In the past few days, local media outlets have reported heavily on a supposed conflict between Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the city of Cincinnati. Essentially, SORTA wants the transit fund limited, while the city government says it doesn’t want to “undermine the city charter” with limitations.
At its heart, the argument is a political back-and-forth with little consequence. It’s two government agencies at a small divide over legalese in an intergovernmental agreement about how the streetcar will operate and how it will be funded.
The specific issue is SORTA, which runs the Metro bus
system and will operate the streetcar, wants to include phrasing in its
agreement with the city that makes it so the transit fund can’t be used
for the streetcar. In a 7-6 vote Tuesday, SORTA's board pushed its preferred wording along with an application for an $11 million federal grant that will help fund the streetcar.
But the city government claims the limitation would go against the spirit of the city charter, which says the transit fund can be used for “public transit purposes generally and without limitation.”
UPDATE: City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar, although it has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar.
Still, Mayor Mark Mallory’s office has insisted time and time again that funding for the streetcar’s construction and operation is already allocated, so taking any money from the transit fund will be unnecessary. Specifically, the city will tap into casino revenue to operate the streetcar, on top of the $11 million federal grant.
In an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday, Mallory said the real issue goes back to an ongoing lawsuit between SORTA and the city. In 2010, the city diverted money from the transit fund to pay for street lights. That prompted a lawsuit from SORTA, asking the courts to define the limits of the transit fund.
The mayor’s office sees the wording from SORTA as an attempt from the transit agency to score a minor victory in the legal battle. If the city government accepted the wording, it would be agreeing to a limited transit fund, which is essentially what SORTA wants.
SORTA’s wording also makes it so all transit fund money will continue going to the Metro bus system, which is the agency’s sole service today.
But even SORTA says the disagreement is getting blown out of proportion by media outlets and public officials. Sallie Hilvers, spokesperson for SORTA, says the wording in the approved agreement was the board’s attempt to ensure the transit fund isn’t used for the streetcar, but, for the most part, it’s “really just procedures.”
Hilvers insisted the disagreement over wording has plenty
of time to be worked out, and it will not hinder collaboration between
the city of Cincinnati and SORTA.
The agreement will need to be worked out before summer 2013 for the streetcar to stay on track.
By now, most of you have heard there was another horrible mass shooting, this time in Newtown, Conn., that resulted in the death of 20 children and six adults. While everyone is hoping this is the last time the nation has to deal with an event of unspeakable horror, it is only a possibility if we agree to do something about it. That means remembering the heroes who risked their lives and, in some cases, died that day. That means not letting the media and public drop the issue, as has been the case in the past. That means looking at more than just gun control, including mental health services. The Washington Post analyzed what “meaningful” action on gun control would look like, and the newspaper also disproved the idea Switzerland and Israel are “gun-toting utopias.” President Barack Obama also spoke on the issue at a vigil Sunday, calling for the nation to do more to protect people, particularly children, from violence. The full speech can be watched here.
City Council approved its 2013 budget plan Friday. The budget relies on the privatization of city parking assets to help plug a $34 million deficit and avoid 344 layoffs. The budget also nixed the elimination of a tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities, and it continued funding the police department’s mounted unit. As a separate issue, City Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, reversing a move from conservatives in 2011. CityBeat wrote about budgets at all levels of government and how they affect jobs here.
Michelle Dillingham, who was an aide to former city councilman David Crowley, will seek Democratic support in a run for City Council. Dillingham promises to tackle “industry issues of mutual interest" to business and labor and “transportation funding, family-supporting wages and workforce development.”
At a recent public hearing, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed a “very easy” plan for the city budget. Only problem: His plan doesn’t work. In an email, Cranley said he stands by his ideas, but he added he was working with limited information and his statements were part of a two-minute speech, which “requires brevity.” He also claimed there are cost-cutting measures that can be sought out without privatizing the city’s parking assets and gave modified versions of his ideas regarding casino and parking meter revenue.
Judge Robert Lyons, the Butler County judge who sealed the Miami rape flyer case, is standing by his decision.
The Greater Cincinnati area is near the top for private-sector growth.
Jedson Engineering is moving from Clermont County to downtown Cincinnati, thanks in part to an incentive package from City Council that includes a 45 percent tax credit based on employees earnings taxes over the next five years and a $300,000 grant for capital improvements. The company was a Business Courier Fast 55 finalist in 2008 and 2009 due to its high revenue growth.
Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan is getting some support from Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, but others are weary. They fear the plan, which leverages the turnpike through bonds for state infrastructure projects, will move turnpike revenues out of northern Ohio. But Kasich vows to keep more than 90 percent of projects in northern Ohio.
Gas prices are still falling in Ohio.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is making some concessions in fiscal talks. In his latest budget, he proposed raising taxes on those who make more than $1 million a year.
One beagle can diagnose diseases by sniffing stool samples.
Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.
Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.
“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.
Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.
The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.
Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.
“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”
Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities.
Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.
If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.
The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes.
The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.
Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.
