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by Nick Swartsell 01.08.2016 138 days ago
Posted In: News at 01:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cranley Vetoes Council Tax Budget

Mayor calls budget "tax hike," Council majority disagrees

Mayor John Cranley today vetoed a tax budget passed by Cincinnati City Council Jan. 6.

That budget set the rate for property taxes in the city at 5.6 mills. Though the rate is the same as last year's, it could bring in more property tax revenue this year due to new development and other economic activity, violating a policy passed more than 15 years ago that requires the city to hold the amount of property taxes it collects at a preset level. However, there is some uncertainty about how much the rate would actually collect due to the number of tax abatements and special tax districts the city has given to developers in the past year.

In a statement released today, Cranley called the tax budget Council passed a "tax hike."

"In November, Cincinnati voters sent an unambiguous message that they oppose having their property taxes raised," Cranley said in the statement, referring to the decisive defeat of a ballot initiative he spearheaded aimed at funding major parks projects in the city through a property tax increase. "It is a message that I heard loudly and clearly, and it is a message that I have a duty to heed."

In some ways, the issue around the tax rate springs from the unusual way in which the city collects property taxes, which this Cincinnati Business Courier story explores. A boost in the amount of tax revenues the city collects would violate the aim of Cincinnati's property tax rollback, passed amid pressure from conservative groups in 1999. The measure stipulates that the city must collect the same dollar amount of property taxes each year — $28.9 million — regardless of inflation or other changes.  As inflation inches up, that means the city is actually collecting less property tax each year. No other major Ohio city has a similar measure.

Critics say that has unnecessarily constrained the city's budget and made it more difficult to provide basic services for a now-growing (if only slightly) population. But proponents say it has saved taxpayers money. Some on City Council, including Vice Mayor David Mann, have suggested reevaluating the policy.

Mann blasted Cranley's veto today.

Since its passage, the rollback has meant nearly $95 million less going into the city's coffers. While that saves average homeowners some cash, the biggest benefit goes to larger, commercial property owners with higher land values, many of whom have also received large tax abatements from the city in recent years.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes projected a .71 percent increase in property tax receipts to by the city this year and proposed a 5.52 mill rate. None of that boost comes from higher appraisal values. The last property tax appraisal happened in 2011, with an update in 2014. The next reappraisal of property values won't start until 2017.

But some on Cincinnati City Council say that doesn't take into account those tax abatements and tax increment financing districts many new developments and property improvements in the city received. Thus, setting the millage at 5.52 could cause the city to undershoot its $28.9 million goal.

Last year, the 5.6 mill rate brought in about $29.4 million.

A mill is 1/1000th of a dollar. Property taxes are calculated by taking the assessed value of a home (which is 35 percent of the home's market value), multiplying it by the millage rate, and factoring in any exemptions or abatements. The owner of a $100,000 home would pay $196 in property taxes next year under the 5.6 mill rate and $193.20 under the 5.52 rate.

Overall, the higher rate will bring in a few hundred thousand dollars more next year. What is as yet unknown is what that exact number will be.

Council passed the budget 6-3, enough votes to override the mayor's veto. Council independent Christopher Smitherman and Republicans Amy Murray and Wendell Young voted against it. Charterite Kevin Flynn voted for the measure, citing the question of abatements, but is generally against tax increases and could swing back.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said that in trying fiscal times, the city would be better off setting the rate slightly higher so it doesn't end up with a hole in its budget, citing a Cincinnati City Administration-forecast $14 million gap between expenditures and tax revenues next year.

Other Democrats on Council echoed that sentiment and challenged the notion that the tax budget they passed represented a "stealth tax increase." Councilman Chris Seelbach took to social media to dispute that characterization, which was echoed by a headline in The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The paper has since adjusted that headline, which read "Cranley Vetos Tax Hike." The headline now reads "Cranley Vetoes Property Tax Budget."

Council must pass a tax budget by Jan. 15 in order to be on track to pass its annual budget. One possible compromise: A budget that asks the Hamilton County Auditor to set the millage rate for the city at whatever level will generate the $28.9 million. The Auditor would then set that rate after gathering more data.
by Nick Swartsell 01.08.2016 138 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
yvette simpson

Morning News and Stuff

Could Simpson oppose Cranley in 2017?; Griffey will wear Mariners cap in HOF plaque; economy grows, wages do not

Good morning all. Here’s your news for this morning.

First, let's go to something we’ve been talking about here at CityBeat HQ for a little bit now: Who might oppose Mayor John Cranley in 2017? One of the top names on a lot of people's lips (and someone we’ve speculated might launch a campaign) over the past few months has been Democrat Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. This is kind of a non-news story, but Simpson has said she hasn’t ruled out that possibility. She gave the standard “I’m still focused on my current job” answer when asked by The Cincinnati Enquirer about the possibility but also said she would consider running against her fellow Democrat. Simpson and Cranley have vastly different styles and, at times, very different policy ideas. The two have butted heads often in Council, including over provisions for human services funding in the city’s budget process and former Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell’s firing last year.

