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.
There’s a catch — municipal employees only get the raises and job security if the city’s parking meters, garages and surface lots are leased to a private company for 30 years.
City Manager Milton Dohoney wants to lease the facilities for at least $40 million upfront and a share of parking profits for the next 30 years. He’d use $21 million of the upfront payment to patch a $34 million deficit in the city’s budget.
During recent budget hearings before City Council, Dohoney said extra revenue was needed to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
In a memo to the mayor and city council members, Dohoney outlined the agreement between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Any municipal employees who will lose their jobs because of the deal would be placed in other city jobs with no loss of wages. No city employees covered by the union would be laid off between 2013 and 2016. City employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost of living raise for the 2013-2014 contract year and another 1 percent raise for the next contract year. AFSCME members will continue city vehicle maintenance work from 2013-2016.
However, if City Council doesn’t approve of the plan to privatize parking, city employees get nothing.
Public employees in Cincinnati have not been given raises in almost four years. Meanwhile, council voted last month to give Dohoney a 10 percent raise and a $35,000 bonus. Dohoney had not received a merit raise since 2007, but had collected cost of living adjustments and bonuses over the years.
The resolution expresses council’s dissatisfaction with the Ohio Legislature for granting “special privileges to the oil and natural gas industry” and asks it to repeal any laws that pre-empt local control over drilling.
The resolution targets the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which uses chemically-laced water to free up natural gas trapped in shale formations underneath Ohio.
Fracking opponents worry that the chemicals used in the fluid — which companies aren’t required to disclose — can be toxic to people and animals.
Prior to the council vote, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan held a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
“I believe local officials should have a say on all matters related to potentially hazardous activities such as fracking,” Quinlivan said in an emailed statement. “I urge my colleagues to send a strong message to the Ohio Governor, the Ohio Legislature, and Cincinnati residents by passing this resolution.”
A 2004 state law puts regulation of oil and gas drilling
under the state’s purview, preventing municipalities from regulating
drilling on their land.
Copies of the resolution will be sent to Gov. John Kasich and members of the Ohio General Assembly elected from the Cincinnati area. The resolution comes after Ohio recently lifted a moratorium on new injection wells, which shoot wastewater deep underground for storage.
There had been a temporary ban on new wells almost a year ago after seismologists said an injection was to blame for 11 earthquakes around the Youngstown area.
City council in August passed an ordinance to band injection wells within city limits. Because the injection well ban doesn’t mention drilling, council hoped it wouldn’t clash with the state law preventing local regulation of oil and gas drilling.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls will be formally announcing her run for the top spot in Cincinnati on Thursday.
Qualls’ campaign site has been up for some time already, and the vice mayor’s team had a meeting with political writers and bloggers on Nov. 26.
The vice mayor will be joined by current term-limited Mayor Mark Mallory, implying his support for her mayoral run. The event is taking place at 10 a.m. at Core Clay, Inc., a small women-owned business in Walnut Hills.
Qualls, who is endorsed by both the Democratic Party and Charter Committee, previously served as mayor from 1993-1999 after serving in Cincinnati City Council from 1991-1993. She returned to council in 2007.
Former city councilman John Cranley, also a Democrat, is also running for mayor. Cranley served on council between 2001 and 2007. His campaign will officially launch in January and former mayor Charlie Luken will serve as the honorary chair.
Republican Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann is also considering a run for mayor, but hasn’t made a formal announcement.
Cincinnati has an open mayoral primary, which means that the top two vote-getters will run against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.
Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.
With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.
Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.
The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.
Cincinnati State is looking to expand.
One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.
The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.
Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.
A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.
It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.
Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.
“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.
Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.
Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.
“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.
Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.
A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.
Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.
The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating
support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and
Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts
It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.
Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.
He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.
The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.
“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”
Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.
Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved the first comprehensive plan in the last 32 years to direct future city growth and development.
All eight present members of council voted in favor of the plan, after a 10-minute “love-fest,” as Councilwoman Yvette Simpson put it, praising one another and the team that created the plan. The nine-member team worked on the comprehensive plan for the last three years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was not present for the vote.
“I can’t use the term that Joe Biden, our vice president used, but this is a big deal,” said Mayor Mark Mallory, referencing an infamous gaffe where Biden uttered an expletive into a hot microphone.
