The city would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it takes on tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, an independent audit revealed yesterday. The news appeared to throw another potential lifeline for the streetcar, which can now claim a five-member majority of supporters on City Council. But with Mayor John Cranley's veto threat, council will likely need six votes to continue the project. Council expects to make a decision today, prior to a Friday deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the project.
Some city leaders are trying to ensure all of Cincinnati's 3- and 4-year-olds attend quality preschool programs through Cincinnati’s Preschool Promise. Citing swaths of studies and data, Greg Landsman, executive director of the education-focused Strive Partnership, says the policy could reach all corners of the city and hugely benefit the city’s economy in the long term. But supporters of the proposal first must find a means to fund it, which Landsman says will likely require some sort of voter-approved tax hike in 2014. Before the Preschool Promise campaign gets there, Landsman vows supporters will heavily engage the community to gather feedback and determine the scope of the proposal.
City Council yesterday unanimously approved $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million uptown interchange project, which will allow the project to move forward with the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments filling the rest of the funding gap. The capital allocation means property taxes will remain higher than they would without the project, as revealed at Monday's Budget and Finance Committee. Mayor Cranley and council members argue the cost is worth it because, as a study from the University of Cincinnati's Economics Center previously found, the project will generate thousands of jobs and other economic gains in the uptown area.
Commentary: "Anti-Streetcar Logic Should Stop Uptown Interchange Project."
The Democratic majority on City Council yesterday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial bidding requirements for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's inadequate sewer system. A majority of council members support the bidding requirements as a way to foster local jobs and local job training, while opposing county officials say the rules favor unions and impose a huge burden on MSD contractors. Councilman Chris Seelbach says he's working with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to get both parties in mediation talks and end a county-enforced hold on sewer projects before the federal government begins enforcing its mandate.
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City Council on Wednesday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.
Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's sewer system. The city and county jointly manage MSD.
Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young voted to move the repeal ordinance back to committee. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted to keep the ordinance in front of council.
Hamilton County commissioners previously halted most
of the $3.2 billion, 15-year sewer revamp in protest of the city's
"responsible bidder" law. As long as the hold remains in place, the city and county risk violating a federal mandate to revamp Cincinnati's inadequate sewer system.
The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.
Supporters of the law claim it will foster local jobs and local job training. Opponents claim the law favors unions and places a costly burden on MSD contractors.
city already gave various concessions to resolve its conflict with the county, including
exemptions for small businesses and contracts worth less than $400,000. But the county has so far refused to budge.
Smitherman, who opposes the law, argued the issue will end up in court and the city will lose.
"What was passed on May 1 is not constitutional," he said.
But the city's law department says the law is legal and could be defended in court.
Seelbach, who spearheaded the law, said he's in talks with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to bring both parties into mediation and resolve the conflict.
"I'm asking for some more time," he said.
Cincinnati would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it incurs tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG released Wednesday.
By showing the potentially high costs of cancellation, the numbers could throw a lifeline to the streetcar project just one day before City Council decides whether to restart construction or permanently halt the project.
But Mayor John Cranley appears undeterred in his commitment to cancel the streetcar project. By accounting for the annual costs to operate the streetcar, Cranley estimates the city will actually save $102 million if it cancels the project.
The city already spent roughly $34 million on the project, according to the audit. Cancellation would add $16.3-$46.1 million in close-out costs, bringing the total costs of cancellation and money spent so far to $50.3-$80.1 million.
Completing the project would add $68.9 million in costs, after deducting $40.9 million in remaining federal grants, the audit found.
But the completion estimate assumes the city will need to pay $15 million in utility work — a cost that is currently being debated in court. If the city wins its case against Duke Energy, the utility company would be required to pay the $15 million and bring down the total completion costs to $53.9 million.
The audit also put the costs of operating the streetcar at $3.13-$3.54 million a year, lower than the previous $3.4-$4.5 million estimate. After revenues from fares, sponsorships and other sources, the city would need to pay $1.88-$2.44 million to operate the streetcar, according to the audit.
The reduced estimate for operating costs could become particularly important in deciding the project's fate as private contributors attempt to get the cost off the city's operating budget.
Delaying the streetcar project while KPMG conducted its audit also added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to the audit. The city allocated another $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.
The audit did not account for the potential costs of litigation if contractors and investors along the planned streetcar line sue the city to recoup costs.
City Council paused the streetcar project on Dec. 4 to obtain the cost estimates of completion, cancellation and annual operations. The full body of council will decide whether to restart the project on Thursday, before a Friday deadline set by the Federal Transit Administration for federal grants.
Read the full audit:
This post was updated at 12:59 p.m. with more information and details.
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community provided more assurances.