Former Democratic city council member John Cranley is kicking off his 2013 mayoral campaign by getting involved in budget talks. In a public hearing at City Hall last week, Cranley tried to provide an alternative to privatizing the city’s parking assets, which City Manager Milton Dohoney has suggested to pay for $21 million of the city’s $34 million deficit.
“It’s not the citizen’s job to balance the budget, but let me make it very easy for you,” Cranley said. “You have $12 million in casino money that can be used but is currently being used on pet projects, like street sculptures. The parking meters themselves produce $7 million a year. That’s $19 million. And $5 million for garbage cans. That’s $24 million. You only need ($21 million) to cancel the parking privatization plan, so I got you $3 extra million to spare.”
In short, Cranley's alternative to parking privatization is using $12 million from casino revenue, $7 million from keeping parking meters under city ownership and $5 million saved from not purchasing trash carts.
So how viable are Cranley’s ideas? In a memo, Dohoney’s
office responded. The memo points out that casino revenue is currently
estimated at $7.2 million, not $12 million, and $1.3 million is already
included in the budget for Focus 52, a neighborhood redevelopment project. That leaves casino revenues $6.1 million short of what Cranley proposed.
Regarding parking meters, Dohoney’s office says revenue
from parking meters is restricted to fund “operations and maintenance in
the right-of-way.” The memo says City Council could authorize using the money to plug the deficit, but it would then have to find
alternatives for funding operations and maintenance.
Even the trash cart proposal doesn’t work. Not buying trash carts would only save $4.7 million, not $5 million. And the plan, which is part of the city’s effort to semi-automate trash collection, is in the general capital budget, not the general fund operating budget that’s being debated. The memo concludes, “If the trash carts are not purchased, the funds would not be available to close the gap because this is a capital budget expenditure and resources supporting the capital budget cannot be used in the operating budget.”
In other words, Cranley’s “very easy” budget plan isn’t just difficult; it’s a mix of inadequate and impossible. If CityBeat was PolitiFact, Cranley’s suggestions would probably get him a “Pants on Fire” label.
There’s a catch — municipal employees only get the raises and job security if the city’s parking meters, garages and surface lots are leased to a private company for 30 years.
City Manager Milton Dohoney wants to lease the facilities for at least $40 million upfront and a share of parking profits for the next 30 years. He’d use $21 million of the upfront payment to patch a $34 million deficit in the city’s budget.
During recent budget hearings before City Council, Dohoney said extra revenue was needed to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
In a memo to the mayor and city council members, Dohoney outlined the agreement between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Any municipal employees who will lose their jobs because of the deal would be placed in other city jobs with no loss of wages. No city employees covered by the union would be laid off between 2013 and 2016. City employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost of living raise for the 2013-2014 contract year and another 1 percent raise for the next contract year. AFSCME members will continue city vehicle maintenance work from 2013-2016.
However, if City Council doesn’t approve of the plan to privatize parking, city employees get nothing.
Public employees in Cincinnati have not been given raises in almost four years. Meanwhile, council voted last month to give Dohoney a 10 percent raise and a $35,000 bonus. Dohoney had not received a merit raise since 2007, but had collected cost of living adjustments and bonuses over the years.
It will soon be official. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls will announce her mayoral campaign on Thursday at 10 a.m. Qualls has already announced her candidacy and platform on her website. Qualls will be joined by term-limited Mayor Mark Mallory, which could indicate support from the popular mayor. Right now, Qualls’ only known opponent is former Democratic city councilman John Cranley, who has spoken out against the streetcar project Qualls supports.
As part of City Manager Milton Dohoney’s budget proposal, anyone who lives in Cincinnati but works elsewhere could lose a tax credit. The budget proposal also eliminates the property tax rollback and moves to privatize the city’s parking services, which Dohoney says is necessary if the city wants to avoid 344 layoffs. The mayor and City Council must approve Dohoney’s budget before it becomes law. City Council is set to vote on the budget on Dec. 14. Public hearings for the budget proposal will be held in City Hall Thursday at 6 p.m. and in the Corryville Recreation Center Dec. 10 at 6 p.m.
Vice Mayor Qualls and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan are pushing a resolution that demands local control over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” activity. But the resolution will have no legal weight, so the state will retain full control over fracking operations even if the resolution is passed. Qualls and Quinlivan will also hold a press conference today at 1:15 p.m. at City Hall to discuss problems with fracking, which has come under fire by environmentalist groups due to concerns about air pollution and water contamination caused during the drilling-and-disposal process.
Greater Cincinnati hospitals had mixed results in a new round of scores from Washington, D.C.-based Leapfrog Group.
In an effort to comply with cost cutting, the Hamilton County recorder is eliminating Friday office hours.
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments is looking for feedback for the Tristate’s transportation and economic plans.
This year’s drought is coming to an end in a lot of places, but not southwest Ohio.
The Ohio Senate passed a concussion bill that forces student athletes to be taken off the field as soon as symptoms of a concussion are detected.
