percent, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. But voter turnout for yesterday’s primary was especially low at 5.68 percent; in comparison, turnout was 15 percent during the primary held on Sept. 11, 2001 — the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon — and 21 percent in the 2005 mayoral primary. In the past two mayoral races with primaries, whoever won the primary election lost the general election. Voters will make the final choice for mayor between Qualls and Cranley on Nov. 5.

Limitations imposed by Ohio lawmakers who oppose the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have forced Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to give up a $124,419 federal grant that would have gone toward helping uninsured Ohioans navigate new online marketplaces for health insurance. State legislators say the regulations are supposed to clarify who qualifies as a “navigator” under Obamacare to avoid potential abuses and conflicts of interest, but Obamacare’s supporters say Republicans are just trying to make the law more difficult to implement. Under Obamacare, participating organizations are classified as navigators so they can help promote new online marketplaces and tax subsidies to meet the law’s enrollment goals. By losing its classification as a navigator, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital can no longer help in that outreach effort.

After getting approval from county commissioners, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is asking voters to renew a levy that will appear as Issue 2 on the Nov. 5 ballot. The renewal wouldn’t increase taxes from today’s rates, but it would keep property taxes $10 higher for every $100,000 of home value. It will go to the care, feeding and maintenance of the zoo’s animals and botanical gardens. A study from the University of Cincinnati Economic Center found the zoo had a $143 million impact on the Cincinnati area in 2012 — representing nearly 3.9 times the zoo’s total spending — and produced 1,700 jobs and nearly $1.6 million in tax revenue for Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

State Rep. John Carney announced yesterday that he will run for state auditor. Carney, a Democrat, will aim to replace Republican Dave Yost. He says his run will “bring much-needed bipartisanship and transparency back to our state government,” particularly by ending the one-party rule in many state offices. Carney also took aim at JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that has been mired in scandals in the past few months. Yost split with his fellow Republicans when he pursued a full audit of JobsOhio’s public and private funds, but Republican state legislators cut the debate short by passing a law that made the agency insusceptible to a full audit.

Two Ohio prison guards are suspended with pay after the apparent suicide of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who was convicted to a life sentence for holding three women captive and beating and raping them. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is investigating whether proper protocols were followed to avoid Castro’s death.

Campaign contributions to Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald came from people the gubernatorial candidates appointed to government positions. In the case of Kasich, the contributions are legal under state law. But the $1,000 contribution to FitzGerald was returned because it was deemed illegal under a county ethics law that FitzGerald helped establish as Cuyahoga County executive. Still, Kasich’s campaign has criticized FitzGerald for the illegal contribution, even though Kasich isn’t applying the same standard to his own campaign.

The panel reviewing the state’s controversial facial recognition program will actually review the entire web-based, decade-old Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway for proper protection protocols. Gov. John Kasich and the American Civil Liberties Union are among two of many who criticized the facial recognition program for potential breaches of privacy. The facial recognition program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. The program was online for two months without an independent review of its protocols and before the public was notified of its existence.

President Barack Obama nominated former Gov. Ted Strickland to be one of five alternative representatives to the United Nations delegation.

People can often remember events early in life better than more recent events, and that might explain why they usually enjoy their parents’ favorite music.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.26.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Mayor at 03:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mark mallory

Mayor Rescinding Salary Raises

Decision follows public outrage caused by misleading reports

Mayor Mark Mallory announced in a memo today that he will not be following through with previously planned salary raises for his staff, citing poor morale in light of recent — but misleading — press coverage. But the rest of his budget plan will remain.

Mallory explained his reasoning in a statement: "I am rescinding the raises that I gave my staff and returning all salaries to the previous levels. Although the changes that I made in my office structure resulted in a saving of $66,000 to be used in next year’s budget, I realize that the perception has had a negative effect on the morale of other City Employees.

"I am the biggest promoter of the public servants who choose to work for the city, both on my staff and in all City Departments. I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. I have been successfully fighting to prevent layoffs throughout the recession. I supported the parking plan because it will ensure that no city employees lose their job. I plan to continue to fight for City Employees and to do everything that I can to minimize the reductions to our City Workforce.  Every job that we save is a win for our community."

The announcement comes after a misleading report from The Cincinnati Enquirer sparked public outrage. The Enquirer's original report neglected to say that the overall budget plan would save the city $66,000 for the year and $33,000 during the mayor's remaining time in office. CityBeat covered Mallory's budget changes and The Enquirer's misleading report here.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.01.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Cranley, New City Council Take Office

Swearing in sets path to contentious moves on streetcar project, parking plan

Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.

Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young  — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.

Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.

Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.

If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.

Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.

A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.

On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.

The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.

Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.

Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.

Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.

Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.

Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.07.2013
Posted In: News, Election, Streetcar, Mayor at 10:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley sets agenda, streetcar cancellation costs still unknown, Kasich limits minor parties

Mayor-elect John Cranley laid out his plans and priorities for his first term at his first press conference yesterday. Cranley says two of his top priorities are undoing the $133 million streetcar project and parking plan, which would lease the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. He also spoke on some of his more positive ideas, including the interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive, 3CDC-style public-private partnerships to revitalize neighborhoods and development of the Wasson Way bike trail, old Swifton Commons and Westwood Square.