• It’s official: The Hamilton County GOP has tapped Dennis Deters to fill the Hamilton County Commission seat vacated by outgoing commission head Greg Hartmann. The move has been widely expected since Deters, brother to Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, filed to run for that slot in the 2016 election. The county GOP named Deters as a temporary fill-in after Hartmann abruptly announced he would not seek reelection and then that he would step down early. The temporary gig gives Deters a better chance at landing the full-time job: He’ll have almost a year of incumbency when he faces off against Democrat State Rep. Denise Driehaus, who looks to be a formidable opponent.

• Well, how do you like that? This is the third day in a row I’ve written a blurb about Ken Griffey, Jr., who will be wearing a Seattle Mariners hat in his Hall of Fame plaque. Yes, yes, he spent more of his professional years there, I guess. And scored way more home runs and by every other statistic had his best years there. But come on. Dude went to high school in Cincinnati and played for years with the Reds — as did his dad Ken Griffey, Sr. The Griffey name is a Cincinnati name. Wait, his dad played for the Mariners, too? Ugh. Fine. Take him, Seattle. We have a bunch of Hall of Famers of our own, and we invented professional baseball anyway.

• So, extending the theme of surprisingly famous Cincinnatians I’ve drawn out over the past few days, let’s get one more in there before the weekend. Did you know that a Cincy attorney made the cover of the New York Times Magazine recently? And that Rob Bilot, who works for a law firm usually tasked with defending big corporations, is on that cover for aggressively pursuing one of the world’s largest, DuPont, over environmental damage its caused in West Virginia? The story is a very good read and worth a look.

• Here’s something kind of unusual: the Ohio Republican Party has voted to endorse Gov. John Kasich’s bid in the GOP presidential primary. That may seem like a no-brainer — Kasich is governor of the state, after all, and one of the state party’s most powerful members — but state-level parties usually stay neutral in primaries so they can support party voters’ choice of candidate better in the general election. Party officials say they’ve made the move because Kasich is popular in the state and has a strong conservative record. The nod could be a big boost for Kasich: Republicans desperately need Ohio to win the presidential election.

• Finally, this is the same story nearly every month, but here it is again: the U.S. economy added nearly 300,000 jobs in December. Things are going pretty well, employment level-wise, unless you’re a miner, in which case things are probably not going so well on a number of levels. Mining jobs were one of the few categories that saw losses. But it’s not all good news. Like past positive job gains, this one comes with the caveat that wages remain flat for U.S. workers. There were zero wage gains in the month of December, and pay for employees across the country rose just 2.5 percent in 2015 overall.

Annnnd I’m out. E-mail or tweet me story tips or the best gear/tricks for cold-weather bicycling. Also, give me a shout if you have thoughts about the Netflix docu-drama Making a Murderer. I have so many half-baked thoughts about that show.

by Nick Swartsell 01.07.2016 139 days ago
Posted In: News at 09:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati voter questions Cruz eligibility; MadTree expanding; Ohio education rank plummets

Good morning all. Here’s a very brief rundown of some big stories in the news today.

As we told you about yesterday, a law enforcement roundtable convened by Mayor John Cranley met in Bond Hill to discuss ways to reduce violence, especially gun violence, in Cincinnati neighborhoods. There were a few key takeaways from community leaders like Rev. Damon Lynch, Ozie Davis III, State Sen. Cecil Thomas and others. Some stressed the need to build off the city’s historic 2001 collaborative agreement, which sets community policing expectations and police accountability measures. Others pushed for juvenile justice reform, citing huge racial disparities in juvenile warrants issued by Hamilton County. Poverty was also highlighted as a key issue. There will be five community discussions around the issue of neighborhood violence throughout January and February.

• Yesterday, Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame with a record-setting percentage of voter in the process giving him the nod. Griffey received 99.3 percent of the votes from those responsible for choosing inductees, the highest of any player ever.

• Local beer purveyor MadTree brewery is expanding, moving into an $18 million brewery and taproom it is constructing in Oakley. That brewery will be at the old RockTenn Co. paper mill on Madison Road. On top of the 4,500-square-foot bar, they’ll also have a pizza restaurant on site. Omg. I wonder if they’ll let me live there.

• By now, you’ve probably heard of the militiamen who have taken over a wildlife refuge in Oregon in protest of the federal government and two ranchers who have been imprisoned for arson. But did you know there’s a Cincinnatian among the two dozen or so armed men involved in the standoff? Pete Santilli hosts a conservative online radio show here. Well, usually he does. These days he’s hunkered down with the group in Oregon and acting as a sort of spokesman for them. He recently posted a nearly hour-and-a-half-long video of the scene at the wildlife refuge. Cincinnati always finds its way into national news somehow, I guess.

• More Cincinnatians in national news:
Bill Sloat, a Hamilton County resident, former newspaper reporter (including freelance for CityBeat), has asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to verify that U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is eligible to run for president. The constitution stipulates that presidents must be naturalized U.S. citizens. Cruz was born in Canada, though his parents were citizens of the U.S. at the time, giving Cruz dual citizenship. Cruz renounced his Canadian citizenship before announcing he was running for president. But Sloat, who says he thinks Cruz probably is qualified to run for the top job, has asked Hamilton County to wade into the question before it puts him on the March 15 GOP primary ballot.

