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.
People are feeling better about downtown and Over-the-Rhine, according to a new survey. Out of respondents who said they visited downtown, about 83 percent said their opinion of Over-the-Rhine was more favorable now than it was in the last year. Bars and parks topped activities, while dining and events on Fountain Square topped attractions.
The E.W. Scripps Company posted its best TV revenues ever thanks to the presidential election. The company’s consolidated revenues rose 31 percent to $220 million. The company recently netted a $750,000 tax break from Cincinnati City Council to hire for 125 new local jobs and retain 184 current employees.
The University of Cincinnati’s Women's Health Center will open a branch in West Chester in spring 2013. The new offices will have 47 exam rooms, large and small conference rooms, a retail store and a café.
Ohio Republicans are renewing their anti-abortion agenda. Much to the dismay of pro-choice groups, Gov. John Kasich appointed two people from Ohio Right to Life to important positions, and the Ohio Senate is now looking into a new version of the heartbeat bill. Starting with a hearing Wednesday, Ohio Republicans will also move to defund Planned Parenthood.
In his post-election presser, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted suggested basing Ohio’s electoral vote on congressional districts. Due to how Republicans redrew district boundaries, that would have given Mitt Romney most of Ohio’s electoral votes even though Romney lost the popular vote. Districts were redrawn by the Republican-controlled process to give Republicans an advantage in congressional races. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn to include Republican-leaning Warren County, which shifted the district in favor of Republicans and diluted Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urbanites. The proposal seems like another attempt at voter suppression from a secretary of state that has been heavily criticized for how he and his party handled the run-up to the election.
Redistricting also helped Ohio Republicans take Congress.
Last-minute negotiations may push Ohio’s puppy mills bill to the finish line. The state currently has a reputation as one of the worst for abusive puppy mills, and the bill would try to place some additional regulations on the mills. CityBeat previously covered the puppy mill and dog auction problem in Ohio.
A new study found Ohio may be one of the worst states to retire in.
The state did poorly in terms of property crime and life expectancy of
seniors, but it was found to have good economic conditions, a
relatively low tax burden and lower-than-average cost of living.
Ohioans’ food stamp benefits will drop by $50 a month next year. The change is coming due to a shift in how the federal government calculates utility expenditures for food stamp recipients.
Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee, which requires holding back third-graders who do not meet state reading standards, now has some research supporting it. A new study found girls who struggle to read early on are more likely to become teen mothers. However, other research shows holding kids back hurts more than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of School Psychologists found grade retention has “deleterious long-term effects,” both academically and socially.
In response to President Barack Obama’s re-election, the infamous boss of Ohio-based Murray Energy fired more than 150 workers around the country. One of those workers decided to leak a letter from the boss. The letter blames the firings on Obama’s supposed “war on coal,” but it’s likely the coal industry would be facing trouble even if Obama wasn’t in office.
Climate change just got a lot worse. It might make some coffee beans go extinct.
Two gay penguins became dads at the Odense Zoo in Denmark.
Ever wanted a microscopic glimpse at a Pop Tart? Well, you're getting it anyway.
UPDATE 11-8-12: An aide to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls tells CityBeat that the $7 million loan will only go toward moving two of the shelters: the Drop Inn Center and a new women's shelter to be operated by the YWCA. Because the City Gospel Mission requires a religious component to is outreach to the homeless, it cannot receive federal funding. The original story follows below.
City Council on Wednesday signed off on a plan to apply for federal loans to help move three Cincinnati homeless shelters to new locations.
Council members voted with all but one approving the application for $37 million in loans, $7 million of which would move the Washington Park-area shelters.
If the loan is approved, the City Gospel Mission would move to the West End, a new women’s shelter would be build in Mount Auburn and the Drop Inn Center would move to a yet-undetermined location.
Cincinnati had pledged $10 million toward relocating the shelters. The loan would be paid back at $532,000 a year for the next 20 years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole dissenting voice. He said he supports the homeless, but he is wary of the risks of the loan and the city’s ability to pay it back.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, who said he moved to Over-the-Rhine shortly after the 2001 riots, voted to approve applying for the loan, but also voiced some concern.
