Cincinnati City Council plans to move $29 million in funds to avoid further delays for the streetcar
project, but the city is still looking at a 2015 opening date. City officials announced Wednesday that a council
committee will vote Monday on three pieces of legislation to keep the
$110 million project in line with the recently announced delayed opening.
One measure would front $15 million to help Duke Energy move underground utility lines from the path of the proposed streetcar route. That money comes from the recent $37 million sale of land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
The city thinks it will get this money back once a dispute with Duke is resolved. The city contends that Duke is responsible for moving the lines, which the utility estimates will cost $18.7 million. Duke counters that the lines only have to be moved because of the streetcar construction, so the city should foot the bill.
“We’re fronting money for the Duke work until we can work out who pays for it with Duke,” city spokeswoman Meg Oldberding said. “It’s to keep the project on time and on budget. Delays would escalate the cost.”
Another ordinance would change the municipal code to “confirm the city’s existing rights” and clarify that utilities pay for the cost of relocating facilities unless otherwise negotiated, according to a news release.
Oldberding said Cincinnati has always maintained that it is the utility’s responsibility to relocate their facilities, so it is not a change in the city’s position.
The final ordinance would change the funding source that is repaying $25 million in bonds sold as part of the original plan to fund the streetcar.
Those bonds were originally being repaid with money coming into city coffers from southern downtown and the riverfront area.
That area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as expected, so the ordinance would have $14 million of the bonds repaid from a 1995 fund set up to collect service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks.
Oldberding said once the downtown district rebounds — it includes the Banks and the casino — it would repay the other fund.
The ordinances would not add to the project’s cost. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year.
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125 million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project, everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank check.’”
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through “intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher costs.
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio on Wednesday announced it is suing the state of Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions enacted as part of the 2014-2015 state budget.
“To put it simply, none of these amendments have any place in the state budget bill,” said Susan Scheutzow, ACLU cooperating attorney and partner at the law firm of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, in a statement. “This massive bill is not intended to deal with new policy; the single subject of the budget should be the appropriation of funds for existing government programs or obligations.”
The lawsuit claims the restrictions violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. In the case of the budget, the ACLU argues that the law shouldn’t go beyond appropriating state funds and tax collection.
The three anti-abortion budget amendments in question ban public hospitals and abortion clinics from making transfer agreements that are required to keep clinics open; order clinics to take government-outlined steps, including showing a patient if a fetal heartbeat is detected, before carrying out an abortion procedure; and create a new “parenting and pregnancy” program that shifts state funds into private organizations that are barred from mentioning abortion services.
“The first two amendments have nothing at all to do with budget appropriations,” said Jessie Hill, ACLU cooperating attorney and professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, in a statement. “The third is also unconstitutional because it creates and funds an entirely new government program, something that requires stand-alone legislation.”
The ACLU says the lawsuit is about promoting good government that follows the rules, regardless of where any individual stands on the issue of abortion.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Preterm, a women’s health clinic in Cleveland that provides contraception, family planning and abortion services.
One anti-abortion restriction that’s not being sued over: The state budget effectively defunded clinics like Planned Parenthood by deeming their non-abortion services less competitive.
Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich approved the anti-abortion restrictions with the state budget in June. But Democratic critics say the new rules harshly restrict access to legal abortions protected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.
Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.
With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.
Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.
The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.
Cincinnati State is looking to expand.
One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.
The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.
Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.
A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.
Gov. John Kasich appointed a former Republican to a Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) seat that must go to a Democrat or Independent, according to The Plain Dealer. M. Beth Trombold will finish her term as the assistant director in Kasich’s Ohio Development Services Agency in April, when she will then take up the PUCO position. The appointment immediately drew criticism from some Democrats. State Rep. Mike Foley of Cleveland called the appointment “another example of Kasich cronyism running rampant.”
A poll from Innovation Ohio, a left-leaning policy research group, found Kasich’s budget proposals aren’t popular with most Ohioans. The poll found 62 percent of Ohioans prefer prioritizing school funding over reducing the state income tax, while only 32 percent prefer tax reduction. When asked what Ohio lawmakers should prioritize in the coming months, 56 percent said job creation, 38 percent said school funding, 24 percent said keeping local property taxes low and 18 percent said cutting the state income tax.
