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by German Lopez 03.08.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Parking, City Council, Budget at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
downtown grocery

Parking Plan Remains in Limbo

Case moved back to common pleas court, hearing set for March 15

The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.

“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.

The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”

The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum. 

In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”

The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.

“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”

CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 03.01.2013
 
 
news_chris_seelbach

Seelbach Announces "Plan S" Budget Alternative

Third proposal would include ballot amendments, $5 million in spending cuts

City Councilmember Chris Seelbach this afternoon released a third alternative to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.'s budget plans, both of which have received negative feedback from the public.

Like Dohoney's "Plan B" (read about that here), Plan S would not lease the city's parking system to a private operator, a solution that citizens and officials are concerned would cause parking rates to skyrocket and ultimately not serve as a sustainable solution to the city's budget problems.

Instead, Plan S would involve redirecting $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the city's $25 million deficit, $5 million in spending cuts based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.

Plan S is Seelbach's alternative to Dohoney's Plan B, which also does not privatize parking. Under Plan B, the city would be forced to lay off 344 public employees, including 80 firefighters and 189 police positions, and close three community centers and six pools.

Instead, the $5 million in spending cuts would include reductions to city administrative services, council and the mayor’s office, some recreation and health programs and consolidation of some police and fire services. It would also freeze 20 vacant city positions and reduce car allowances for city employees. Seelbach says he determined who would suffer these cuts by exploring city services citizens valued least during last fall's Priority-Driven Budget Initiative.

If council were to approve pursuing Seelbach's Plan S, there's a possibility it could send the city back to the drawing board, should voters choose not to approve the proposed charter amendments.

"To me it seems like the public is overwhelmingly against parking, but we still have to balance our budget. ... I'm providing the public an alternative. If [the charter amendments are] something the voters would reject, I respect that and then we’d have to go back to the table and either do the leasing of parking or layoff 300 police and fire officers," Seelbach says.

The parking plan is expected to be voted on during the Budget and Finance Committee's meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 4.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.21.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Governor, Budget, Economy, Taxes at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Rush to rent underway, sales tax plan criticized, city's retirement system beats projections

A new report found “renters by choice” — those who can afford to own a house but choose not to — and people returning to the market in the Great Recession’s aftermath may be driving a rush to rent in Cincinnati, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer. The report from CB Richard Ellis found the average apartment occupancy rate was 93.6 percent in 2012, underscoring the need for new apartments in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. News of the report came just one day after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. announced his parking plan, which will add 300 luxury apartments to Downtown.

Gov. John Kasich and Ohio legislators are getting some bad feedback on the governor’s plan to broaden the sales tax, reports Gongwer. Numbers from Policy Matters Ohio found the sales tax plan would outweigh sales and income tax cuts for the lower classes, but won’t be enough to dent tax savings for the wealthiest Ohioans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in detail here.

Not much new information came from a special City Council meeting last night that covered Cincinnati’s public retirement system, reports WVXU. The one piece of new information was that preliminary numbers show Cincinnati's Retirement System had an 11.9 percent return on its investments in 2012 — higher than the 7.5 percent that was originally projected.

Mayor Mark Mallory is using his plan to lower Cincinnati’s infant mortality rate to try to win the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. Mallory’s proposal would create an Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which allows pregnant women to enroll in First Steps, a care program that maintains a secure database of new mothers and monitors pregnancies, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. The program could be especially helpful in Cincinnati, which has a higher infant mortality rate than the national average. The Bloomberg challenge pits mayors around the country against each other to win $5 million or one of four $1 million prizes for their programs aimed at solving urban problems and improving city life. With Mallory’s program, Cincinnati is one of 20 finalists in the competition. Fans can vote on their favorite program at The Huffington Post.

A local nun may have committed voter fraud, reports WCPO. Rose Marie Hewitt, the nun in question, died Oct. 4, but the Hamilton County Board of Elections still received a ballot from her after she died. Hewitt apparently filed for an absentee ballot on Sept. 11 — less than one month before she died. In a letter to Board of Elections director Tim Burke, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters wrote there’s enough probable cause to believe criminal activity occurred.

