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With a $3.2 billion price tag and 15- to 20-year time scale, Cincinnati’s plan to retrofit and replace its sewers is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history, but the program is experiencing hurdles as the city and county clash over how to reward contracts and whether the government should have a say in training employees. Cincinnati recently passed and modified a “responsible bidder” law that sets rules for apprenticeship programs and a fund for pre-apprenticeship programs, which Councilman Chris Seelbach says help promote local jobs and job training. But critics, backed by county officials and business organizations, say the law puts too much of a burden on contractors.
The Ohio Senate budget bill would restore $717 million in education funding, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome $1.8 billion in education funding cuts carried out in the last biennium budget. The funding increase also disproportionately favors the wealthy, with the property-poorest one-third of school districts getting 15 percent of the funding increases and the top one-third getting the vast majority. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn’t hand out “free marijuana plants” at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.
With 8-0 support from City Council, Mayor Mark Mallory appointed Stan Chesley to the city’s Human Relations Commission yesterday. Chesley retired from practicing law after he was disbarred in Kentucky for allegedly keeping millions of dollars that should have gone to clients involved in a lawsuit about phen-fen, a diet drug. Mallory and Chesley have worked together in the past, particularly to raise money for the city’s swimming pools.
Ohio lawmakers are considering two laws that would tighten rules about who can carry guns in schools and encourage religious education. The changes related to guns would involve local law enforcement in deciding who can carry guns, but it would also allow schools to conceal the names of who can carry a firearm and protect those individuals from liability for accidents unless there was “reckless and wanton conduct.” The changes for religious education would allow public high schools to give credit to students who take religious courses outside of school.
Ohio senators scrapped a plan that would have raised vehicle registration fees.
Ohio gas prices jumped above $4 this week.
NASA is building an intergalactic GPS.
Sleep-deprived men are apparently really bad at judging who wants to sleep with them.
City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.
As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.
Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget.
"The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."
The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.
The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department.
Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated.
Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.
The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.
The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a 50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special events.
At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget.
"I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.
Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of control."
Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.
Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.
The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months
of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to
be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway.
But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on 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). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.
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.
City Council will vote on a budget plan today that will include no public safety layoffs, but about 60 other public employees will likely be jobless as a result of the plan in a couple weeks. The budget proposal comes after months of city officials claiming public safety layoffs were unavoidable without the city's plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. But the parking plan is now being held up in court, and the layoffs were avoided anyway.
CityBeat commentary: "Good News Reveals Budget Deception."
The Ohio Senate revealed a budget plan yesterday that made some major tax changes to the Ohio House proposal, but the budget will still effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The Ohio Senate plan passes on the Ohio House's 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut for all Ohioans and instead focuses on a 50-percent tax cut for small businesses. The bill also undid controversial language that forced public universities and colleges to decide between out-of-state tuition rates and providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting. CityBeat covered the conservative social policies in the Ohio House budget plan, which remain in the Ohio Senate bill, here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald came out in support of same-sex marriage in a May 17 interview with Outlook Columbus, putting him at odds with Republican opponent and incumbent Gov. John Kasich, who is running for re-election in 2014. Kasich previously implied support for same-sex civil unions in an interview with a local TV news station, but his spokesperson later walked back that support and reiterated the governor's opposition to same-sex civil unions and marriage. Same-sex marriage could be on the ballot in 2013 through FreedomOhio's efforts, which CityBeat covered in greater detail here.
Twenty were arrested yesterday during the Hamilton County Sheriff Department's sex offender compliance sweep.
A University of Cincinnati study found CPR training does little good, and most people do a lousy job at the life-saving technique.
Some Cincinnati businesses are taking more steps to protect their intellectual property rights in light of high rates of intellectual property theft in Asia.
The leader of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce is set to leave.
A new study suggests humans began walking upright because of rock climbing.
The Ohio Senate is poised to introduce its own budget plan today, and it could forgo the Medicaid expansion and include measures to defund Planned Parenthood and fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. But how the Senate budget plan differs from the Ohio House version remains uncertain. CityBeat covered the House’s budget plan, which inspired controversy by taking a conservative turn on social issues, here.
The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, with the help of WCPO, is hosting a “phone-a-thon” that will help enroll uninsured children into the Medicaid program. The event, which could reach up to 15,000 children in southwest Ohio, helps tackle awareness, one of the main issues governments have faced while trying to expand health care programs around the nation. Since the Legal Aid Society’s program began getting federal funding in 2009, Medicaid enrollment for children in southwest Ohio has increased by 12 percent, while the rest of the state has increased by 4 percent.