Other streetcar news:
• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected tomorrow.
• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.”
• The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.
Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking taxes or cutting police and firefighters.
The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.
A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.
Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups and small businesses.
This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.
Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.
Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) offer to develop a private-public partnership to fund the streetcar’s operating costs, Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, told CityBeat on Tuesday.
If enough private contributors agree to finance the streetcar’s operating costs, they could address a major concern raised by streetcar opponents and provide the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office early this month.
The Haile Foundation already contributed $1 million to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar, but Avner cautions that his organization’s donation is only the beginning, given all the other entities interested in moving the streetcar forward.
Avner says 14 other business and philanthropic leaders supported the SORTA concept in person or through writing in time for SORTA’s board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Among other community leaders, Avner cites Otto Budig, Cathy Crain of Cincinnati State, William Portman of the University of Cincinnati, Jeannie Golliher of the Cincinnati Development Fund, Rick Greiwe of Greiwe Development and Jack and Peg Wyant of Grandin Properties.
In a letter to SORTA, the Haile Foundation offers to recruit and financially establish a commission of community leaders that will work with the agency to create an operating and revenue plan that will require no funds from the city of Cincinnati. The letter also promises to leverage the initial $1 million investment to secure additional contributors and build a fund that would pay for a full year of operating costs.
Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully
insufficient” in a press conference on Tuesday. Cranley said the city will need financial assurances far above the Haile
Foundation’s $1 million to cover $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar over 30 years.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes
on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment, but he said the proposal could become a viable option if the city receives more
assurances from SORTA and private entities that show the groups are serious in their offer.
SORTA already agreed to help operate the streetcar if the
project is completed, but its decision to take up the operating costs shows
an additional commitment to the project.
The agency claims bus services will not be impacted by its increased commitment to the streetcar.
City Council expects to vote on Thursday on whether to restart the streetcar project. Council paused the project on Dec. 4 while the city audits the project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs.
Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:
The announcement could provide an avenue for business and philanthropic leaders to help fund streetcar operations through SORTA in an attempt to meet demands from the mayor and some council members.
“SORTA’s willingness is based upon assurances from the Cincinnati business and philanthropic communities that they will work with SORTA in public-private partnership to secure the funds required to cover the short and long-term operating costs of the streetcar to the extent other sources of streetcar revenue, such as fares, advertising, sponsorships, etc., are inadequate,” the agency said in a press release.
But in a press conference following the announcement, Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient.” He argued SORTA’s assurances aren’t enough to pull streetcar operating costs completely off the city’s books.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment. But he cautioned the commitment could become a viable path forward for the streetcar project if SORTA provides more assurances in the next couple days, before a council vote on the streetcar.
SORTA’s commitment comes less than one week after Mayor John Cranley said he’d allow the $132.8 million streetcar project to move forward if private contributors agree to cover the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years. Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann, the two swing votes on City Council, approved of Cranley’s proposed compromise.
In support of the announcement, the Haile Foundation also announced a $1 million commitment in seed money to spur further contributions to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar.
“We are committed to seeing the streetcar through to completion and beyond. SORTA has stepped up and is more than qualified to serve in this role. This is another great example of community collaboration helping move to region forward,” said Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, in a statement.
Avner told CityBeat on Dec. 12 that private-sector leaders are working to meet the mayor’s demand with some financial assurances for the streetcar’s operating costs. SORTA’s announcement could act as that assurance.
If the streetcar project is completed, SORTA already agreed to help operate the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the public-private partnership would increase the agency’s commitment to the streetcar.
SORTA cautioned that bus service will not be affected in any way by the commitment.
It’s unclear whether SORTA’s assurances will be enough to
sway Cranley, Mann and Flynn. If Cranley threatens to veto a
continuation of the streetcar project, both Mann and Flynn would likely
need to vote in favor of the streetcar to overcome a veto and restart the project.
The streetcar project is currently on “pause” while KPMG, an auditing firm, reviews completion, cancellation and operating costs. City officials expect to receive the audit late Tuesday or early Wednesday, with a council vote scheduled for Thursday.
Updated at 3:23 p.m. with details from Mayor John Cranley’s press conference.
Major events for Cincinnati’s streetcar project this week:
Today, supporters will turn in petitions to get the issue on the
ballot; late today or early tomorrow, KPMG will turn in audit of the
project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs; tomorrow,
council will take public comment on the project at 1:30 p.m.; and on
Thursday, council will debate and make the final decision on the streetcar.
Other streetcar news:
• Mayor John Cranley is asking streetcar opponents to speak up during the public comments section of Wednesday’s council meeting.
• Supporters collected more than 9,000 signatures to get the streetcar project on the ballot. Nearly 6,000 signatures need to be verified to allow a vote in the coming months.