In 2012, 88,068 new entities filed to do business in the state — making the year the best ever for new state filings, according to Secretary of State Jon Husted.

A new bill in the Ohio legislature that allows poll workers to help blind, disabled and illiterate voters file their ballots is getting widespread support, but another bill that makes it more difficult to get issues on the ballot is getting a stern look from Democrats, reports Gongwer.

Think your landlord is bad? An Ohio landlord allegedly whipped a late-paying tenant, reports The Associated Press.

The University of Cincinnati surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal for the Proudly Cincinnati campaign, reports the Business Courier.

President Barack Obama is coming back to Ohio to give the commencement speech at Ohio State University, reports the Business Courier.

Donald Trump is threatening Macy’s protesters with a lawsuit because they want the Cincinnati-based retailer to cut ties with Trump, who is currently contracted as a spokesperson, reports the Business Courier.

Popular Science has seven reasons coffee is good for you.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.19.2013
Posted In: Parking, News, Privatization, Government, City Council at 06:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan

Dohoney touts “public-public partnership”

In a presentation to City Council Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled an unexpected parking proposal that will solve a $25.8 million budget deficit for the 2014 fiscal year and avoid full privatization. The 30-year plan will also put more than $100 million toward economic development in the city.

The plan involves teaming up with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and some private operators to manage and modernize Cincinnati’s parking assets. Dohoney called it a “public-public partnership” that will allow Cincinnati to keep control over rates, operation hours and the placement of meters.

The money raised by the plan will be used for multiple development projects around the city, including the I-71/MLK Interchange, Tower Place Mall and a high-rise that will house a downtown grocery store.

The new parking plan will cap rate increases at 3 percent or the cost of living, with any increases coming in 25-cent increments. Private operators will not be allowed to change operation hours, but hours will be initially expanded to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods.

The proposal will not immediately increase downtown’s $2-an-hour rates, but it will increase all neighborhood parking meters to 75 cents an hour. Afterward, the rate cap will make it so downtown rates can only be increased every four years and neighborhood rates can only be increased every 10 to 11 years.

But the rate hikes will only come after technological improvements are made to parking meters. The new meters will allow users to pay with a smartphone, which will enable remote payment without walking back to the meter. After the plan’s 30 years are up, parking assets will be returned to the city with all the new technological upgrades, according to Dohoney.

Some critics were originally concerned that private operators will aggressively enforce parking rules to run bigger profits, but Dohoney said enforcement standards will remain the same.

Enforcement will be done through booting instead of towing, according to the plan. Booting will only be used after the accumulation of three unpaid parking tickets, which is similar to how towing works today. The boots will be automatically removed once the tickets are paid, which will be possible to do remotely through a smartphone.

The plan, which is a tax-exempt bond deal, will provide the city with $92 million upfront cash and $3 million in annual installments after that, although the city manager said the yearly payments will increase over time. The city originally promised $7 million a year from the deal, but Dohoney said estimates had to be brought down as more standards and limitations were attached to address expressed concerns.

The money will first be used to pay for a $25.8 million deficit in the 2014 fiscal year. Another $6.3 million will be set aside for the working cap reserve and $20.9 million will be put in a reserve to pay for a projected deficit in the 2015 fiscal year.

The rest of the funds will be used for economic development. About $20 million will go to the I-71/MLK Interchange, which would match $40 million from the state. The project is estimated to create $750 million in economic impact, with $460 million of that impact in Hamilton County. Dohoney says the economic impact will create 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, and ultimately bring in $33 million in earnings taxes, which means the plan will eventually pay for itself. He also says the funding from the parking deal will allow the city and state to complete the project within two to three years, instead of the seven to 10 years it would take if the city waited for support from the federal government.

If the state does not agree to take up the I-71/MLK Interchange project, Dohoney promised a “mega job deal” that will create 2,500 jobs.

With $12 million for development and $82 million in leveraged funds, the city will also take on massive development projects downtown. Tower Place Mall will undergo a massive conversion. The city will also tear down Pogue’s Garage at Fourth and Race streets and replace it with a 30-floor high-rise that will include 300 luxury apartments, 1,000 parking spaces and a grocery store.