A school superintendent from Warren County may face prosecution for misusing public resources after he wrote a letter to parents urging them to campaign against Kasich, reports Dayton Daily News. Franklin City Schools Superintendent Arnol Elam was apparently angry with Kasich’s new school funding formula, which did not increase funding for poor school districts like Franklin Cities, but did give increases to Springboro, Mason and Kings — the three wealthiest districts in Warren County. County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he will be investigating Elam for engaging in political activity with public resources.
Kasich will give his State of the State Tuesday. The speech is expected to focus on the governor’s budget and tax reform plans.
As part of an agreement with the city, Duke Energy is suing over the streetcar project, according to WLWT. The lawsuit is meant to settle who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar. CityBeat covered the agreement between the city and Duke here and how the streetcar will play a pivotal role in the 2013 mayor’s race here.
Thousands of people in Butler County, mainly students, are benefiting from Judge Robert Lyons’ criminal record seals, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Lyons’ practice of sealing cases came to light after he sealed the case for the Miami University student who posted a flyer on how to get away with rape. In the past five years, Lyons has sealed 2,945 cases — more than a third of the new misdemeanor cases filed.
Ohio’s casinos are falling far short of original revenue projections, according to The Columbus Dispatch. It’s uncertain why that’s the case, but some are pointing to Internet-sweepstakes cafes. Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, which will open March 4, was spurred by the original projections.
StateImpact Ohio reports that many Ohio teachers are concerned with new teaching evaluation rules.
Two Cincinnati Republicans will begin reviewing the effects of legislation that deregulated phone companies in Ohio, reports Gongwer. State Rep. Peter Stautberg, who chairs the House Public Utilities Committee, and State Sen. Bill Seitz, who chairs the Senate Public Utilities Committee, will hear testimony from PUCO Tuesday.
Downtown’s Chiquita center has landed in bankruptcy, reports WCPO. The building lost its major tenant last year when Chiquita Brands relocated to Charlotte, N.C.
“Star Trek” is becoming reality. University of Cincinnati researchers are developing a tricorder device to help users monitor their own health, reports WVXU.
Are you worried about space rocks recently? Popular Science says NASA is concerned as well.
The Medicaid expansion would add more Ohioans to the state-federal health care program by raising the eligibility threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 90 percent. The budget summary claims the expansion makes financial sense for the state as long as the federal government picks up most of the tab. As part of Obamacare, the federal government takes all the costs for newly insured Medicaid recipients for the first three years. After that, the federal government’s share is brought down to 95 percent and ultimately phased down to 90 percent. If the federal government reneges on its promise to pay for the bulk of the share, Kasich’s budget has a trigger to wind down the Medicaid expansion.
The budget also proposes income and sales tax cuts, which would come with some trade-offs. The state income tax would be brought down by 20 percent across the board, and the sales tax would be cut from 5.5 percent to 5 percent. To balance the cuts, Kasich has proposed broadening the sales tax to include other “economic activity,” while keeping exemptions for education, health care, rent and residential utilities.
In another slew of tax changes, Kasich’s plan proposes revamping the oil and gas severance tax. It would eliminate the tax for “small, conventional natural gas producers,” but imposes a 4 percent tax for bigger oil and gas producers.
In the past, liberals have voiced opposition to tax cuts — instead favoring investments elsewhere. Policy Matters Ohio released its own budget proposals Jan. 31, which emphasized “education, health care and human services.” The plan would also increase the income tax for top earners.
City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement criticizing Kasich’s budget for not using the extra revenue to scale back local government and education cuts enacted in the 2012-2013 budget: “At a time when local governments around the state are being forced to slash basic services, lay off safety personnel, raise taxes, and sell off assets just to stay afloat, it's out of touch for Gov. Kasich not to reverse his raid on our local government fund. We don’t pay taxes to pad the governor’s soundbites, we pay them to maintain our roads and keep cops on the street. This should not be a partisan issue. It's simply illogical governance to make the state look good while in the process hurting Ohio's cities.”
The operating budget plan, which passed with an 8-1 vote, comes after months of city officials threatening to lay off cops and firefighters if the city did not approve a plan to lease Cincinnati's parking assets to the Port Authority, which city officials previously claimed was necessary to raise funds that would help balance the operating budget for two years and fund economic development projects. But the parking plan is currently being held up in court, and the public safety layoffs are being avoided anyway.