A majority of City Council is now backing the budget plan that would pull back some cuts to city parks and outside agencies
and avoid a majority of layoffs initially proposed by City Manager
Milton Dohoney, leading to only 25 police layoffs and no fire layoffs.
“The plans put forward by a council majority prioritize public safety
and essential services that keep all of our neighborhoods safe and
attack the blight that breeds crime,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a
statement. “Our plan also continues the city’s investment in projects
that will transform our neighborhoods through the Focus 52 fund. Despite
the budget challenges we face, we must do all we can to keep the city’s
momentum moving forward.”
CityBeat commentary on the developing city budget story: “Good News Reveals Budget Deception.”
The lawsuit over a pregnant teacher’s firing from her job at a Catholic school begins today with opening statements. The lawsuit claims the Catholic school violated anti-discrimination laws by firing the teacher after she became pregnant through artificial insemination. CityBeat covered another case of the Church firing a pregnant teacher here and a Catholic woman priest who is pushing to make the Vatican more inclusive here.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says five have been charged with cheating at the Horseshoe Casino, which carries a potential sentence of two years in prison.
Gas prices are back down in Ohio this week.
The Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s FBI career here.
A man died after a skydiving accident in southwest Ohio Sunday.
The Vatican let everyone know over the weekend that atheists are still going to Hell.
Popular Science has a list of the 10 coolest species discovered in 2012 here.
A group is ordaining Roman Catholic women priests despite Vatican opposition, and Debra Meyers will be Cincinnati's first woman to go through the ordination on May 25. Meyers told CityBeat the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement is about pressuring the Catholic Church to be more inclusive, including with women, LGBT individuals and other groups that may feel left out by the Church's current policies. The full Q&A with Meyers can be read here.
In the latest budget plan, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is asking all city employees, including cops and firefighters, to take eight furlough days, which she says would save enough money to prevent all layoffs. That plan follows a motion co-sponsored by council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach, which would eliminate all fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25.
Hamilton County commissioners voted to stop all sewer projects yesterday in opposition to the city's "responsible bidder" policy, which requires most contractors working with the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) to have apprenticeship programs. City Council, spearheaded by Seelbach, passed the measure to encourage more job training options for workers, but the county government says the measure is unfair and puts too much of a strain on businesses working with MSD. The issue will likely head to court.
Commentary: "Good News Reveals Budget Deception."
At last night's budget hearings, Councilman Charlie Winburn repeatedly brought up the city's so-called "credit cards," which are really procurement cards that are often used by the mayor to entertain and attract businesses to Cincinnati. Winburn says the use of the cards is outrageous when the city is considering laying off cops and firefighters, and Councilman Chris Smitherman says the system needs more controls. The cards are set up so they can only be used by city employees for certain services, and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. says the cards make the system more efficient, which means lower prices for the city.
A bill in the Ohio House revives the Medicaid expansion, which was previously opposed by Republicans as part of the budget process. Gov. John Kasich is one of the top Ohio Republicans who supports the expansion, but it's unclear how far the bill can move this time, considering many Republicans are still opposed. CityBeat covered the expansion, which would insure half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade, in further detail here.
The Ohio General Assembly passed a bill
yesterday that would effectively ban Internet "sweepstakes" cafes,
which state officials say are prone to illegal gambling activity. State
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says the bill is a "shoot ‘em
and let God sort it out" approach because the bill generalizes against
all Internet cafes instead of imposing specific regulations that would
only target offenders. If Kasich signs the bill, it will become law.
The Ohio Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, submitted 589 petitions to the Ohio Senate opposing a measure that would force Ohio's public universities to decide between $370 million in out-of-state tuition revenue and giving out-of-state students documents required for voting. The measure was originally sneaked into the Ohio House budget plan, but Senate officials are removing it from the budget bill and appear likely to take it up in a standalone bill. CityBeat covered the original measure here.
Greater Cincinnati home sales are continuing picking up. There 2,388 homes
sold in the region in April, up 22.65 percent from the year before —
even better than March's 13.5-percent year-over-year rise.
Researchers are now suggesting rubbing a certain kind dirt on wounds.
The White House announced today that Councilman Chris Seelbach has won the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award, which recognizes 10 community leaders around the nation each year for a commitment to equality and public service.
Seelbach, Cincinnati's first openly gay council member, won the award after he was nominated by the the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). He will officially receive the award at a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday.
"I am humbled and proud to be recognized by the White House for my efforts on City Council and extremely grateful to the people of Cincinnati for giving me the opportunity to effect positive change in our community. In order to create a city where more people want to live, work and raise a family, we must continue fighting to make sure all people feel welcomed, valued and respected," Seelbach said in a statement.
The award recognizes Seelbach's accomplishments, but it also shows Cincinnati's progress in the past few years.