• Finally, well, there’s no good way to say this, so let’s just come out with it. Schools in Ohio plummeted in national rankings last year, going from fifth in the country to 23rd. Driving a lot of that drop? The state’s skyrocketing achievement gap between rich and poor students. Ohio ranks 43rd in the nation by that measure. Massachusetts ranked highest in the country in the rankings. Nevada was last.

by Nick Swartsell 01.06.2016 140 days ago
Posted In: News at 10:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Morning News and Stuff

Community policing round table convenes; Griffey poised to enter MLB HOF; Kasich in danger of being cut from GOP debate

Good morning y’all. There are tons of things going on in the news today, so let’s get right to it.

Mayor John Cranley is convening a community policing roundtable this morning in Bond Hill that will feature Cincinnati Police Department Chief Eliot Isaac, City Manager Harry Black and more than 20 community leaders. The effort comes as gun violence in communities continues to be a subject of great concern among city leaders. While violent crime in the city as a whole has remained flat, shootings in 2015 rose 28 percent over 2014 levels. While those numbers are still well below peak levels recorded in past decades, city officials say they’re unacceptable. The roundtable discussion starts at 10 a.m. at 1740 Langdon Farm Road. Five other community listening sessions will also be held over the next two months, including sessions Jan. 11 at the Over-the-Rhine Recreation Center, Jan. 25 at the Evanston Recreation Center, Feb. 1 at the Westwood Town Hall, Feb. 8 at the Bond Hill Community Center and Feb. 22 at the College Hill Community Center.

• As we mentioned yesterday, future riders of Cincinnati’s coming streetcar are one step closer to knowing what times they’ll be able to cruise the 3.6-mile loop. Cincinnati City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee yesterday approved hours suggested by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Agency, priming full Council to give final approval today. The cars will start at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays for you OTR/downtown commuters. They’ll end at 1 a.m. on weekends for you OTR/downtown drinkers. For more, check out the full story linked above.

• Speaking of the streetcar: The wise sage P-Diddy once said he couldn’t stop until he saw his name on a blimp. (Did that ever happen, btw? Can P-Diddy stop now?) Similarly, city leaders can’t stop until they see someone else’s name on the side of the streetcar. With the months ticking down until the first passengers step on board, the race is on to find sponsors willing to plunk down some big bucks to plant their logo on the side of the strange-looking space trains. A deal with a major corporation or other large organization could net the transit project’s operating fund between $100,000 and $300,000 a year. Hm. I wonder what Bad Boy Records marketing budget is running these days? Paging Puff…

• Maybe the political action committee supporting Cincinnati City Councilman and U.S. Senate hopeful P.G. Sittenfeld could buy some streetcar-mounted campaign ads. (This seems incredibly problematic, actually, but it’s a great segue so let’s go with it.) New Leadership for Ohio, a super-PAC boosting Sittenfeld’s Senate Democratic primary bid against former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, has raised a pretty impressive $733,501 over its 100-some-odd days of existence. The super-PAC says the number is a very real sign of the support Sittenfeld has across the state as he seeks the nod to go head-to-head with incumbent Republican Senator Rob Portman. Sittenfeld’s campaign and other groups like New Leadership will need to keep making phone calls, though. Portman has a cool $11 million stacked for his re-election campaign. That’s P-Diddy money right there.

• Expect social media blitzes and other ads to come from the super-PAC’s big haul, including ads hitting both Strickland and Portman on their gun control records. Sittenfeld has come out a strong supporter of gun control efforts, including those introduced by President Barack Obama yesterday

• This is a quick but good one. Hometown hero and baseball legend Ken Griffey, Jr. is poised to gain induction into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. What’s more, he could be the first-ever player to receive a unanimous vote for entry into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. (Fellow former Red Tom Seaver has come closest. He got 98 percent yesses on his induction vote.) All that in Griffey’s first year of eligibility — Griffey retired in 2010.

• Dang. Cincinnati people are super-famous and making prestigious lists all over the place: Two Cincinnati-based entrepreneurs just made Forbes magazine’s annual “30 under 30” list. Over-the-Rhine-based startup incubator Mortar founders Derrick Braziel and William Thomas received the honor for their work with the business booster, which focuses on helping those with good business ideas who have traditionally been left out of the startup game up. Mortar’s latest success: a holiday pop-up shop featuring participants’ products in Walnut Hills.

• Remember when your stoner friends were telling you that if you didn’t vote for ResponsibleOhio’s plan to legalize marijuana in the state, there would be no chance for a companion bill that wipes away low-level weed convictions? Well, that was some bad information, which is surprising because my stoner friends are generally very accurate and informed about the ins and outs of cannabis jurisprudence. 

Secretary of State Jon Husted has pushed the so-called “Fresh Start Act” offered along with ResponsibleOhio’s proposed constitutional amendment on to Ohio’s General Assembly, where lawmakers will decide whether or not to institute it. The law could allow citizens in Ohio to apply to have convictions for certain low-level marijuana possession expunged. It’s unclear whether lawmakers will pass the bill, or how effective it would be without its complementary weed-legalization constitutional amendment, though multiple groups are working to get another legalization effort on the ballot this year.

• Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is in danger of suffering a major blow to his already-lagging GOP presidential primary campaign. There are indications the big queso may not make it onto the grown-up stage at the next GOP debate next Thursday, which means he’ll be relegated to a second-tier debate with other low-polling candidates. That would be a huge setback: Kasich’s campaign at this point hinges on his breaking through to a national audience, which is most likely to happen with a few big moments in a solid debate performance. Right now, he’s trailing far behind highly charismatic and well-funded frontrunners like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and real estate hairpiece model Donald Trump.

by Nick Swartsell 01.05.2016
Posted In: News, Streetcar at 02:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Council Poised to Set Streetcar Hours

Transit project would run early during weekdays, stop before bars close

Though you’ll be waiting a while if you try to catch one any time soon, riders now have an idea of exactly what times they’ll be able to catch the coming streetcar when it starts picking up passengers in September.

Cincinnati City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee approved operating hours presented by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority at its Jan. 5 meeting. That sets up full Council to approve those hours as soon as Jan. 6.

The streetcar will run Monday through Thursday from 6:30 a.m. until midnight and from 6:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday. On Saturday, the cars will run the 3.6-mile loop through Over-the-Rhine and downtown from 8 a.m. until 1 a.m. On Sundays and holidays, the transit vehicles will run from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.

The cars will run every 12 minutes during peak operating hours, which SORTA suggests will be Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. All other times, the cars will run every 15 minutes.

“We tried to build a schedule that would address a lot of concerns” raised at past City Council meetings and in public forums, says SORTA’s director of rail services Paul Grether. Those concerns mostly revolved around consistent start times for the vehicles, hours early enough for commuters to get to work and late operating hours to serve patrons of bars and restaurants in OTR and downtown.

Earlier suggestions for operating hours started later and ended earlier, except on weekends, when it would have run until 2 a.m.

Council members on the committee seemed satisfied with the schedule.

“We’ve had people downtown from the bars and nightlife places who have said how they’d like it to stay open late,” Transportation Committee Chair Amy Murray said at the Jan. 5 meeting. “And we’ve also talked to early-morning businesses to see what time the peak morning time is. I think this really sets it up. It seems like this really captures what people have been asking for.”

SORTA officials say seasonal schedules are possible, if necessary, and that data will be collected to track ridership trends. Three or four times a year, the transit agency will decide whether hours need to be adjusted. Major changes in the schedule would require public hearings, but unless those changes shift the amount of money being spent, no federal approval is needed.  

“Our schedule really does depend on how the people of Cincinnati utilize the streetcar,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, the surprise swing vote who allowed the streetcar to go forward during a dramatic showdown between council and Mayor John Cranley in 2013. “The beauty of the contracts are that there is that flexibility. Once we see what the ridership numbers are, these times can be adjusted within reason.”

One thing riders shouldn’t count on — catching a ride on the streetcar after closing down the bar. Bars’ 2 a.m. closing time was a concern brought up by some in public hearings, but late-night partiers will have to take a cab or use a ride sharing service.

“This is not, for lack of a better word, a drunk bus,” Councilwoman Yvette Simspon said.

by Natalie Krebs 01.05.2016
Posted In: News at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Greater Cincinnati could see major development in 2016; SORTA to make recommendations for streetcar operating hours; Ohio's Democratic caucuses to meet tonight

Good morning, Cincinnati! Here are your morning headlines. 

• Change is coming this way, or so some say. Leaders of Madisonville say they hope 2016 could be the neighborhood's year for development. Some of the upcoming changes in the town include the opening of a restaurant and two apartments in the vacant FifthThird Building on Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue by the end of this month, and six new retailers are expected to open this spring. The Madisonville Urban Redevelopment Corp. has also hinted that more deals are possible to come this winter in terms of new apartments and retailers. 

• This is could also be a big year for the development of Cincinnati's brew trail in Over-The-Rhine. Construction of the first 2.3-mile leg of the trail is set to begin some time this year. Construction of the $5.2 million trail will take three years overall, and it will ultimately stretch from the Horseshoe Casino on Reading Road, down Liberty Street to McMicken Avenue. City officials are hoping upon completion that residents and tourists will be so inspired to grab lunch or a beer at one of the local businesses along the way as they stumble, er, walk down it. 

• An Over-The-Rhine-based real estate company has purchased the former Strietmann Biscuit Company Building and plans to renovate it into nearly 90,000 square feet of office space. Grandin Properties has purchased the more than 100-year-old building located on 12th Street and Central Parkway for $1.6 million and plans to spend between $12 and $15 million on renovations. The ultimate plan will include loft-style offices and very possibly room for another OTR restaurant. 

• SORTA plans to make its recommendation to city council's transportation committee today for the streetcar's hours of operation. The recommendations would have the streetcar commence operating at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. on Sunday. It would stop operating at 11 p.m. on Sundays, at midnight Monday through Thursday and 1 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday — one whole hour shy of bar closings. It would run every 15 minutes except during peak hours where that interval would be 12 minutes, with peak hours defined as 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

• The Cincinnati Streetcar looks ready to run some time this year after a very long political struggle. But the excitement over the arrival of the shiny, new cars might have made Northern Kentucky forget the headache its controversy causes many Cincinnatians. Covington Mayor Sherry Carran says her city is now looking at the possibility of a streetcar. The Covington Business Council is planning a panel discussion on the possibility of a streetcar on Jan. 21, which will feature councilman Chris Seelbach and former mayor Roxanne Qualls.  

