Work began yesterday on an audit of Cincinnati’s $132.8
million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters are upset the audit
will only look at the costs and not the potential return on investment.
The city hired KPMG, an auditing firm, to review the
streetcar’s completion, cancellation and operating costs by Dec. 19, the day the federal government says it will pull up
to $44.9 million in grants funding roughly one-third of the project.
Losing the federal funding would most likely act as a death blow for the
project, since most local officials — even some streetcar supporters —
say they’re unwilling to allocate a similar amount of funding through local sources. Mayor John Cranley and City Council asked for the audit before they decide whether to continue or permanently cancel the project.
Meanwhile, streetcar supporters yesterday kicked off a petition-gathering campaign to get a city charter amendment on the ballot that would task the city with continuing the streetcar project. But given the federal government’s Dec. 19 deadline, it’s unclear whether the ballot measure, which could go to voters as late as May, stands much of a chance. Streetcar supporters say they’ll lobby the federal government to keep the funding on hold until voters make the final decision on the project.
A City Council committee yesterday voted to rescind council’s support for a supportive housing complex in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income Cincinnatians. But because National Church Residence already obtained state tax credits for the project in June, it might be able to continue even without council support. The committee’s decision comes in the middle of of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates at odds. The full body of City Council could make the final decision on its support for the project as early as today’s 2 p.m. meeting.
City Council could also move today to repeal a “responsible bidder” ordinance that has locked the city and county in conflict over the jointly owned and operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The conflict comes at a bad time for MSD, which is under a federal mandate to revamp the city’s sewer system. Councilman Chris Seelbach argues the ordinance, which he spearheaded, improves local job training opportunities, but opponents claim it places too much of a burden on businesses and could open the city to lawsuits. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
Some City Council members are concerned Interim City Manager Scott Stiles’ compensation package could act as a “golden parachute.”
State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati yesterday resigned as running mate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald. Kearney’s decision came after media outlets reported that he, his wife and his business had up to $826,000 in unpaid taxes. The controversy grew so thick that Democrats decided Kearney was too much of a distraction in the campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.An Ohio House Republican pitched a proposal that would slightly increase the state’s oil and gas severance tax, but the industry isn’t united in support of the measure. When it was first discussed, the House plan was supposed to act as a downscaled but more palatable version of Gov. Kasich’s proposal, which received wide opposition from the oil and gas industry.
Speaking against a bill that would tighten sentences for nonviolent felony offenders, Ohio’s prison chief said the state is on its way to break an inmate record of 51,273 in July. The state in the past few years attempted to pass sentencing reform to reduce the inmate population and bring down prison costs, but the measures only registered short-term gains. The rising prison population is one reason some advocates call for the legalization and decriminalization of drugs, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
More than one-third of Ohio third-graders could be held back after they failed the state reading test this fall. But the third-graders will get two more chances in the spring and summer to retake the test. Under a new state law dubbed the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee,” Ohio third-graders who fail the reading test must be held back starting this school year.
Only 5,672 Ohioans signed up for new health plans through
the Obamacare marketplace in November. Still, total enrollment in
federal marketplaces was four times higher than it was in October as the
troubled Obamacare website (HealthCare.gov) improved. Reports indicate
the website also vastly improved right before the White House’s
self-imposed December deadline to get the website working better.
William Mallory Sr., prominent local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory’s father, died yesterday morning.
A home kit allows anyone to find antibiotics in leaves, twigs, insects and fungi.
A City Council committee on Tuesday voted to rescind council’s support for state tax credits going to a 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
But since National Church Residences already obtained tax credits for the project from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in June, it’s possible the project could continue even if council stands in opposition, according to Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Still, the decision from the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee comes in the middle of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates in a heated dispute. (CityBeat first covered the issue in greater detail here.)
Independent Christopher Smitherman and Republican Amy Murray, the two present members of the committee, both voted to pull support from the project. The issue will now go to a nine-member City Council, which consists of five Democrats, and Democratic Mayor John Cranley.
Smitherman, chair of the committee, claimed the project’s issues spawned from a lack of community engagement.
“I want everybody to take a pause,” Smitherman said. “Respecting our city, in my opinion, means that you do the community engagement at the level that reflects the magnitude of what you want to do.”
Smitherman’s comments followed testimony from neighborhood activists who oppose the facility and homeless advocates who support it.
Opponents insist they support policies addressing homelessness. But they argue the “massive” facility would alter the neighborhood, worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty and damage revitalization efforts.
Supporters claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that predominates so many supportive housing facilities.
“In our society, we have a tendency to say we don't want ‘those people’ in our neighborhoods. And history dictates to us that conversations that start with ‘we don't want those people here’ don't typically end well,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness
said the facility is part of his organization’s Homeless to Homes plan, which council
previously approved to address Cincinnati’s struggles with homelessness.