The plan will also use $3 million for the Wasson Line right-of-way and $4 million for the next phase of Smale Riverfront Park, which should be completed in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim will partner with the city and Port Authority for the plan. AEW will manage assets, Xerox will handle parking operations and on-street spaces, Denison will operate off-street spaces and manage facilities and equipment and Guggenheim will act as underwriter and capital provider.

After the City Council hearing, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement that raised concerns about expanded meter operation hours, which Sittenfeld fears could burden certain neighborhoods. He also pointed out the plan will not fix Cincinnati’s long-term structural deficit problems. Still, he said the local Port Authority’s management could make the plan “worthy of support.” 

Sittenfeld has been skeptical of the parking plan since it was first announced in October. In the past, he warned privatization could cause parking rates to skyrocket. ©

 
 
by German Lopez 02.19.2013
Posted In: News, Governor, Economy, Budget, Taxes, Education, City Council at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

State of the State today, Ohio's next superintendent, fire safety legislation underway

Gov. John Kasich will give his State of the State address today in Lima, where he is expected to cover his budget plan, jobs and tax reform. It will air live at The Ohio Channel at 6:30 p.m. During his last State of the State speech, the governor lacked focus, imitated a Parkinson’s patient and called Californians “wackadoodles,” leading outlets like The Hill to call the speech “bizarre.”

The next state superintendent of public instruction could be Richard Ross, Gov. John Kasich’s education policy adviser, or acting superintendent Michael Sawyers, according to StateImpact Ohio. Ross apparently has Kasich’s support, making him a favorite. Stan Heffner, the previous state superintendent, was forced to resign after misusing state resources.

New legislation will be introduced by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld to City Council today to require all rental properties to be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors. The photoelectric detectors have better protection against smoldering, smoky fires, which cause more fatalities than the flaming, fast-moving fires picked up by ionization form of detectors, according to the vice mayor’s office. Qualls and Sittenfeld are introducing the legislation after hearing stories from Dean Dennis and Doug Turnbull of Fathers for Fire Safety, who both lost children to house fires.

The Horseshoe Casino’s parking plan was revealed yesterday, reports WVXU. Parking will be free for guests on opening day from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It will also remain free on weekends. Weekday parking will be free for guests who play slots or table games for 30 minutes, play an hour of poker or spend at least $25 in a restaurant or gift shop. Otherwise, parking will cost $1 for the first hour, up to a daily maximum of $14.

Restaurants around the country are discovering that fewer calories brings better health and business, according to Dayton Daily News.

Ohio gas prices are continuing their movement up, according to the Associated Press.

Glass was found in Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries cereal, prompting a recall, reports WCPO.

Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked yesterday, which raises all-important questions: How did anyone notice? Why are people following fast food chains on Twitter?

Popular Science has an in-depth report on how neuroscience will allow scientists to rewire the brain to battle seizures, dementia, blindness, paralysis and deafness.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.18.2013
Posted In: City Council, News, Democrats at 03:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
qualls

Qualls, Sittenfeld to Introduce Fire Safety Legislation

Council members want photoelectric detectors in every rental property

New legislation will be introduced by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Feb. 19 to require all rental properties to be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors.

Photoelectric detectors are supported by fire safety advocates because they better detect smoldering, smoky fires. According to the vice mayor’s office, these kinds of fires have been linked to more fatalities than the flaming, fast-moving fires picked up by the more traditional ionization smoke detectors.

The ionization detectors also pose another risk: They are often set off by cooking fumes, leading many homeowners and tenants to simply pull out the batteries to turn the detectors off. In some cases, people forget to put the batteries back in, putting them at greater risk of a fatal fire.

Ionization detectors are more common in homes because they are typically cheaper. Their ability to pick up fast-moving fires also makes them better suited for catching fires that can spread more quickly.