Last week, council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach announced a budget motion that would avoid all fire layoffs and all but 25 police layoffs. The remaining 25 police layoffs are being undone through the budget motion approved today, which increases estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan did not sign onto the plan, articulating concerns that the budget maneuver will make the deficit worse in 2015 and fail to structurally balance the budget.
Even with the motion, the overall operating budget plan would make cuts elsewhere and raise fees and property taxes. If the plan is approved, about 60 city employees are expected to lose their jobs in the next couple weeks.
The cuts swept through most of the city government, hitting parks, the arts, human services, parades, administrative budgets and outside agencies, among many other areas.
The operating budget portion of the property tax will also climb from 5.7 mills in 2014 to 6.1 mills in 2015, which comes out to an extra $34 for every $100,000 in property value. The latest property tax increase comes after City Council approved a hike in 2013, pushing the property tax from 4.6 mills in 2013 to 5.7 mills in 2014.
The plan would also raise fees for several city services, including fire plan reviews and admission into the Krohn Conservatory.
Multiple council members claimed the austerity was necessary because of the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20).
Still, Lea Eriksen, the city's budget director, previously pointed out Cincinnati has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001.
City Council will vote on the overall budget plan May 30. Council members Qualls, Seelbach, Pam Thomas, Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson are expected to vote in favor of the plan, giving it enough votes to pass City Council.
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.
In the Good Jobs First report
released on June 19, Ohio tied with Texas as No. 3 for megadeals,
which Good Jobs First defines as subsidies worth $75 million
or more. Michigan topped the list with 29 deals, followed by New York
no secret the deal with Convergys went sour for Cincinnati. In December 2011,
the company, which provides outsourced call center services, agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city because the company’s
downtown employment fell below 1,450 — the number of jobs required under
the initial deal. The reimbursement deal also calls for the company to pay an additional $5 million if its downtown employment falls below 500 before 2020.
Good Jobs First report finds this kind of failure is not exclusive to
the Convergys megadeal or Cincinnati; instead, the report argues that
megadeals are expensive and often fail to live up to
their high costs, some of the deals involve little if any new job
creation,” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy in a
statement. “Some are instances of job blackmail, in which a company
threatens to move and gets paid to stay put. Others involve interstate
job piracy, in which a company gets subsidies to move existing jobs
across a state border, sometimes within the same metropolitan area.”
For the jobs that are kept and created, states and cities end up paying $456,000 on average, with the cheapest deals costing less than $25,000 per job and the most expensive costing more than $7 million per job.
report finds the number of megadeals per year has doubled since 2008,
on top of getting more expensive in the past three decades. Each
megadeal averaged at about $157 million in the 1980s, eventually rising
to $325 million in the 2000s. The average cost dropped to $260 million
in the 2010s, reflecting the price of deals made in the aftermath of the
Great Recession, which strapped city and state budgets.
subsidy awards are getting out of control,” said Philip Mattera,
research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report,
in a statement. “Huge packages that used to be reserved for ‘trophy’
projects creating large numbers of jobs are now being given away more
Ultimately, the report aims to increase transparency for such subsidies, reflecting an ongoing goal for Good Jobs First. To do this, the organization has set up a database (www.subsidytracker.org) that anyone can visit to track past, present and future subsidy deals.
But the report claims much of this work should already be done by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which “has been long-negligent in failing to promulgate regulations for how state and local governments should account for tax-based economic development expenditures,” according to a policy sidebar from LeRoy. “If GASB were to finally promulgate such regulations — covering both programs and deals — taxpayers would have standardized, comparable statistics about megadeals and could better weigh their costs and benefits.”
Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann wants Mayor Mark Mallory to live up to past promises of county-city collaboration. In a letter to Mallory, Hartmann criticized the mayor for failing to stick to his pledge of supporting the City-County Shared Services Committee. The committee seeks to streamline county and city services to end redundancies and make the services more competitive and efficient.
Cincinnati Economic Development’s director asked City Council to create a “mega incentive” for “huge impact” development. He also asked City Council to pledge $4 million of casino revenue a year to a local neighborhood project. If City Council agrees, casino revenue will be used to boost local businesses.
Metro is looking at the world’s quickest-charging electric bus. It supposedly can charge in 10 minutes and travel 40 miles.