As the state government pushes regulations or even an outright ban on Internet cafes, one state legislator is suggesting putting the issue on the ballot. State officials argue unregulated Internet cafes are “ripe for organized crime” and money laundering. An Ohio House committee is set to vote on the issue today. If passed, the bill will likely put Internet cafes that use sweepstakes machines out of business.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich could be preparing for a 2016 campaign. Kasich was caught privately courting Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who spent millions on Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s failed campaigns for the presidency. The early meetup shows how valued super PAC funders are to modern political campaigns. State Democrats criticized the meeting, saying it was Kasich “actively positioning to be the next Ohio darling of the special interests.”
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman had a bit of trouble giving a speech on the federal debt yesterday. Hecklers repeatedly interrupted Portman, a Republican, as he tried to speak. The final protesters were escorted out of the room as they chanted, “We’re going to grow, not slow, the economy.” Portman says his plan is to promote growth. But both Democrats and Republicans will raise taxes on the lower and middle classes, according to a calculator from The Washington Post. Tax hikes and spending cuts are typically bad ideas during a slow economy.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner is facing the wrath of his tea party comrades. The far right wing of the Republican Party is apparently furious Boehner purged rebellious conservative legislators out of House committees and proposed $800 billion in new revenue in his “fiscal cliff” plan to President Barack Obama.
To help combat fatigue at space stations, NASA is changing a few light bulbs.
Does this dog really love or really hate baths? You decide:
City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.
Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.
Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.
Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.
Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.
“To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”
The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.
Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.
Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.
“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”
Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.
Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.
Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.
Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.
"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”
The mayor, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and The Strive Partnership announced today a new joint initiative that won a $40,000 grant. The grant, which is funded by Target through the Cities of Service and Service Nation, will help tutors teach kids how to read by the third grade.
Mayor Mark Mallory made the announcement in a joint press statement with CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan and The Strive Partnership Executive Director Greg Landsman.
With the money, 50 tutors will help 100 students in first, second and third grade in five schools to meet the state’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-grade students to be proficient in reading in state tests before advancing to the fourth grade.
“It all starts with reading,” Mallory said in a statement. “And there is no better way to help our kids learn to read than with one-on-one tutors who they can get to know and trust. A committed adult can make learning to read fun. This grant is going to have a huge impact on the lives of a lot of kids.”
The tutors will focus on five CPS schools: Roberts Paideia Academy in East Price Hill, Rockdale Academy in Avondale, Mt. Airy School, Pleasant Hill Academy in College Hill and Pleasant Ridge Montessori School.
Cincinnati was one of eight cities to win the grant. The other winners are Atlanta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Charleston, S.C.; Chula Vista, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Orlando, Fla.; and Vicksburg, Miss.
The new state reading requirement, which was pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, has received criticism from some Democrats and education experts. Research shows holding kids back hurts more
than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of
School Psychologists found grade retention has “deleterious long-term
effects,” both academically and socially.
A Democratic operative who once served as former Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley’s campaign manager already is staking out cyber turf in advance of Cranley’s rumored run for mayor of Cincinnati. Two Internet domains have been registered for CranleyForMayor on GoDaddy.com. The domains were created three months ago. As yet, no active websites are operating on CranleyForMayor.org or CranleyForMayor.info.
Both sites are held in the name of Jay Kincaid, a longtime Democratic operative in Cincinnati. This year, Kincaid has been working on the campaigns of Denise Driehaus, who is seeking reelection to the Ohio House, and Steve Black, who is running for Common Pleas Judge. (Kincaid is engaged to Black’s daughter.) Kincaid ran Cranley’s successful 2007 campaign for reelection to Cincinnati City Council and was paid about $26,000 for the work. Obviously, he and Cranley go back a long way. It’s doubtful Kincaid would have staked out the Internet domains for another candidate to double-cross Cranley. There have been instances where people have grabbed domains to shut out opponents, or set up spoof and decoys as dirty tricks. By all accounts, Kincaid is described as a trusted adviser.
So far, there’s been no official announcement that Cranley is running for mayor. Yet there have been plenty of rumors. Cranley recently positioned himself as an opponent of Mayor Mark Mallory’s efforts to finance the streetcar project, a move that put him back in the news. Registering Internet domains is likely to add to the speculation. All candidates these days have websites, and the portals are central to fundraising, getting out the word on issues and scheduling events.
Who else might be running to succeed Mallory, who is term-limited out of office next year? Among the D’s, names being mentioned include Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Democratic State Sen. Eric Kearney and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Kearney is the highest-ranking Democrat in the Ohio Senate, and can’t run for reelection due to term limits. He’s reportedly told people he wants to move into the mayor’s office, but he’s also said to have recently changed his mind. The word from Democratic insiders about Kearney: Stay tuned. Qualls, who served as mayor in the 1990s, is said to be a definite. Sittenfeld is called a complete question mark.
On the GOP side, Charlie Winburn might run again. And Chris Smitherman is considered a possibility as either a Democrat, Republican, under a Third Party flag or an independent.
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole “no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the move.
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.