Qualls and Sittenfeld are introducing the legislation after hearing stories from Dean Dennis and Doug Turnbull of Fathers for Fire Safety, who both lost children to house fires. “After meeting with Dean and Doug, hearing their story and learning more about photoelectric alarms, we knew we had to do something locally to better protect citizens,” Qualls and Sittenfeld said in a joint statement.

The legislation has been endorsed by the Cincinnati Real Estate Investors Association and the Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Apartment Association. Representatives from both organizations will join Qualls, Sittenfeld, Dennis, Turnbull and Fire Chief Richard Braun in a press release unveiling the legislation at 10 a.m. on Feb. 19. 

The National Fire Protection Association recommends the use of both kinds of detectors. Hybrid detectors with both photoelectric and ionization technologies can be purchased, but they are more expensive than their individual counterparts.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.14.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, News, Environment, Energy, City Council at 04:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_chris_seelbach

City Pushes Energy Efficiency Standards

Council resolution embraces Cincinnati’s past clean energy successes

With a resolution passed Wednesday, City Council is urging state legislators to maintain the energy efficiency standards that helped drive Cincinnati’s clean energy growth.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the Public Utilities Committee, sent out a memo Feb. 1 that suggested “a meaningful review” of the state’s energy efficiency standards, which were previously established by Senate Bill 221 in 2008 and Senate Bill 315 in 2012. In the memo, Seitz wrote he was open to freezing and weakening some of the established standards.

Environmental groups responded by calling on local governments to defend the standards. In Cincinnati, the call was picked up by Councilman Chris Seelbach, who touted the city’s past clean energy efforts in a statement: “Cincinnati has made great strides in energy efficiency by seeking cost savings while boosting our city’s green image. Energy efficiency is helping Cincinnati support a double bottom line of environmental and economic sustainability, and we endorse full implementation of our state efficiency law.”

The city estimates it saves $1 million a year on energy bills because of the law’s efficiency programs, which includes upgrades and weatherization projects.

Christian Adams, a clean energy associate of Environment Ohio, praised Cincinnati for passing the resolution in a statement: From efficiency to solar, Cincinnati [is] a state leader on clean energy, and it’s proving to be a win-win-win for consumers, the environment and the economy. If state lawmakers want to change our clean energy law, they should follow Cincinnati’s lead and double-down on wind, solar and energy efficiency.”

In a previous report, Environment Ohio claimed Cincinnati could become the solar energy capital of the region. CityBeat covered the report and Cincinnati’s — particularly the Cincinnati Zoo’s — success with solar energy (“Solar Cincinnati,” issue of Dec. 19).

 
 
by German Lopez 12.20.2012
 
 
mikedewine

Morning News and Stuff

DeWine calls for school staff training, Music Hall to be leased, bus money not for streetcar

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is proposing training school staff and teachers to be first responders in the case of an attack. The news comes in the wake of the massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which caused the deaths of 20 children and six adults. CityBeat proposed its own solution in this week’s commentary: Make this time different by focusing on mental health services and gun control.

Cincinnati will lease Music Hall for 75 years to the Music Hall Revitalization Company (MHRC). The lease is part of a plan to renovate the iconic building to include more comfortable seating, extra restroom capacity, heating, air conditioning, improved plumbing and new escalator models. During the renovations, Music Hall will be closed for 17 months.

City Council passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money for the streetcar. The supposed conflict between the city of Cincinnati and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is being drummed up by the media, but it’s really much ado about nothing. 

Metropolitan Sewer District rates will go up by 5 percent in early 2013.

The Cincinnati Health Department is pushing recommendations from a lead hazard study. The recommendations would prohibit lead-based paint hazards and require all properties to be free of lead-based paint, dust and soil. City Council is asking the health department to carry out the regulations, and it expects from a plan and timetable from regulators within 60 days. One study found getting rid of lead would do wonders for school performance

A Brookings Institute ranking placed Greater Cincinnati among the worst areas in the country due to falling home prices.

Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank agreed to a $16 million settlement in a securities fraud case. The four-year-old lawsuit was brought in the onset of 2008’s financial crisis, when the bank’s stock plummeted as it took several large writedowns.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino still needs to fill 450 positions in food and beverage, marketing, finance, security and more. A Washington Post analysis found casinos tend to bring jobs, but they also bring crime, bankruptcy and even suicide.