The day before Pennsylvania’s voter ID law faced trouble in court, Secretary of Jon Husted suggested a “more strict” voter ID law for Ohio. Husted said the current ID system needs to be streamlined and simplified. Democrats criticized the suggestion for its potential voter suppression.Sept. 22 will be the “Global Frackdown,” a day where activists will protest around the world in a push to ban hydraulic fracturing — or fracking. Cincinnati will have its own “Frackdown” at Piatt Park. Activists are generally against fracking because it poses too many risks, which CityBeat covered here. But Gov. John Kasich and other supporters of fracking insist it can be made safe with proper regulations. Some have also suggested that natural gas, which is now plentiful due to the spread of fracking, can be used as part of a bigger plan to stop global warming.
A new survey says Cincinnati companies will continue hiring through the fourth quarter.It wasn’t as good as last year, but it was better than the month before. A new state report says 7,341 new businesses filed to do work in Ohio in August, down from 7,423 in August 2011.
A state commission approved $1.5 million for the Cincinnati Art Museum and a $600,000 reimbursement for the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
More than half of Ohioans could be obese by 2030, a new report found. The rise in obesity could push up medical costs by $23.8 billion.
But screw worrying about weight. Taste of Belgium (writer’s note: best restaurant in the land) is thinking about expanding.
The full footage for Mitt Romney’s controversial comments
at a May 17 fundraiser has become available here. The footage shows why
Romney prefers to be dishonest most of the time. More importantly,
Romney’s comments about Obama voters are not accurate. The Onion, a satirical newspaper, has an explanation for why Romney insists on unleashing gaffe after gaffe.
One astrophysicist says there is no such thing as time.
City Council wants to do more research before it proceeds with freestanding public restrooms in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. The vote has been delayed. Critics say the restrooms are too expensive at $130,000, but supporters, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, insist the restrooms will not be that expensive. A majority of City Council argues the restrooms are necessary because increasing populations and growth in downtown have made 24-hour facilities necessary.
A new report found Ohio’s budget would benefit from a Medicaid expansion. The expansion would mostly save money by letting the federal government pick up a much larger share of the cost for Ohio’s population, particularly prison inmates. A previous study found Medicaid expansions were correlated with better health results, including decreased mortality rates, in some states. Another study from the Arkansas Department of Human Services found the state would save $378 million by 2025 with the Medicaid expansion. Most of the savings from the Arkansas study would come from uncompensated care — costs that are placed on health institutions and state and local governments when uninsured patients that can’t and don’t pay use medical services.
The Dayton Daily News has a wonderful example of how not to do journalism. In an article on the supposed “climate debate,” the newspaper ignored the near-unanimous scientific consensus on global warming and decided to give credence to people who deny all scientific reasoning. To be clear, there is no climate debate. There’s the overwhelming majority of scientists, climatologists and data on one side, and there’s the pro-oil, pro-coal lobby and stubborn, irrational conservatives who will deny anything that hurts their interests on the other side.
The Ohio Board of Education approved policies for seclusion rooms. The non-binding policy requires parents to be notified if their children are placed in a seclusion room, and the Ohio Department of Education can also request data, even though it won’t be made public. More stringent policies may come in the spring. Seclusion rooms are supposed to be used to hold out-of-control kids, but an investigation from The Columbus Dispatch and StateImpact Ohio found the rooms were being abused by teachers and school staff for their convenience.
If the city wants to buy Tower Place, the mall will have to be cleared out, according to City Manager Milton Dohoney. Last week, the remaining businesses at Tower Place were evicted, and Dohoney said the city did not sign off on the eviction orders. Apparently, the city really didn’t agree to or enforce eviction orders, but the city’s buyout requires evictions. Dohoney said the eviction notices should signify the deal to buy Tower Place is moving forward.
Dohoney appointed Captain Paul Humphries to the assistant chief position for the Cincinnati Police Department. Humphries has been on the force for 26 years, and he currently serves as the chief of staff to Chief James Craig.
Cincinnati’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP) is targeting Mt. Airy and Carthage. Starting March 1, police, businesses and civic groups will begin putting together accelerated revitalization and reinvestment plans for the communities. NEP emphasizes building code enforcement, crime, neighborhood cleanup and beautification.
Good news, everyone. Cincinnati is no longer the bedbug capital.
Bob Castellini, owner of the Reds, was named the region’s master entrepreneur by Northern Kentucky University.
The Ohio Department of Transportation released a website that has real-time traffic information.
Some people really suck at political slogans.
Oh, science. Apparently, particle physics could improve Netflix’s suggestions.