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by German Lopez 12.26.2013 114 days ago
Posted In: News, LGBT, Streetcar, Taxes at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
evolution of equality

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio must recognize gay marriages, governor calls for more tax cuts, citizens saved streetcar

A federal judge on Monday ordered Ohio authorities to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. Although the ruling was narrow, many advocates of gay marriage argue the merits of the judge’s decision indicate a broader problem with Ohio’s marriage laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling against a federal anti-gay marriage law. The judge’s ruling came just three days after another federal court struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban on similar constitutional grounds.

Gov. John Kasich’s plan to get Ohio’s economy moving again: more tax cuts. But the policy announcement — unsurprising, coming from a Republican — comes on the same year Ohio’s economy slowed down even after Kasich and the Republican legislature passed tax cuts that heavily favored the state’s wealthiest.

Believe in Cincinnati saved the streetcar, argues The Cincinnati Enquirer. The group was formed shortly after Mayor John Cranley won the November election and threatened to halt the $132.8 million streetcar project for good. But the threats inspired a groundswell of streetcar supporters, ranging from concerned businesses to residents. And before City Council agreed to continue the streetcar project, Believe in Cincinnati in just eight days gathered 11,300 petition signatures for a charter amendment restarting the project. CityBeat covered the group in its infancy here.

Cincinnati ranked No. 2 for highest child poverty out of 76 major U.S. cities in 2012, according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Cleveland and Toledo also made the unfortunate top five, CDF found.

Overtime pay at the Metropolitan Sewer District exceeded $2 million for the third consecutive year in a row, but the number falls below the accepted standard of less than 10 percent of total payroll. MSD Director Tony Parrott says overtime allows the agency to keep staffing numbers in check but still responsive to unexpected situations. Still, the overtime estimate arrives at a time Hamilton County commissioners are raising sewer and water rates to comply with federal mandates.

Cincinnati will tap into a state program for a major demolition blitz in 2014. The city plans to knock down 240 blighted and condemned buildings next year — far higher than the typical annual rate of 70.

Eight historic buildings in Cincinnati, including Memorial Hall, on Dec. 20 received roughly $6 million in state tax credits for projects totaling $71 million.

Rhinegeist Brewing plans to begin canning its craft beer in January.

Humans were getting the flu as far back as the year 1510, but it’s completely unknown if dinosaurs suffered from similar illnesses.

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by German Lopez 12.20.2013 120 days ago
Posted In: News, Poverty, Education at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Cincinnati Ranks No. 2 for Highest Child Poverty

Three Ohio cities make Children Defense Fund’s top five

Cincinnati ranked No. 2 for highest child poverty out of 76 major U.S. cities in 2012, the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) of Ohio said Friday.

The numbers provide a grim reminder that more than half of Cincinnati’s children lived in poverty in 2012, even as the city’s urban core began a nationally recognized revitalization period.

With 53.1 percent of children in poverty, Cincinnati performed better in CDF’s ranking than Detroit (59.4 percent) but worse than Cleveland (52.6 percent), Miami (48 percent) and Toledo (46 percent), which rounded out the top five.

The data, adopted from the U.S. Census Bureau, also shows Ohio’s child poverty rate of 23.6 percent exceeded the national rate of 22.6 percent in 2012, despite slight gains over the previous year.

“When three of the top five American cities with the highest rates of child poverty are in Ohio, it is clear that children are not a priority here,” said Renuka Mayadev, executive director of CDF of Ohio. “Significant numbers of our children do not meet state academic standards because their basic needs are not being met.”

With the contentious streetcar debate over for now, some local leaders are already turning their attention to Cincinnatis disturbing levels of poverty.

Mayor John Cranley on Thursday told reporters that he intends to unveil an anti-poverty initiative next year. A majority of council members also told CityBeat that they will increase human services funding, which goes to agencies that address issues like poverty and homelessness, even as they work to structurally balance the city’s operating budget.

