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by Andy Brownfield 12.19.2012

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 Danny Cross 06.26.2012

Morning News and Stuff

It was “Rich People Voice Their Concerns Night” at city councils across town last night, as proponents of the $1 sale of Music Hall packed Cincinnati City Council chambers even though the proposed lease deal wasn’t on the agenda. Mayor Mark Mallory insisted that any middle ground that will allow the nonprofit Music Hall Revitalization Co. to renovate the building will require that the city retain ownership.

Across town (and about 10 miles northeast toward the area with mass trees), Madeira City Council shot down a plan to develop a luxury apartment complex on Camargo Road. Council voted 6-1 to scrap the plan for a 184-unit complex after residents who voiced concern said the complex would be “too dense” and take away from the city’s single-family character. Word on the street is that the Council majority didn’t want scumbag renters like this guy to be able to move into the neighborhood and start playing music really loud out of their car stereos. 

Cincinnati City Council yesterday pretty much canceled its plans to build an atrium at City Hall. Six council members approved a motion asking administrators to shut it down, and City Manager Milton Dohoney says he’ll abide by it even though he technically doesn’t have to because the funding was approved in a spending ordinance. 

Council also voted yesterday to keep the property tax rate pretty much the same next year despite a projected deficit. 

Now that the Supreme Court has temporarily upheld part of Arizona’s racist controversial immigration law, no-name state legislators in Ohio and Kentucky plan to break out the laws they couldn’t previously get passed. According to The Enquirer’s Mark Curnutte (who apparently won a national book award for his work covering poverty in Haiti — big ups, Curnutte!), some dudes named Courtney Combs (R-Ross Township, Ohio) and John Schickel (R-Union, Ky.) have some great ways to rid of their states' illegal immigrants, at least until the court strikes down the rest of Arizona’s law.

New York Times: "Arizona Ruling Only a Narrow Opening for Other States"

Housing prices are going up in most cities due to low interest rates and cheap prices. 

A new Obama campaign ad refers to Mitt Romney as “outsourcer in chief.” Ouch!

The War on Drugs is making the AIDS epidemic worse by driving people away from treatment, according to a report released today by the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

California condors are being threatened by lead poisoning from bullets left behind in dead carcasses shot by hunters, which the birds eat. 

Facebook changed users' listed email accounts, and people on the Internet are mad. Gizmodo explains how to fix it. 

The Spice Girls are reuniting to create a musical called Viva Forever! at London's Piccadilly Theatre.

by 10.29.2009
Posted In: 2009 Election, City Council at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Candidates On: Changing Council Elections

CityBeat recently asked the non-incumbent candidates for Cincinnati City Council whether the charter should be amended to change the way future councils are elected.

The question posed was, “What are your thoughts on suggestions to either expand council terms to four years, or to elect council members by districts rather than at-large?”

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by Danny Cross 03.12.2012

Occupy Settlement Grants 24-Hour Public Space, Keeps Rules

Encampments, tents still banned during 1-year 'Open Period'

The city of Cincinnati and Occupy protesters have reached a legal settlement that will erase criminal charges against protesters and designate part of Piatt Park a 24-hour public space for one year. The open space will still be subject to park rules, which include the “prohibition or restriction on noise, encampments, open flames, tents, and common law nuisance principles.”

The Enquirer reported today that the settlement was expected to be filed in court this morning. The settlement will end protesters’ federal lawsuit against the city, which was based on the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. The far eastern section of the park, which is where Occupy Cincinnati set up its encampment starting in October and where many of the arrests occurred, will reportedly be designated a 12-hour public space for one year beginning 10 p.m. March 19.

Should the city refuse to extend the Open Period, Occupy protesters are allowed to institute a new lawsuit challenging the park rules.

The city has agreed to install new signage at the park noting its modified closing time and will install signage or placards at least 14 days prior to the open time’s scheduled expiration at 11:59 p.m. March 18, 2013.

The city retains the right to terminate the Open Period should park rules not be followed. According to the lawsuit:

Consistent and persistent violations of Park Board Rules and/or generally applicable laws which constitute a public nuisance under Chapter 3767 of the Ohio Revised Code, including without limitation any conduct in violation of prohibitions or restrictions on noise, encampments, open flames, or tents, shall constitute a breach of this Agreement. As a remedy for such breach, the City may terminate the Open Period prior to the expiration date set forth in Section 3 above by obtaining an order from a court of competent jurisdiction enjoining any such nuisance and finding that termination of the Open Period is necessary to abate any such nuisance.

City Hall will appoint an individual to function as the liaison of the Park Board and schedule a public meeting within 60 days and another within 180 days to accept public input.

by Kevin Osborne 09.23.2011

Candidates On: What to Do About the Tax Rollback

As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “What is your stance on the property tax rollback? Do you believe the city's property tax rate should be increased to the maximum 6.1 mills allowed under the charter, or remain at a rate to generate $28.9 million each year, or be decreased? Please explain your answer.”

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by 04.09.2009

NAACP Speaks/Sings To City Council [Photos]

The NAACP turned out to the City Council meeting Wednesday to start the conversation about a disproportionate amount of city contracts awarded to non-minority contractors. Many of the speakers said that of the $1 billion worth of contracts awarded by the city, less than 1 percent were given to minorities.

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by 01.08.2009
Posted In: City Council at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Brain Garry Seeks Cranley's Seat

Brian Garry has sent out word to the media that he's interested in replacing outgoing Cincinnati City Councilman John Cranley, who announced yesterday that he's leaving office to work on Price Hill development projects and join a local law firm. Kevin Osborne reported yesterday that Greg Harris is the favorite to replace Cranley.

Garry, who has already announced he's running for City Council this fall, describes himself as a "community organizer and lifelong Democrat" in a press release touting his credentials.

"I've run for Council before, and I know what it takes to win," he says. "Building from my 2007 campaign will allow me to not only have the resources to retain this seat but also the man power it takes to get out the vote."

Garry placed 18th in the 2007 council race, when he was endorsed by the Democratic Party, and 23rd in the 2003 council race, when he ran as an independent. (Harris finished 15th in the 2007 council race, when he was also endorsed by the Democratic Party.)

Garry says he hopes to soon meet with Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke "as well as several other prominent Democrats" about Cranley's seat.

(Photo of Garry and Obama from Garry's press release.)

by Andy Brownfield 12.14.2012
city hall

Council Passes Budget Reliant on Parking Lease

Council also approves 2014 property tax increase

Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.

Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.

Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.

The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.

Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.

“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”

Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities. 

Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.

If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts. 

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.

The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes. 

The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.

Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.

by Kevin Osborne 10.05.2011

Candidates On: City-operated Health Clinics

As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “Do you consider the operation of health clinics to be an acceptable function of municipal government?”

Read More

by German Lopez 02.12.2014
Posted In: News, Parking, City Council, Mayor at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?

Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.