Finn’s organization aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 in 2012 to roughly 3,500 in 2017.
The Avondale facility could also help reduce Cincinnati’s high levels of poverty. More than half of Cincinnati’s children and more than one-third of the city’s general population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.
The full body of City Council could take up the issue as early as Wednesday. Smitherman advised both sides to attend the council meeting and state their cases.
Updated with additional information from Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is
preparing to replace running mate Eric Kearney, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Kearney, a state senator from Cincinnati, has been under increasing
pressure to drop out of the race following multiple media reports that
uncovered he, his wife and his business owe up to $826,000 in unpaid
taxes. FitzGerald is running against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014.
Streetcar supporters will seek a city charter amendment that would task Cincinnati with continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project. Supporters say the amendment will act as a
back-up plan if Mayor John Cranley and City Council decide to strike
down the project after completion and cancellation costs are reviewed
through an independent audit. But the Federal Transit Administration
says the city would lose up to $44.9 million in federal funding —
roughly one-third of the streetcar project — if the city government doesn’t agree
to continue with the streetcar before Dec. 19. If the charter amendment gets enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot, voters could decide on the issue as
late as May.
Cincinnati’s winter shelter opened today and will remain open through February, according to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The opening comes after winter storms covered Cincinnati’s streets in ice and snow and sparked a citywide snow emergency over the weekend. The colder conditions will continue into the week, according to the National Weather Service. It was originally unclear whether the shelter would be able to open for its traditional two-to-three months, but a $30,000 contribution from City Council helped pave the way forward.
The woman who was struck by a police cruiser in Over-the-Rhine last month filed a lawsuit alleging the officer deliberately deleted the dashboard camera video of the collision and lied when he claimed his emergency lights and siren were on. The camera stopped recording for about three minutes right before Officer Orlando Smith hit Natalie Cole with his cruiser. Police say the camera malfunctioned. But the incident was the second time Smith’s camera stopped working in the past year; previously, the camera failed to record during a shooting that left one suspect dead and another wounded. CityBeat covered the issues surrounding cruiser cameras in further detail here.
Councilman Charlie Winburn says the city wastefully
purchased and dumped 2,000 tons of road salt. Although other council
members on the Budget and Finance Committee appeared cautious of
Winburn’s accusations, he asked the city administration to
investigate the issue.
Ohioans can now enroll in an expanded Medicaid program, which covers anyone up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. In October, a seven-member legislative panel accepted federal funds to pay for expanded Medicaid eligibility for two years despite resistance from the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature.The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber named a new president and CEO.
The rover Curiosity found a former lake on Mars.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
Cincinnati’s winter shelter for the homeless will open on Dec. 10 and remain open through February, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition announced on Friday.
The announcement preceded a winter storm that covered Cincinnati’s streets in ice and snow and sparked a citywide snow emergency over the weekend. The snow flurries and colder conditions will continue into the week, according to the National Weather Service.
It was originally unclear whether the winter shelter would be able to reach its $75,000 fundraising goal to open for its standard two-to-three months. But concerns were allayed after the previous City Council appropriated $30,000 to help the shelter open.
For its run during the 2012-2013 winter, the shelter housed roughly 600 people.
“It’s a relatively cheap program to run,” Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, previously told CityBeat. “To serve about 600 people with $75,000 is pretty good.”
Although the shelter now expects to be open through February, it could still use additional contributions to remain open into March in case the winter is particularly cold and enduring.
The shelter is made possible by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Drop Inn Center, Strategies to End Homelessness, Society of St. Vincent De Paul and Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. It’s supported largely by private contributions.
Contributions to the winter shelter and Drop Inn Center can be made at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”
The Federal Transit Administration on Friday gave Cincinnati until Dec. 19 to make a final decision on the $132.8 million streetcar project before it pulls up to $44.9 million in federal grants. The decision gives the city less than two weeks to finish its audit of the project’s completion and cancellation costs, which should be conducted by global auditing firm KPMG. The streetcar project would presumably die without the federal grants, which are covering roughly one-third of the project’s overall costs, even if a majority of council or voters decide to continue with the project.
Mayor John Cranley might veto legislation continuing the streetcar project, even if a majority of council agrees to restart the project after its costs are reviewed through an independent audit, said Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s chief of staff, on Friday. If Cranley vetoes, council would need a supermajority — six of nine votes on council — to continue the project, which could be difficult since there are only two perceived swing votes on council. The veto threat presents a bait-and-switch for many streetcar supporters: Only five council members voted to pause the project on Dec. 4 while the city reviews completion and cancellation costs, but six members might be needed to continue the project if Cranley reviews the audit and decides it is still too expensive.
Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, withdrew from consideration on Friday. In making the announcement, the mayor’s office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while the city conducts a national search for a permanent replacement. Carden’s nomination was initially well received by council members, but it grew somewhat controversial after Carden insisted he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter — and The Cincinnati Enquirer uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from the city and private Parks Foundation.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) fell short on recommendations from a previously undisclosed 2012 survey of the region’s business needs. In particular, CVG most likely won’t be able to meet the key recommendation to land Southwest Airlines, a discount carrier that could help bring down fares and increase travel destinations.
Cincinnati turns 225 on Dec. 28.
Ohio gas prices spiked to $3.24 for a gallon after briefly dropping to around $3.
Major companies are feeling increasing pressure to move or at least establish alternative facilities in the urban core as young workers flock to cities, according to The Wall Street Journal.
About 99 percent of U.S. exterminators encountered bed bugs over the past year, up from 11 percent a decade ago.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow Cincinnati to keep $44.9 million in federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project until midnight on Dec. 19 while the city reviews the costs of canceling or completing the project, Mayor John Cranley announced on Facebook on Friday.
The FTA's decision gives the city two weeks to assemble a team and conduct its audit, which a slim majority of City Council agreed to do on Wednesday when it put the streetcar project on pause.
Without the federal grants, the streetcar project would have lost one-third of its funding and presumably died, even if a majority of City Council decided it wants to continue with the project.
The city is currently working to hire KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm, for the audit, according to Jay Kincaid, Cranley's chief of staff.
Council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn in particular asked for the review before they make a final decision on the streetcar.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants.
Mann and Flynn were among a majority of council members who voiced distrust toward Deatrick's estimates, hence the need for an independent review.
But the review might not matter if Cranley decides to veto any ordinance continuing the streetcar project, which Kincaid said Cranley would do if he deems the project too costly following the audit.
A mayoral veto would require both Flynn and Mann to help provide a supermajority — six of nine council votes — to save the streetcar. That could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.
Update: Added who the city plans to hire for the audit.
Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, has withdrawn from the nomination process, the mayor's office announced on Friday.
The mayor's office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while it launches a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
"After consulting with my family, we have come to the personal, private decision that it is best for me to remain as the director of the Parks Department," Carden said in a statement. "John Cranley is going to be a great mayor and this is a difficult decision for me. But it’s simply about what is best for me and my family. As a personal matter, I would ask that you respect our family's privacy."
Carden's nomination initially drew wide praise from City Council, but it was snared in controversy after Carden said he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter. The Cincinnati Enquirer also uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from both the city and the private Parks Foundation.
Councilman Chris Seelbach responded ambivalently to the news, praising both Carden and the decision to go through a national search.
"Although I would have supported Willie Carden as the permanent city manager, I'm glad to see we are now going to undertake the process we should have taken all along," Seelbach posted on Facebook.
When Cranley announced the nomination on Nov. 27, the Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, criticized Cranley for not undertaking a transparent national search prior to his decision.
City Council's Rules and Audit Committee almost considered Carden's nomination on Tuesday, but the decision was delayed for a week to give council members time to interview Carden one-on-one and evaluate ordinances for the nomination.
Mayor John Cranley might veto an ordinance continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project, even if a majority of City Council wants the project to continue after its costs are reviewed through an independent audit, said Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s chief of staff, on Friday.
The decision means six of nine council members — a supermajority — might be required to overturn a mayoral veto and continue the streetcar project. With only two perceived swing votes on council, that could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.
“Of course he reserves the right to veto the legislation,” Kincaid said.
If Cranley reviews the numbers and decides that the project is too costly, he will use the veto powers provided to him through the city charter, Kincaid explained.
Kincaid’s response came after CityBeat confirmed with City Solicitor John Curp that continuing the streetcar project would require a new ordinance that, in theory, could be vetoed by the mayor. City Council can overcome a mayoral veto with a supermajority, or six of nine total council votes.
When CityBeat talked to Kincaid the day before he confirmed Cranley’s willingness to veto, Kincaid speculated that Cranley would not veto legislation continuing the streetcar project.
“I have not talked to (Cranley) about it. I assume that he would let it go forward since he gave (Councilman) David Mann his word that he would give this time to review it, and he gave the same assurance to (Councilman) Kevin Flynn,” Kincaid previously said.
Five of nine council members on Wednesday agreed to allocate $1.25
million to indefinitely pause the streetcar project and pay
for an independent study that will gauge how much it will cost to
continue or permanently cancel the project.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Almost immediately, a majority of council voiced distrust toward Deatrick’s numbers. In a press conference following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley called city officials in charge of the streetcar project “incompetent.”
Council members Flynn and Mann vocally opposed the streetcar project on the campaign trail. But both said they’ll make a final decision on the project once the cancellation and completion numbers are evaluated through an independent review.