• The settlement of a Duke Energy Class Action lawsuit could mean a little more money for some Cincinnatians this winter. Ohioans who were a Duke customer and Ohio homeowner or renter between 2005 and 2008 and received a card in the mail from "Williams vs. Duke Energy" could be eligible for at least $200 from the company. Duke recently lost the lawsuit that claimed the company overcharged customers, but it has still not admitted it did anything wrong. It did, however, agree to refund $80 million to some of its customers. 

• Tonight Ohio Democrats will hold caucuses in all 16 of Ohio's congressional districts to choose candidates, meaning Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, for delegate and alternate at this year's Democratic National Convention, which will begin on July 25 in Philadelphia. To find out more information on Southwest Ohio's Democratic caucus meetings for districts 1, 2 and 8, taking place tonight, click here. 

• The Obama administration is expected today to announced an executive action that includes a package with 10 provisions attempting to increase gun control in the U.S. Possibly the biggest change would require gun sellers on the Internet and at gun shows to obtain a license and conduct background checks, closing the long-debate gun show "loop hole." Obama also wants to dedicate $500 million in federal funds to the country's neglected mental health system. Republican members of Congress have already spoken out against Obama's plan, saying he's overstepped his reach. The executive actions comes in the wake of the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. on Dec. 2, which killed 14 people. The New York Times reports that gun sales have spiked in the wake of the California shooting and Obama's announcement.

• Where are the most cycle-friendly cities in the world? Well, according to London's Guardian, they're in places like Denmark and the Netherlands, not surprisingly. But keep scrolling down, and eventually Cincinnati gets mentioned. Since 2000, the city has seen a 350-percent increase in cyclists on the road, but it still falls way short when it comes to bike commuters, who represent only 1 percent of all commuters. Once we get past this cold weather, I can't wait to start being one of those few bike commuters again.

Email any story tips to nkrebs@citybeat.com.

by Natalie Krebs 01.04.2016
Posted In: News at 11:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Cincy to face many transportation issues in the new year; State hits six month mark for new prison drug treatment program; Kasich takes aim at Christie and Rubio

Happy New Year, Cincinnati! Hope everyone had a fun and safe kickoff to 2016. Here is your first round up of headlines this year. 

• So, 2016 will probably be the year of some exciting elections as we inch closer to November, but locally, Cincinnati faces many upcoming issues dealing with planes, trains, and automobiles. According to this Enquirer list, some major transportation issues to look out for include keeping an eye on the streetcar's operating deficit, figuring out who's going to spearhead the major task of repairing the western hills viaduct, watching CVG slowly and painfully turn into a multi-carrier airport and seeing if SORTA will push a transit tax proposal on this year's ballot. One issue absent from the list is a local non-profit's ambitious push to get more bike lanes in the city, and only time will tell how far that project will get by the end of this year. 

• The new year marks the six-month anniversary of a state program launched last summer to offer more drug addiction treatment options in Ohio's prisons. Last June, the state allocated $27.4 million in the budget to help pay for drug counselors to treat inmates with addiction issues three months before they are released. After they are released, they are eligible to sign up for Medicaid to help fund further treatment. The program is authorized to run through June of this year and is an attempt to reduce crime by taking away drugs as the motive for offenders with known addiction issues. Before the program launched last July, Ohio had released approximately 4,000 untreated inmates back out into the community who were either ineligible for treatment because they were serving less than six months or the programs were already full. Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has hopes to extend the program pending the legislature's approval of its funding in this upcoming year. 

• Gov. John Kasich started out this new year extending his attacks from Donald Trump to fellow GOP presidential candidates New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. During an interview with NBC News, Kasich claimed he has proven able to handle issues like taxes and jobs better than Christie, and said Rubio lacks experience. He even compared the one-term Senator to President Barack Obama, who was also a one-term Illinois Senator when he became president. Kasich, who is still hanging out at the bottom of polls, has stated throughout his campaign that he feels his years of experience have been overlooked. 

• Maybe 2016 will finally be the year of a total revolution in the United States. Or so the Bundy militia in Oregon hopes. The group is in its second day of occupying the federal buildings on the Malheur National Wildlife refuge in Harney County, Oregon, claiming that the feds took the land unconstitutionally in the early 1900s. The militia apparently came out to help two ranchers who are headed to prison for arson, but they were rejected by those they came to aid so they turned to reclaim the refuge instead. According to the Guardian, Harney County Sheriff David Ward isn't buying their claim that they came to support the two convicted arsonists. He believes they're trying to spark a revolution across the country.

Send me any story tips or last minute New Years resolutions to add to my growing list to nkrebs@citybeat.com.
by Natalie Krebs 12.31.2015
Posted In: News at 10:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Bevin plans to reform Kentucky Medicaid; Kasich gets new billionaire supporter; Cities worldwide increase security for New Year's Eve

Happy New Year, Cincy! Here are your final morning headlines of 2015. 

• It hasn't quite hit 2016 yet, but new Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin is already thinking ahead to 2017. The Republican governor has said that he plans to transform the state's Medicaid plan, which will take effect in January 2017 and will affect the approximately 1.3 million people who earn less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Gov. Bevin says he's not quite sure what the plan will be yet and has enlisted a team of experts to help develop it, but hopes it will be something like Indiana's — complete with tiers of coverage, cancellation policies for people who have missed payments, premiums and co-pays. 