It remains unclear how much it would cost to actually cancel the streetcar project. As of September’s monthly progress report, $94 million is tied to contractual obligations, $23 million is already spent and nearly $45 million in federal grants is still attached to the project. And if contractors, subcontractors and taxpayers sue the city to complete the project, it could impose litigation costs on the operating budget instead of the capital budget currently financing construction. Supporters of the streetcar also say cancellation could tarnish relationships with the federal government and contractors, which have a stake in the project’s completion. At his press conference yesterday, Cranley said he’d weigh the costs and benefits of cancellation and would continue the project if he deems it cheaper.

Meanwhile, Cranley might travel to Washington, D.C., to discuss reprogramming nearly $45 million in federal grants from the streetcar project to the I-71/MLK interchange project. In a June 19 letter, the U.S. Department of Transportation claimed it would take back nearly $41 million of the grant money if the streetcar project were canceled. City officials say they’ve already spent $2 million from the grants on the streetcar project, and, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding, that would need to be repaid through the operating budget if the project were terminated.

Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature passed a bill that imposes new restrictions on minor political parties trying to get on the state ballot. The requirements force minor parties to meet higher petition signature and voting thresholds to get and remain on the ballot. Ohio Libertarians say they plan to sue to block the changes from becoming law in 90 days. Democrats and minor parties say the changes are meant to protect Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014; they argue that, without the new requirements, tea party challengers upset with Kasich over his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion could take away enough votes and spoil the election in favor of a Democrat. CityBeat covered the Senate version of the bill in further detail here.

Hamilton County commissioners yesterday unanimously approved the first budget in six years that didn’t require major cuts or revenue increases to achieve balance, but the budget also had very little in terms of new policies. Commissioners also approved a separate plan from the Port Authority, a city- and county-funded development agency, to expand its borders; the Port now needs to work out agreements with other jurisdictions before the expansion becomes official.

Janitors in Cincinnati are striking against New York City-based ABM in a push for wage hikes and health benefits. In supporting the efforts, Councilman Chris Seelbach says the strike and media attention surrounding it should hopefully put pressure on Cincinnati’s Fortune 500 companies that hire ABM to clean their buildings.

Commentary: “Republicans Continue Denying Social Progress.”

After only 28.8 percent of registered Cincinnati voters participated in the mayoral and City Council elections, The Cincinnati Enquirer asked those who didn’t show up to vote to explain themselves. The answers ranged from total apathy toward the streetcar project to disdain and distrust for the city’s government and political system.

Voters on Tuesday approved more than half of Ohio school levies.

The University of Cincinnati yesterday signed an agreement that will increase collaboration with NASA.

Blockbuster is closing down its remaining company-owned stores in the United States.

Biking in traffic can have some complicated results as bikers breathe in traffic exhaust.

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by German Lopez 09.30.2013
Posted In: Health care, News, Mayor at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mark mallory

Mayor Touts Obamacare Outreach Efforts

Marketplace enrollment will remain open from October through March

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.06.2014
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Downtown project gets path forward, feds to pay for firefighters, health board defies mayor

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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by German Lopez 12.17.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 03:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

SORTA Agrees to Take on Streetcar Operating Costs

Mayor, council members argue offer falls short of demands

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) on Tuesday indicated its willingness to pursue a public-private partnership to cover the streetcar’s operating costs, estimated at $3.4-$4.5 million a year.

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 Cranleys 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.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.17.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council, Streetcar at 05:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Private Groups Back Plan to Pay for Streetcar Operations

Foundation lists more than a dozen business, philanthropic leaders in support

More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) offer to develop a private-public partnership to fund the streetcar’s operating costs, Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, told CityBeat on Tuesday.

If enough private contributors agree to finance the streetcar’s operating costs, they could address a major concern raised by streetcar opponents and provide the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office early this month.

The Haile Foundation already contributed $1 million to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar, but Avner cautions that his organization’s donation is only the beginning, given all the other entities interested in moving the streetcar forward.

Avner says 14 other business and philanthropic leaders supported the SORTA concept in person or through writing in time for SORTA’s board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Among other community leaders, Avner cites Otto Budig, Cathy Crain of Cincinnati State, William Portman of the University of Cincinnati, Jeannie Golliher of the Cincinnati Development Fund, Rick Greiwe of Greiwe Development and Jack and Peg Wyant of Grandin Properties.

In a letter to SORTA, the Haile Foundation offers to recruit and financially establish a commission of community leaders that will work with the agency to create an operating and revenue plan that will require no funds from the city of Cincinnati. The letter also promises to leverage the initial $1 million investment to secure additional contributors and build a fund that would pay for a full year of operating costs.

Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” in a press conference on Tuesday. Cranley said the city will need financial assurances far above the Haile Foundation’s $1 million to cover $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar over 30 years.

Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment, but he said the proposal could become a viable option if the city receives more assurances from SORTA and private entities that show the groups are serious in their offer.

At this point, private contributors might be necessary to save the streetcar project. Cranley and Flynn said on Dec. 12 that operating costs must be written off the city’s budget if the project is to move forward.

SORTA already agreed to help operate the streetcar if the project is completed, but its decision to take up the operating costs shows an additional commitment to the project.

The agency claims bus services will not be impacted by its increased commitment to the streetcar.

City Council expects to vote on Thursday on whether to restart the streetcar project. Council paused the project on Dec. 4 while the city audits the project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs.

Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:

 
 

 

 

 
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