During Seelbach's time in office, the city's police and fire departments created a LGBT liaison.
Most recently, Seelbach co-sponsored a motion that will help avert police and fire layoffs in the fiscal year 2014 budget plan. He also spearheaded "responsible bidder" changes that require bidders on most Metropolitan Sewer District projects to offer apprenticeship programs.
The Harvey Milk Champion of Change award is named after Harvey Milk, who became California's first openly gay elected official when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was assassinated on Nov. 10, 1978 — only 10 months after he was sworn into office.
Mayor Mark Mallory will deliver his operating budget proposal to City Council today after making changes to the city manager’s proposal, which hikes property taxes and lays off 201 city employees, including cops and firefighters. City Council will then be able to change and give final approval to the budget plan before June 1. Some of the cuts may hit parks the hardest, but city administration officials are cautioning that they did not recommend the specific cuts being outlined, and it’s up to the Cincinnati Parks Board to decide which areas the cuts will impact. The city planned to help balance its $35 million operating budget deficit with the parking plan, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is speaking out against the settlement to sell the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million. “What has been served today is not justice nor moral on the part of Western & Southern, and we will push for a day when Western Southern recognizes their wrong-doings, asks for forgiveness and turns to doing good,” said Josh Spring, executive of the Homeless Coalition, in a statement. The group is asking supporters of the Anna Louise Inn to meet at the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church Friday at 6 p.m. to discuss further action.
City Council is likely to keep its ability to call votes on different items in larger ordinances and motions after seemingly failing to get support from six elected council members. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who proposed the changes, says the power is confusing because there’s no hard standard set for what is separable, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who has used the power before and supports it, says the rule retains choice and flexibility. City Council is currently reviewing many of its procedural rules, according to Simpson.
Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee was reworked by the Ohio House in part to relax standards for teachers. Previously, the law mandated teachers providing reading guarantee services to have taught the subject for at least three years, which critics of the law previously called “impossible to meet.”
The Ohio House is slowing down with its Internet cafe moratorium bill while the Ohio Senate works on its bill that would effectively ban the businesses altogether. State officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, have warned that Internet cafes are prone to criminal activity, but supporters say the businesses are just providing a demanded service.
The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending states strengthen drunken driving standards from a blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
Here is the science behind hating nails on a chalkboard.
At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it.
Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is too expensive.
In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino.
Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project.
Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan after it was explained to him.
Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes.
A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris
Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost
overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope.
“For major projects like this … there is usually an anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said.
For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer
Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing
to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place.
Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and begins actual work on the project.
But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government.
Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no.
When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end.
Smitherman asked how the city administration can be pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a vote of council is dead?”
Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council.
Ending the project would come with its own costs of about $72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent, $14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants that would have to be returned to the federal government.
Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”
The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney.
Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits,
particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run
from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The
city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of
Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011.
“If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing,” Dohoney said. “The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that.”
But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a success by itself.
Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees. But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of Fasting today and put off lunch to help support the Freestore Foodbank. Sittenfeld’s office said in a press release that the event will allow participants to “experience a small measure of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives.” There will be a ceremony for the event at noon in Fountain Square, where participants will be able to donate to the Freestore Foodbank.
March was another decent month for jobs in Cincinnati, with the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropping to 7.5 percent, down from a revised 7.9 percent in February and 8 percent in March 2012. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, says most of the job growth is attributable to Cincinnati’s growing health care services, but manufacturing has also provided a local boon.
An anonymously posted video questions the legitimacy of some parking plan referendum petitions, but so far no formal challenges have been filed against the referendum effort. Even if somebody were to file a challenge, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke says it would required a lot — nearly 4,000 signatures — to halt a referendum: “Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond those five or six sights shown in the video.”
There is now a local effort to embrace the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a private-public partnership that would get more local children in preschool. The current goal is to get 25 to 50 children in preschool in a pilot program this fall. Studies show preschool is one of the best investments that can be made for the economy in the long term. Local preschool services were recently cut as a consequence of federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1.
UC President Santa Ono is recommending the school freeze in-state tuition for the next school year — a measure the UC Board of Trustees will consider in June. Ono also said he will not take a salary increase or bonus for the next two years, and he is asking the school to sell the presidential condo and use the money to pay for scholarships.
While testifying to legislators reviewing his two-year budget request, State Treasurer Josh Mandel said his office has been targeted by cyberattacks, and the technology currently available to his department is not good enough to hold off the attacks.
Humana will hire 60 people for its customer service center in downtown.
Brain cells will control the power plants of the future.
In a press release, Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed today Zips’ Cafe Day because the restaurant is finally adding bacon to its cheeseburger lineup.