Mann previously told CityBeat, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”
Flynn wouldn’t speculate on what stance he will take if the numbers stand to scrutiny. He said a pressing concern for him is how the city will pay for $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar, which could hit an already-strained operating budget.
If Cranley vetoes an ordinance continuing the streetcar project, both Flynn and Mann would likely need to agree to continue — or at least overturn a mayoral veto — to keep the streetcar alive.
City officials estimate the review will take at least two weeks. Once the audit is finished, council members are expected to announce their final positions on continuing or canceling the project.
Update: Mayor John Cranley on Friday announced the federal government is giving Cincinnati until Dec. 19 to make a decision on the streetcar project. Read more here.
This story was updated to better explain that Jay Kincaid’s second direct quote came from a separate conversation on Thursday, the day before he announced Mayor John Cranley’s willingness to veto.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick yesterday said only 11 streetcar workers are expected to lose their jobs following City Council’s pause of the $132.8 million project, far below the original estimate of 200 city officials gave on Monday. The remaining workers will be moved by contractors to other jobs or kept under ongoing utility work, which utility companies agreed to continue despite no longer qualifying for reimbursements from the city, according to Deatrick. He also said it’s “a wild guess” whether the number of layoffs will grow in the future.
Cincinnati should expect to return up to $44.9 million in federal grants funding nearly one-third of the streetcar project even though the project is only on “pause” as local officials weigh the costs of cancellation and completion, according to transportation experts who talked to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Without the federal grants, the project is effectively dead. The two swing votes on council — David Mann and Kevin Flynn — say they want to evaluate whether it would make financial sense to cancel the project this far into construction. Deatrick previously estimated the costs of cancellation could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and $44.9 million in lost federal grants. But Mann and Flynn voiced distrust over the projections and called for an independent review.
Democrats and voter advocates claim Republican legislators are slowly rebuilding “voter suppression” laws that were the subject of referendum in 2012 before Republicans backed down. Democrats called on Gov. John Kasich to veto the bills. Among other measures, the bills would reduce the amount of in-person early voting days and restrict elected officials’ ability to to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats claim the bills are meant to suppress voters. Republicans argue the measures help reduce “cheaters,” even though in-person voter fraud is very rare.
Chris Finney, a high-profile lawyer who is critical of local tax breaks for businesses, apologized for denying that he sought tax breaks for his law firm. Finney sought the tax breaks shortly after criticizing Cincinnati for granting a tax incentive package to convince Pure Romance to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati. Finney is the top legal crusader for the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group with a history of anti-gay causes.
Tea party group One Percent for Liberty nominated Mayor John Cranley as a “Defender of Liberty for 2013” for his work against the streetcar project and parking privatization plan. The group previously nominated various conservative politicians and activists from around the region. The award will be presented at COAST’s Christmas party.
Hundreds of schools and businesses in the Cincinnati area today closed in response to the developing winter storm.
St. Elizabeth Healthcare and TriHealth, two of the areas’ largest health systems, yesterday announced they’re teaming up to reduce costs, improve the patient experience and generate better health outcomes.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced he will crack down on electronic raffle operations.
Nelson Mandela, a South African icon of peace, died yesterday. Mandela was a peaceful leader of the anti-apartheid movement who went on to become South Africa’s first black president. His consistent devotion to peace inspired similar peaceful protests around the world. The New York Times put together a great interactive featuring several correspondents who witnessed Mandela first-hand here.
U.S. unemployment fell to 7 percent in November, the lowest rate in five years.
Popular Science explains how to get rid of animal testing.
Only 11 streetcar workers are expected to lose their jobs following a City Council-approved pause of the $132.8 million project, according to Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick.
The final number is far below the original estimate of 200 layoffs that city officials gave on Monday when council members asked about the effects of halting the streetcar project.
The remaining workers will be moved by contractors to
other jobs or kept under ongoing utility work, which utility companies
agreed to continue despite no longer qualifying for reimbursements from
the city, according to Deatrick.
Deatrick says it’s “a wild guess” whether the amount of layoffs will grow in the future.
“Our contractors have real heart,” he says.
The number is good financial news for the city. If 200 workers were laid off, Deatrick previously estimated that unemployment benefits would cost the city $419,000 for the month.
Still, the city administration on Wednesday warned that it could cost $2.56-$3.56 million to pause ongoing construction for the month. In comparison, Deatrick estimates that continuing construction at current speeds would cost $3 million.
A majority of council members dismissed the pause cost estimates as exaggerated when they voted to halt the project on Wednesday.
With the streetcar project on hold, council now plans to review how much it would cost to complete or cancel the project.
Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
But a majority of council members voiced distrust toward the estimates and called for an independent review.
Depending on the outcome of the cost analysis, Vice Mayor
David Mann and Councilman Kevin Flynn say they could change their minds
on canceling the streetcar project. Only one of them needs to do so to give streetcar supporters a majority on council.