The 228-page plan emphasizes urban development over suburban, citing population movement back into city centers.
The plan focuses on key areas and offers proposals for the near-, middle- and long-terms.
These include proposals to stabilize residential and business areas, improve quality of life, improve housing choices and affordability and offer alternative means of transportation to automobiles, including the controversial streetcar.
CityBeat previously covered the plan in depth.
City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.
Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.
Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.
Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.
Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.
“To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”
The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.
Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.
Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.
“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”
Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.
Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.
Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.
Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.
"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”
It’s official: Cincinnati’s budget proposal will arrive Nov. 26. The budget will seek to close a deficit estimated to be between $34 million and $40 million. Part of the budget plan was revealed when the city manager’s office suggested privatizing parking.
Despite the deficit the city is facing, City Council pushed forward a $21,000 raise and a one-time $35,000 bonus for City Manager Milton Dohoney in a 6-3 vote. It’s the first raise Dohoney is getting since 2007, but some are unhappy with the decision in light of the deficit, which could lead to job cuts. “The city manager is a good man, he is a hard worker, but to me this just feels out of touch with the economic reality that we are in right now,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told Fox 19. “You don't give the highest paid employee in the city a raise, a significant raise, when you're facing a potentially huge budget deficit. Plus, you know, there's a very real possibility of layoffs.”
Ohio Republicans are pushing forward with HB 298, a bill that cuts funds to Planned Parenthood. The organization has become a popular target for Republicans because it provides abortions, but abortion services only make up 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood offers. The move is just one of many recent moves in the Republican agenda against abortion rights. They recently advocated renewing the heartbeat bill, and Gov. John Kasich recently appointed two anti-abortion advocates to government positions.
The Ohio House overwhelmingly approved a bill that will put large-scale puppy mills under more scrutiny with new state standards and yearly inspections. Animal rights activists have argued Ohio has become a haven for bad breeding practices due to lax laws and regulations. CityBeat previously covered the puppy mills issue and how it enables Ohio’s dog auctions.
But that’s not all the Ohio legislature got done. The Ohio House passed a bill that further regulates “pill mills” — doctors, pharmacies or clinics that distribute narcotics inappropriately or for non-medical reasons — and a bill that cracks down on “cyber stalking.” The Ohio Senate passed a bill that essentially lowers taxes for companies that increase payroll by 10 percent.
A new study highlighted the success of some Ohio schools, including Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati. The research found the schools succeeded despite high poverty and tight budgets. The study indicated some key attributes of success: principals play pivotal roles, teachers and administrators are obviously engaged and invested, school leaders provide major incentives to teachers, data is used to measure progress and teachers and administrators do not see a lack of parent or community engagement as an insurmountable barrier to success. The report also made some recommendations: establish clear transitional protocols in case a principal leaves, engage teachers, hire teachers that are on-board with the school’s goals, leverage great reputations and celebrate success.
Hamilton County could issue securities to raise revenue. County commissioners are currently working on ways to close a $20 million deficit. The securities idea comes from Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the Board of Commissioners.
The investigation into U Square worker payments is ongoing. A City Council committee wants to see if the workers are being paid what they are supposed to be paid. Under Ohio law, workers on city-funded projects must get a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project. But City Solicitor John Curp argues developers do not have to pay prevailing wages for parts of the project that aren’t getting public funding. City Manager Dohoney also argued that overzealous requirements could drive businesses out of Cincinnati.
Despite the pleas of more than 500,000, it does not look like Cincinnati-based Macy’s will dump Donald Trump. The billionaire has gained recognition as a big-name Republican and “birther” — someone who ignores all facts to call into question President Barack Obama’s country of origin. Brian Williams, news anchor at NBC News, described Trump aptly during election night: “Donald Trump, who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and peered into something closer to irresponsible here, is tweeting tonight.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is leading a new efforts to stop the use of synthetic drugs, including bath salts.
To fill a vacancy, a new interim chair has been named at the Ohio Board of Regents: Regent Vinny Gupta. He will be replacing James Tuschman, who successfully pushed a ban on smoking in Ohio’s college campuses. Gupta’s term will run through March 2013.
Meet the loneliest planet of them all. It’s an orphan that drifted away from its parent star.
A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand elsewhere.
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development deals.
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is treated equal,” Young said.