Outside City Hall, the Strive Partnership and other education-focused organizations are working to guarantee a quality preschool education to all of Cincinnati’s 3- and 4-year-olds. The issue, which will most likely involve a tax hike of some kind, could appear on the 2014 ballot.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.20.2013 120 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor, Health care, LGBT at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati streetcar saved, gay marriage could appear on ballot, Medicaid overhaul signed

City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project, which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.

Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot. The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1 million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which provides exemptions for religious groups.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the state’s budget in the past few years.

A new report from the state attorney general’s office found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8 percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in the past year.

Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.

Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.

Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.

Miami University is the second most efficient university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.

Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.

A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.

After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!

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by German Lopez 12.19.2013 121 days ago
Posted In: Mayor, Streetcar at 02:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
streetcar

Cincinnati Streetcar Saved

Council gets six votes to override mayor's veto and continue project

After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.

Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project.

Flynn was the final holdout in what some council members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a year after fares and sponsorships.

The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's books, he said.

"That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added.

Flynn also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger responsibilities.

Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.

Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it.

Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision.

"I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.

Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda.

Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.

Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate.

"I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project.

Mann officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it.

The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.

Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.19.2013 121 days ago
Posted In: Streetcar, City Council, Charter Committee, Mayor at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Decision Day for Streetcar

Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project

It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.

But hours before City Council expects to make a decision, it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar project.

The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.

The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young. 

Three council members have long opposed the project: Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman.

It's a big financial decision for the city.

If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost $53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG.

If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future. 

Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2 p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.

 

 
 
by German Lopez 12.19.2013 121 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Mayor, Education, Development at 08:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar decision today, Preschool Promise coming together, uptown interchange advances

The city would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it takes on tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, an independent audit revealed yesterday. The news appeared to throw another potential lifeline for the streetcar, which can now claim a five-member majority of supporters on City Council. But with Mayor John Cranley's veto threat, council will likely need six votes to continue the project. Council expects to make a decision today, prior to a Friday deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the project.

Some city leaders are trying to ensure all of Cincinnati's 3- and 4-year-olds attend quality preschool programs through Cincinnati’s Preschool Promise. Citing swaths of studies and data, Greg Landsman, executive director of the education-focused Strive Partnership, says the policy could reach all corners of the city and hugely benefit the city’s economy in the long term. But supporters of the proposal first must find a means to fund it, which Landsman says will likely require some sort of voter-approved tax hike in 2014. Before the Preschool Promise campaign gets there, Landsman vows supporters will heavily engage the community to gather feedback and determine the scope of the proposal.

City Council yesterday unanimously approved $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million uptown interchange project, which will allow the project to move forward with the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments filling the rest of the funding gap. The capital allocation means property taxes will remain higher than they would without the project, as revealed at Monday's Budget and Finance Committee. Mayor Cranley and council members argue the cost is worth it because, as a study from the University of Cincinnati's Economics Center previously found, the project will generate thousands of jobs and other economic gains in the uptown area.

Commentary: "Anti-Streetcar Logic Should Stop Uptown Interchange Project."

The Democratic majority on City Council yesterday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial bidding requirements for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's inadequate sewer system. A majority of council members support the bidding requirements as a way to foster local jobs and local job training, while opposing county officials say the rules favor unions and impose a huge burden on MSD contractors. Councilman Chris Seelbach says he's working with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to get both parties in mediation talks and end a county-enforced hold on sewer projects before the federal government begins enforcing its mandate.

The city of Cincinnati is allowing residents to put out extra trash bags next to approved trash containers between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3 in a "trash amnesty."

Gov. John Kasich's 2014 wish list: More infrastructure funding, measures that curb health care costs, new anti-drug and anti-poverty initiatives, and another tax cut.

Ohio's May ballot could include a measure that would tap into existing revenues to boost funding for infrastructure projects around the state.

Seventeen non-U.S. citizens allegedly cast illegal ballots in Ohio's 2012 general election, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Two Democrats in the Ohio Senate proposed legislation that would allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns. But Republicans control both chambers of the Ohio legislature, so it's unlikely the bill will pass.