“The reason I moved is because I loved it; I fell in love with the diversity of the neighborhood,” he said, noting income diversity as well as racial and ethnic.
“I would hope that we could find a location for the Drop that is in Over-the-Rhine and there isn’t a continued effort to push low income people out of Over-the-Rhine.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said the shelters the city has now are perfectly adequate and the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
“Historically a majority of shelters started between 1982 and 1990 because in that era we cut dollars to housing and employment,” Spring said.
“Shelters were never created to end homelessness. Shelters were created for people to have a safe place once everything else had failed them. We shouldn’t let everything else fail them.”
The 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals released its decision this morning, just a few hours after one of the three judges who ruled against the retirees was reelected. Judge Pat Fischer, a Republican, was on the ballot Tuesday — and now there is no way to know whether the ruling could have had any adverse impact on his reelection bid.
The retirees, a group that included former City Clerk Sandy Sherman, contended their benefits could be increased, but that they were not subject to reduction. The appeals court scuttled the argument:
“At issue in this case is an ordinance enacted by the city council in 2009. The ordinance amended sections of the code pertaining to the retirement system. … After the 2009 ordinance, the plaintiff-appellants would have a deductible to $200 and out-of-pocket caps for healthcare and prescriptions of $2,000. The ordinance provided that the revisions to the retirement system would become effective on January 1, 2010.”
The appeals court said hospital and medical benefits were in addition to retirement pension payments and were not subject to vesting, which meant they could be changed by ordinance.
“The distinction between the retirement allowances and the healthcare benefits has been maintained throughout the existence of the retirement system. The distinction is significant,” the appeals court ruled.
The case could still be taken to the Ohio Supreme Court.
The following table shows the fund's assets, and the funding ratio, through 2010:
Some members of city council agreed that the city needs to take a hard look at the way it inspects projects done with taxpayer money, but they took no action during a special joint committee meeting Thursday to discuss allegations that workers were being underpaid at the University Square development in Clifton.
Council members Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young presented a video investigation they conducted, which included interviews with workers on the project who claim they were being taken advantage of by the University Square developers.
Under Ohio and Cincinnati law, workers on projects funded by taxpayers must be paid a so-called “prevailing wage” (the same as a unionized worker) and be given benefits.
In Cincinnati, that wage is $23.17 an hour for the carpentry work done by the workers interviewed for the video.
The workers in the video claimed they were paid $500 for working a 60-hour week.
“Five-hundred dollars a week to me when you don’t have a job, that’s a lot,” said Garrick Foxx, a construction worker on the project.
“But actually when you average it out, it’s not. Like to the hour-wise it’s probably like 9-something, so like I could actually make that working at McDonalds.”
The University Square developer — a collaboration between Towne Properties and Al. Neyer, Inc. — is building a complex with a parking garage, residential units and retail space.
The City of Cincinnati has $21 million invested in the parking garage. The State of Ohio recently ruled that the prevailing wage provisions apply only workers constructing the garage that the city has money invested in.
Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said the controversy was ginned up by unions and it hasn’t been proven that workers are being underpaid.
“All of this was started by the unions themselves because they became very unhappy when the State of Ohio said a sizeable portion of our project was not subject to prevailing wage,” Bortz said. “They tried then to discredit and intimidate anyone who is on the other side of the table.”
Bortz said he agreed to pay a prevailing wage even to workers who worked on parts of the project not subject to the law. He said he cuts a check to the subcontractors based on that agreement.
“Whether any of those subcontractors might have been unfair to the workers, we do not know,” Bortz said. “If they were, they should be made to be fair.”
Deputy City Solicitor Aaron Herzig said if the contract required a particular wage be paid and it wasn’t, the city can bring a breach of contract action against the developers. But to start an investigation, a complaint must first be made.
The council members asked that their investigation be considered a formal complaint.