• Meanwhile, Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is still a GOP presidential candidate, has gotten the support of a former Bill Clinton billionaire donor. Billionaire investor Ron Burkle, who is worth approximately $1.58 billion and has mostly supported Democrats in the past, is scheduled to host a Jan. 12 fundraiser for Kasich at the Soho House in Los Angeles. Burkle, who made most of his money through grocery-chain investments, was also a supporter of Bill Clinton when he ran for president, and apparently maintained a close relationship after with the former president. Burkle also gave money to the Hilary Clinton 2000 Senate campaign and her first unsuccessful 2008 campaign for presidency. 

• While I'm on the topic of billionaires, the rise in the split in wealth has been an ongoing hot topic this past year. To end out the year, The New York Times has published a story on the ways that the country's wealthiest avoid paying taxes. The country's tax rate on the wealthiest has slipped in the last decade. Twenty years ago, the top 400 earners paid 27 percent of their income in taxes. Now, that rate is less than 17 percent for a group that earns on average $336 million a year. It's a pretty interesting read that will also unfortunately make you feel very, very poor. 

• I moved to Cincinnati from Texas in the middle of 2015, and while I've enjoyed much of the city's German-inspired cuisine, some days I'd kill for a good taco. But that's just my opinion. So how does Ohio's food scene rank in comparison to the rest of the country's? Well, website Thrillist puts Ohio, home to White Castle, Wendy's and Skyline Chili, at number 28 — right in the middle. Kentucky with its bourbon-infused dishes right across the river came in at ninth, but at least we beat Indiana, whose apparent love of chain restaurants earned them the spot of number 41 on the list. But California tops the list — with Texas and its glorious world of tacos and barbecue, coming in second. 

• In the post-Paris attacks world, cities everywhere are tightening their security on New Year's Eve. Brussels cancelled its celebrations while Paris cancelled fireworks. New York City will put 6,000 officers, including 500 specially trained in terrorist attacks, in Times Square to monitor the expected crowd of 1 million.  

Be safe tonight, Cincinnati, and see you next year!
by Nick Swartsell 12.30.2015
Posted In: News at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

We've Got You Covered

A look back at some of CityBeat's favorite news features from 2015

CityBeat's news team has been all over the map this year. In the past 365 days, we've delved deep into college athletic funding, the experiences of refugee families in Cincinnati, new community ownership models for neighborhood grocery stores and any number of other issues.

Often, we’ve covered stories no other media outlet in Cincinnati thought to. Hopefully you enjoyed it. Here are some of our most unique news stories this year. 

Despite new development, Cincinnati is still a deeply segregated place.

Our story detailing the long history that has kept large portions of Cincinnati’s African-American population in low-income neighborhoods explored why many in our city struggle to access economic opportunity.

In the past year, intense tensions around race in America have re-emerged, sparking protests, civil unrest and reams of media coverage. But underneath issues around law enforcement’s role in black communities lie other problems. A pervasive and historically entrenched economic segregation in predominantly black neighborhoods continues to seal off many Cincinnatians, creating desperation and setting up extra barriers for residents of those communities. This lack of opportunity also informs the city’s much-publicized recent upswing in gun violence, its sky-high infant-mortality rate and a host of other problems.

City officials, neighborhood activists and experts have all offered ideas to alleviate this segregation, but it’s clear a complex, long-term and multi-faceted set of solutions is needed to improve the prospects of black Cincinnatians. 

UC officials approved an $86 million renovation of Nippert Stadium in 2013 despite unanimous opposition from the Faculty Senate, which recommended using Paul Brown Stadium for home football games. Work was completed this summer. Photo: Jesse Fox

UC students come for education, but their fees go to sports

Over the past decade, University of Cincinnati leaders have used student fees and tuition to cover a nearly five-fold increase in the university’s athletic department’s annual deficit while cutting academic spending per student by almost 25 percent.

In 2013, UC officials provided the athletic department with a $21.75 million subsidy, records show, using student fees and money from the school’s general fund, which is primarily funded by tuition. The total subsidy amounts to $1,024 out of the pocket of every full-time undergraduate student on UC’s main campus. The four-year price tag costs each student more than $4,000.

The situation at the University of Cincinnati is not unique. An investigation by a UC investigative journalism class, which was published by CityBeat, looked into the eight largest public universities in Ohio in the Football Bowl Subdivision, finding that with one exception, college administrators and trustees impose hidden fees and invisible taxes on thousands of working-class students who pay tens of millions of dollars in subsidies to keep money-losing athletic departments afloat.

Many of these same schools are cutting faculty jobs and slashing academic spending. Between 2005 and 2013, academic spending per full-time undergraduate student at UC, adjusted for inflation, dropped 24 percent, according to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a national group of current and former college presidents seeking to reform college athletics using research studies and, more recently, online databases. 

Are cooperative groceries the future in Cincinnati?

Cooperatively owned groceries are uncommon in Cincinnati, but over the past few years, the concept — a business owned and controlled by the people who work and shop there, instead of a large chain or local corporation — has started to gain steam here. The model has existed, and even thrived, elsewhere for years. Interest in co-ops has seen a big revival in the last decade as well, specifically as an alternative to big-box chain stores like Walmart. Unlike chains, supporters say, co-ops keep their profits in the community and allow for local input.

The increasing interest in this alternate model comes partly from necessity — neighborhoods like Clifton and Northside are popular places underserved by grocery stores, and the industry is only getting more difficult for those with more traditional business models in mind.