Four Ohio libraries, including the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, are collaborating to preserve historical documents, photographs and more.

Those who want health care coverage on Jan. 1 and don't get insurance through an employer have five days to sign up for Obamacare at HealthCare.gov.

Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal that will avoid a federal government shutdown and ease previously planned across-the-board spending cuts.

A new study found the Milky Way has four arms, not two as previously believed.

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by German Lopez 12.18.2013 122 days ago
Posted In: News, Development, Infrastructure, City Council at 06:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
city hall

City Keeps Controversial MSD Contracting Rules

Democratic council members stand together against repeal of "responsible bidder" law

City Council on Wednesday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.

Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's sewer system. The city and county jointly manage MSD.

Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young voted to move the repeal ordinance back to committee. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted to keep the ordinance in front of council.

Hamilton County commissioners previously halted most of the $3.2 billion, 15-year sewer revamp in protest of the city's "responsible bidder" law. As long as the hold remains in place, the city and county risk violating a federal mandate to revamp Cincinnati's inadequate sewer system.

The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.

Supporters of the law claim it will foster local jobs and local job training. Opponents claim the law favors unions and places a costly burden on MSD contractors.

The city already gave various concessions to resolve its conflict with the county, including exemptions for small businesses and contracts worth less than $400,000. But the county has so far refused to budge.

Smitherman, who opposes the law, argued the issue will end up in court and the city will lose.

"What was passed on May 1 is not constitutional," he said.

But the city's law department says the law is legal and could be defended in court.

Seelbach, who spearheaded the law, said he's in talks with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to bring both parties into mediation and resolve the conflict.

"I'm asking for some more time," he said.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.18.2013 122 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Audit Finds High Costs to Cancel

Operating costs also lower than previously projected

Cincinnati would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it incurs tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG released Wednesday.

By showing the potentially high costs of cancellation, the numbers could throw a lifeline to the streetcar project just one day before City Council decides whether to restart construction or permanently halt the project.

But Mayor John Cranley appears undeterred in his commitment to cancel the streetcar project. By accounting for the annual costs to operate the streetcar, Cranley estimates the city will actually save $102 million if it cancels the project.

The city already spent roughly $34 million on the project, according to the audit. Cancellation would add $16.3-$46.1 million in close-out costs, bringing the total costs of cancellation and money spent so far to $50.3-$80.1 million.

Completing the project would add $68.9 million in costs, after deducting $40.9 million in remaining federal grants, the audit found.

But the completion estimate assumes the city will need to pay $15 million in utility work — a cost that is currently being debated in court. If the city wins its case against Duke Energy, the utility company would be required to pay the $15 million and bring down the total completion costs to $53.9 million.

The audit also put the costs of operating the streetcar at $3.13-$3.54 million a year, lower than the previous $3.4-$4.5 million estimate. After revenues from fares, sponsorships and other sources, the city would need to pay $1.88-$2.44 million to operate the streetcar, according to the audit.

The reduced estimate for operating costs could become particularly important in deciding the project's fate as private contributors attempt to get the cost off the city's operating budget.

Delaying the streetcar project while KPMG conducted its audit also added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to the audit. The city allocated another $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.

The audit did not account for the potential costs of litigation if contractors and investors along the planned streetcar line sue the city to recoup costs.

City Council paused the streetcar project on Dec. 4 to obtain the cost estimates of completion, cancellation and annual operations. The full body of council will decide whether to restart the project on Thursday, before a Friday deadline set by the Federal Transit Administration for federal grants.

Read the full audit:


This post was updated at 12:59 p.m. with more information and details.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.18.2013 122 days ago
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Private backers support streetcar offer, city budget gap estimated, governor's race still close

More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community provided more assurances.

Other streetcar news:
• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected tomorrow.
• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.”
• The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.

Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking taxes or cutting police and firefighters.

The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.

A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.

Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups and small businesses.

This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.

Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.

Two won the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.

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by German Lopez 12.17.2013 123 days ago
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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