City Council’s budget committee yesterday advanced funding for the $106 million uptown interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71. The capital funding set by council will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from reducing property taxes in the future as originally planned. Still, proponents of the project, including a unanimous body of council, say the project is worth the investment; the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center found in a May 2012 study that the interchange will generate 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, $133 million in economic development during construction and another $750 million once the interchange opens.
Congress appears ready to pass a bipartisan budget deal that will not extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2014, which could leave more than 36,000 unemployed Ohioans behind in December and 128,600 Ohioans without aid through 2014. The emergency benefits were originally adopted by Congress to provide a safety net for those worst affected by the Great Recession. Conservatives, touting the $25.2 billion annual cost, say the economy has improved enough to let the costly benefits expire, but liberals, pointing to the high numbers of long-term unemployed, say the benefits are still needed and would help keep the economy on a stable recovery.
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Medicaid expansion supporters announced yesterday that they’re no longer pursuing a ballot initiative after actions from Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Controlling Board effectively enacted the expansion, which taps into federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
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grants from the “Straight A” fund on Wednesday in an attempt to reward
innovation at the state’s schools. The grants will go to more than 150
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Despite lingering signs of a weakened economy, a bipartisan budget deal working through U.S. Congress will not extend emergency benefits for the nation’s long-term unemployed past Dec. 28.
If the emergency benefits are allowed to expire, the cut will hit more than 36,000 Ohioans in December and 128,600 through 2014, according to left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
Without the extension, Ohioans can tap into just 26 weeks of state-provided jobless aid. Federally funded emergency benefits give the unemployed another 37 weeks to find work before losing government assistance.
“There are 4.1 million workers who have been unemployed for more than six months, which is well over three times the number of long-term unemployed in 2007, before the Great Recession began,” write Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Supporters claim the benefits boost the economy by allowing the long-term unemployed to continue buying goods and services that effectively support jobs. EPI estimates the benefits would sustain 310,000 nationwide jobs in 2014.
But at $25.2 billion a year, the emergency benefits come at a hefty price tag for conservatives who are trying to rein in federal spending.
EPI claims the “sticker price” overestimates the net cost of the benefits.
“The 310,000 jobs created or saved by the economic activity this spending generates will in turn generate greater federal revenues from the taxes paid on the wages earned by those who otherwise would not have jobs,” write Mishel and Shierholz. “They will also save the government money on safety net spending related to unemployment (for example, Medicaid and food stamps).”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, last week joined 31 other Democratic senators in support of extending the benefits.
“We must do everything we can to support those who are still struggling following the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Brown said in a statement. “These are hardworking Americans — many with children — who have fallen on tough times.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday the administration “absolutely expects” Congress to extend emergency benefits, but the extension could come after Congress reconvenes from a winter recess in January.
The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bipartisan budget deal without an extension for the long-term unemployed. The Senate expects to take up the same budget bill sometime this week.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday unanimously agreed to allocate $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71.
The funding will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from lowering property taxes in the future as originally planned.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld argued the focus should be on the project’s economic potential, not its possible impact on property taxes.
“If the city stopped spending money and stopped investing in things, indeed people’s taxes would go down, but I don’t think it’s a very fair frame to think about making this very important investment,” he said.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach said the public should know the full effects of the project.
“Believe me, I support this, and I support this through the property tax, but I just don’t want us to be able to pass this without saying what it is,” he said.
Council members said they support the interchange project because of the positive economic impact it will have on the uptown area, which includes the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals.
According to a May 2012 study from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center, the project will produce 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs. The same study found the economic impact of the project will reach $133 million during construction and $750 million once the interchange opens, which would lead to higher tax revenues.
The city is carrying roughly one-fifth of the cost for the interchange project. The rest will be financed through the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
The Federal Transit Administration told Mayor John Cranley and streetcar supporters that it won’t extend its Dec. 20 deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the $132.8 million street project. Without the federal grants, the project would likely die because local officials say they are not willing to make up the loss with local funds. That means the city has until Friday to decide whether to continue the project — a decision that could come down to City Council’s swing votes, Kevin Flynn and David Mann, and whether private contributors agree to pay for the streetcar’s annual operating costs over the next three decades.
Meanwhile, streetcar supporters say they have enough
signatures to get the streetcar on the ballot. But without the federal
funds, a public vote might not be enough to save the project since the charter amendment only calls for using funds allocated as of Nov. 30, 2013.
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Despite previously criticizing tax breaks for Cincinnati
businesses, Chris Finney of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending
and Taxes (COAST) will receive tax credits to open his own law firm in
Clermont County on Jan. 1.
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