But even with the big efforts and big visions of nascent co-ops like Apple Street Market and Clifton Market, questions linger. The excitement for an alternative grocery model has reached a high point, but there are also a number of voices questioning if co-ops will work in a challenging grocery market.

Local efforts like Clifton Market have made strides, securing funding and setting construction dates. Despite doubts, Cincinnati’s age of the co-op might be around the corner. 

This building on Walnut Street, now called Branderyhaus, once housed Reginald Stroud’s karate studio and convenience store. Developers say tenants were relocated because the building needed major improvements.
Photo: Nick Swartsell

As Over-the-Rhine changes, some long-time residents find themselves forced to leave

Many have trumpeted the changes happening in Over-the-Rhine, a quickly redeveloping but historically low-income, predominantly black neighborhood. But for former residents like Reginald Stroud, who ran a convenience store and karate studio in a building on Walnut Street he lived in with his family, that redevelopment has led to some bitter realities. Stroud was forced to move to Northside this year after the building was redeveloped.

Recent Census data suggests that Stroud isn’t the only one departing OTR. The area’s demographic makeup seems to be changing in parts of the neighborhood that have seen large-scale redevelopment.  

Development in OTR has, until recently, been limited to the southern part of neighborhood, where the building Stroud lived in is located. Those efforts have changed the economic, and perhaps the racial, makeup of the area.

Developers and city officials say diversity is a key concern as OTR continues to change. And work is underway in other neighborhoods like Northside to find ways to encourage equitable economic development. But for former OTR residents like Stroud, those assurances provide little comfort.

UC suspends its campus sexual assault program, even as sexual assault continues to be a national issue

As University of Cincinnati students began filing onto campus to start classes this fall, a battle was raging over a program run by the UC Women’s Center designed to aid sexual assault survivors.
The debate — signaled by public meetings, a protest and a flurry of social media posts — centered around the role of the RECLAIM Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate Program. A round of training for the program was suspended this fall, causing concern among students.

RECLAIM participants say they were just a few days away from beginning the necessary 40-hour intensive training for the program, which offers sexual assault counseling and prevention strategies, when they received an email in early August from the Women’s Center stating that the training was cancelled.

Advocates say RECLAIM can’t exist without yearly training. UC says the program will continue, but as the university works to reschedule training, it has remained in flux.

A baptism at St. Leo Photo: Nick Swartsell

Refugees in Cincinnati find hardships in neglected neighborhoods, but also build community

Iraqi refugee Oday Kadhimand his family came to the United States a year ago after an arduous four-year wait and settled in Millvale. That neighborhood and its surrounding communities are part of the unseen Cincinnati, an area that houses many of the city’s more than 90,000 residents living below the federal poverty line. 

The neighborhood is also one of the city’s most violent, struggling with drug activity, shootings, break-ins and murders. For families like Kadhim’s, the violence is an echo of the very strife they’ve come here to escape.

Kadhim and his family aren’t the only ones who struggle with the neighborhood’s challenges. Two-hundred Burundian refugees have ended up there in the last decade, plus others who have arrived more recently. The total number of refugees in the neighborhood is unclear — even the organizations helping refugees get acclimated don’t keep long-term statistics — but it’s clear they’re a big presence there, and often a positive one.

Dozens of the refugees living in this often-ignored corner of the city have found unique and vibrant ways to build community, helping to energize a 125-year-old church just down the road in North Fairmount. Some see their presence as hope that the area can rise again. 

But for many like Kadhim, the neighborhood’s danger, isolation and poverty remain obstacles to achieving the dreams of peace and prosperity they believed they could find in the U.S.

A new court helps those who have been sex-trafficked start over

When Caroline (whose name CityBeat changed to protect her identity) came out as transgender during high school, her mother asked that she leave her house and neighborhood in Northern Kentucky. That rejection started a long, harrowing journey through sex trafficking and addiction from which it took Caroline years to recover. Now, a new court has helped her erase a criminal record she never should have had in the first place.

Caroline’s transgender status was part of her vulnerability. Her pimps worked a whole group of transgender women, playing on their insecurities and search for acceptance. She describes how traffickers would brand them — burning them with cigarettes or hot clothes hangers. Caroline suffered beatings and also mental and emotional abuse. Then there was the danger from the johns.

Two murders of transgender women in the past few years illustrate the dangers Caroline once faced. Twenty-eight-year-old Tiffany Edwards was killed in Walnut Hills in June 2014, and Kendall Hampton died there at age 26 in August 2012. Police suspect both were engaged in sex work at the time they died. Both, like Caroline, were women of color.

The CHANGE Court, presided over by Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Heather Russell, will give those like Caroline a chance to expunge convictions for acts done under the duress of sex trafficking. The court is part of a wider shift in attitudes away from viewing sex trafficked individuals as criminals. Social service and law enforcement agencies are increasingly seeing them as victims in need of help.

The court’s focus will go beyond folks like Caroline, who have already triumphed over the horrors of sex trafficking,  providing a road out of the world of coerced sex work for those who have yet to escape.

Two immigrant laborers working on a Warren County job site Photo: Mike Brown

Immigrant workers victimized by wage theft fight back

Imagine you work hard to put food on the table, but your employer isn’t paying you when it say it will — or at all. Now imagine you can’t take easily report it or take the employer to court.