As expected, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is helping Ohio’s economy. The state has 39,000 jobs attached to oil and gas this year, and the number is expected to triple by the end of the decade. To take advantage of the boom, Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he will push his oil-and-gas severance tax in 2013. But the plan faces opposition from liberals and conservatives.

If Ohio Republicans tried to push “right-to-work” legislation, it would lead to a very nasty public fight, The Plain Dealer reports. Kasich and Republican lawmakers didn’t rule out using ballot initiatives to push conservative ideas like right-to-work in a press conference yesterday, but he did say he’s like a horse with blinders on, focusing on job creation.

The animal and robot takeover have been merged in the BigDog robot. It can now obey voice commands, follow and roll over.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.19.2012
 
 
bus

Council Passes SORTA Resolution, Budget

Resolution promises no bus funds used on streetcar

In hopes of quashing rumors, City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit authority had voted Tuesday on an agreement with the city that contained a provision saying money from the $42 million transit fund that pays for bus operation can’t be used on the streetcar.

The agreement needs to be signed by the city as well in order to release millions of dollars in federal grants to help fund the streetcar. The city has pledged to match those grants with local funds. SORTA wants to make sure the transit fund isn’t used for that purpose, but the city wants to have the freedom to use that money on any transportation project.

At least one council member questioned the necessity of passing the resolution.

Chris Seelbach said that nobody on council or in the city administration had proposed or would propose using transit money on the streetcar.

“I don’t understand why we would need a provision in any contract that would make us not be able to, when nobody’s proposing that we do it,” he said.

The resolution has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar, but Qualls said she hoped it put citizens’ minds at rest regarding their intentions.

Mayor Mark Mallory on Monday published an editorial in The Enquirer promising that the transit money wouldn’t be used for the streetcar.

He went further on Wednesday and said during council’s meeting that he as mayor would never approve the use of transit money for the operation of the streetcar.

Council also passed a one-month budget for SORTA, requiring that they come back next month to pass another one.

Councilman Chris Smitherman accused Mallory of trying to flex political muscle in the budget to strong-arm SORTA into taking out the provision disallowing the use of transit funds for the streetcar. He questioned the timing of passing a SORTA budget the day after the transit authority voted to prevent transit funds being used for the streetcar.

Councilman Charlie Winburn — council's sole Republican — walked out of a Budget Committee meeting in advance of the vote.

However Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said it made sense to pass the one-month budget because it forbid SORTA from using taxpayer money to sue the city.

City Solicitor John Curp said it was SORTA’s position in the lawsuit that it should be the one deciding how transit funds are used, not the city.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.18.2012
Posted In: News, City Council, Gun Violence, Government at 05:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Metal Detectors Could Come Back to City Hall

Councilman says more gun regulations unlikely at local level

In light of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, a City Council member wants metal detectors put back in City Hall.

Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas says he’s always been concerned about security, and he hopes recent bouts of gun violence will make it clear more protective steps are necessary.

Thomas argues City Hall should not be an exception to a practice that’s carried out in other government buildings. He points to federal and county buildings and other city halls around the nation, which tend to use metal detectors.

Thomas, who was a police officer until 2000, acknowledges metal detectors are a “little bit of an inconvenience” to visitors, but he adds, “These are times when a little bit more inconvenience can go a long way to possibly save a lot of lives.”

So City Hall could get more security, but what about the city as a whole? Earlier today, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced City Council will work on a resolution to encourage Congress to pass new gun regulations at a federal level. Beyond that, Thomas says not much is likely.

The problem is state law trumps local law when it comes to gun regulations, so City Council’s hands are tied on the issue. “I would like to see us be able to control our own destiny as it relates to gun laws, but, obviously, I have no control over that,” Thomas says.

Metal detectors were in place at City Hall until 2006, when Mayor Mark Mallory had them taken down to make City Hall more open to the public.

 
 

 

 

 
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