Because employers capitalize on their fear of being deported, undocumented immigrant workers are frequently victims of wage theft, whether it’s being paid less than minimum wage, shorted hours, forced to work off the clock, not being paid overtime or not paid at all.

From 2005 through 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor collected more than $6.5 million in unpaid wages from Ohio construction companies for workers who were cheated out of minimum wage, overtime pay or the regional prevailing wages required for public projects. Some 5,500 workers were affected, but how many were undocumented immigrants wasn’t recorded by the agency. The $6.5 million collected by labor officials for all workers is likely only a fraction of the actual wage theft in the industry, union officials say.

What’s needed, according to those officials, is the political will to adequately staff state and federal enforcement agencies so they can find violators without waiting for complainants to step forward. Ohio’s Bureau of Wage and Hour Administration, which enforces wage laws on public projects as well as minimum wage requirements and pay to minors, has just six investigators and one supervisor to cover the entire state.

Enforcing wage and hour laws is seen as “anti-business” among Ohio employers, chambers of commerce and its Republican-dominated government, some watchdog groups say, meaning that changing the situation seems a daunting political challenge.

Ice Cream Factory in Brighton Photo: Scott Beseler

Alternative spaces are changing and evolving in Cincinnati

The DIY ethos in Cincinnati is alive and well, though where and how under-the-radar spaces operate is in flux.

The city has been a surprising hotbed for self-funded, not-for-profit art, music and party spaces, which exist in a twilight world just beyond the economic, regulatory and social rules that usually bound more traditional, for-profit entertainment venues. They’ve been aided by the low rents and lax oversight often found in the city’s more neglected corners and by a community of people looking for something outside the norm. And proponents of these under-the-radar venues say they’re important for more than just a few boundary-pushing art shows.

Many say these venues have given otherwise-unavailable opportunities to generations of Cincinnati artists and musicians. What’s more, urban experts say, such DIY spaces are good for the social health of cities. But as interest in urban living continues to take hold in Cincinnati and those once-neglected pockets of the city attract the gaze of developers, the future of these unique places has become uncertain.

by Natalie Krebs 12.30.2015
Posted In: News at 11:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

More than 100 people march in Cincy to protest Tamir Rice decision; Suburbanites lead votes against failed marijuana reform; Cincy ranks as top beer-loving city

Good morning Cincy! Here are your morning headlines.  

• A rally and march in Cincinnati last night drew more than 100 people protesting a Cuyahoga grand jury decision not to indict officers in the Cleveland police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The event drew a diverse group of activists and speakers from Black Lives Matter Cincinnati, local unions and workers’ rights advocates, representatives from Cincinnati’s Islamic community, the Cincinnati Radical Feminist Collective and others. The rally began at Findlay Park in Over-the-Rhine followed by a march to Cincinnati Police Department District 1 headquarters in the West End. Attendees brought toys to symbolize Christmas gifts Rice was not able to receive this year due to his death. Those toys will be distributed to disadvantaged children in the community, BLM organizer Brian Taylor said.  
Earlier this week, a grand jury declined to bring charges against officers involved in Rice’s Nov. 2014 death, a move which has sparked outrage from Rice’s family and anti-police violence activists across the country. In Cincinnati, march organizers released a list of demands aimed at Cuyahoga County, including the firing of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, a reopening of the Rice case against officer Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback, an indictment for those officers, and a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the shooting. At the rally and march in Cincinnati, activists also drew parallels to the July police shooting of Samuel DuBose, a black motorist killed by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. Tensing was charged with murder for that shooting, but has yet to stand trial. 

• The U.S. Department of Justice announced earlier this month that they will be suspending the equitable sharing program that allows police to keep a large chunk of money and property seized from individuals. Local law enforcement will still be allowed to do it, but they will no longer be able to keep up to 80 percent of it. The program is controversial because police are able to keep property from those who are never actually charged with a crime like Charles Clark II, who now famously had $11,000 in cash seized by police at the CVG airport in February of 2014. CPD says they use the reportedly received $1.1 million they received from the program between 2010 and the middle of 2015 to pay for outside training for their police force, but non-profits like Washington D.C.-based Institute of Justice say the current program is problematic because it's become a money grab for law enforcement. 

• Who exactly voted against ResponsibleOhio's failed attempt at marijuana reform this past election? According to an analysis by Mike Dawson, a Columbus-based election statistics expert, well-to-do suburbanites represented the group with the highest amount of opponents to the measure. Nearly 70 percent of voters in the suburbs of Toledo and Columbus voted against it, while 60 percent of Dayton, Cleveland and Cincinnati suburbanites opposed it. Urban voters favored the legalization 5 percentage points more. While many opposed Issue 3 because it limited the growth of marijuana to just 10 commercial farms, Dawson told the Associated Press that suburbanites also fear that marijuana will be a gateway drug in their communities. 

• Cincinnati ranks as one of the best cities in the U.S. for beer drinkers. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time in this city with its many breweries, beer-centered bars and massive Oktoberfest that rivals Munich, but the website SmartAsset ranked Cincy as number 10 in the U.S. It beat out Columbus and Cleveland in the ranking, having 14 breweries and 4.7 microbreweries per 100,000 people. With the average beer costing a mere $3 a pint, I'll drink to that.