Yesterday, Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler gave a ruling that effectively opened the parking plan to referendum, but city officials said the decision poses major fiscal and legal challenges to the city. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the lack of a parking plan will force the city to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, to balance fiscal year 2014’s budget in time for July 1, and City Solicitor John Curp said the ruling, which concludes emergency clauses do not eliminate the possibility of a referendum, greatly hinder the city’s ability to expedite the implementation of laws. The parking plan, which was previously approved by City Council, would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two years and fund economic development projects, but the court ruling means the plan must be put on hold at least until a referendum effort is complete.
Ohio Democrats say Gov. John Kasich’s local government funding cuts are to blame for Cincinnati’s budget woes. In a statement, Chris Redfern,
chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said, “Make no mistake, the only
reason Cincinnati has been forced to debate firing hundreds of police
and firefighters is because Gov. Kasich cut tens of millions of dollars
to the city in his last state budget. As communities like Cincinnati
struggle to deal with the last round of cuts, Kasich’s at it again,
proposing to steal another $200 million from local communities to help
pay for tax giveaways to the rich. If Kasich gets his way and passes his
proposed handout to his friends, more communities across the state will
see layoffs, skyrocketing local tax levies, and deep cuts to schools.”
Kasich’s local government funding cuts have caused Cincinnati to lose
$40.7 million in state funding over two years, according to Policy Matters Ohio. CityBeat covered Kasich’s local government funding cuts here and his budget proposal here.
A study found a wastewater injection well used for fracking caused Oklahoma’s largest-ever earthquake. The findings echo fears from Youngstown residents, who experienced an earthquake early in 2012 that was pinned on nearby wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of waste produced during the fracking process. CityBeat covered fracking, the relatively new drilling technique that injects water underground to open up oil and gas reserves, in further detail here.
In private budget news, a survey by Card Hub found Cincinnati residents have some of the nation’s worst budgeting habits. In the 30-city survey, Cincinnati ranked No. 28 for budgeting habits, ahead of only Tampa, Fla., and Orlando, Fla. Boston was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The Port Authority is carrying out a demolition in Jordan Crossing that will pave the way for $75 million in redevelopment. Mayor Mark Mallory described his experience with the development, “This has been a source of frustration, but also a source of hope. … This area is prime for job creation and redevelopment.”
State legislators are once again trying to get student members of schools’ board of trustees the ability to vote — a move that would empower students in public universities. The bill was introduced last year, but it died a slow death after facing opposition from administrators at Ohio University and Bowling Green State University. Gov. John Kasich and Ohio State officials reportedly support the idea.
A Sunday school teacher at a local church near Dayton was fired after declaring her support for same-sex marriage.
Cincinnati Financial Corp. and Meridian Bioscience Inc. were named among the country’s most trustworthy firms.
New national science education guidelines say climate change should be in classrooms.
Caffeine-addicted bacteria die if they get decaf. Scientists say they want to use the bacteria to clean caffeine-polluted waterways.
Saturday at Downtown club Mainstay, progressive Doom/Drone Metal act Grey Host will celebrate the release of its latest, Dawn for Vultures. You can pre-order the six-track release (as a CD, download or with a T-shirt) at greyhost.bandcamp.com and get an automatic download of lead-off track, “Noble Beast.” The band will also have copies of the release available at Mainstay. Grey Host is joined Saturday by Ohio Knife and Valley of the Sun, which is also working towards a new release. The 9 p.m. show is free. (facebook.com/greyhost)
Here's "Noble Beast":
Saturday at Covington’s Madison Theater, local Death/Hardcore/Thrash Metal crew Gabriel’s Hounds host a release party for their latest effort, The Struggle Between … EP. Joining the group for the 8 p.m., all-ages show: Dark Region, Holesinger, Serpentarius, Souls for the Taking, It’s Either Me or the Mailman and In Ashes. Admission is $8. You can sample the new album’s title track right now at reverbnation.com/gabrielshoundsofficial or here:
Speaking at a press conference today, city officials did not mask their contempt for the ruling that put the parking plan on hold earlier in the day, saying it will force the city to make cuts and layoffs to balance the 2014 budget and potentially eliminate the passage of expedited legislation.
The press conference was in response to a ruling from Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler, which opened the parking plan to referendum and ordered a permanent injunction on the plan pending any referendum effort. City Solicitor John Curp said the city is appealing the ruling.
Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
explained the city will now have to close a $25.8 million shortfall in
the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
Dohoney said he has already ordered city departments to begin
preparations for Plan B, which will lay off 344 employees, including 80
firefighter and 189 police positions, to balance projected deficits.
“Part of the irony is we're swearing in a recruit class tomorrow,” he said, then shook his head. “Too bad.”
In addition to meeting the July 1 budget deadline, the city has to expedite some layoff notices to meet union contracts, which typically require a notice 30 days in advance.
Curp said the ruling also poses significant legal challenges that will hinder the city’s ability to expedite legislation with emergency clauses. Emergency clauses are often used by City Council to remove a 30-day waiting period on passed laws, and the city argues they also remove the ability to referendum.
The layoffs could be retroactively pulled back if the city wins in appeals courts or if the referendum effort fails to gather enough petitions.
“Don't sign the petition,” Mallory said. “If you sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter.”
Dohoney said the delays make the city look sluggish — an image that he says the city has been trying to overcome. “One of the criticisms I’ve gotten is that this city takes too long to get deals done,” he said. “This complicates that.”
City Council approved the parking plan to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Opponents of the plan argued that there were alternatives that did not involve laying off cops or firefighters. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.
At the press conference, Mallory called the alternatives “unworkable.” He said Plan S in particular does not work because it relies on a ballot initiative that would have to be voted on in November. “We don’t have until November,” he said.
Opponents say they’re concerned the parking plan will cede too much control over the city’s parking meters, which they say will lead to a spike in parking rates.
The city says rate increases are initially capped at 3 percent or inflation — whichever is higher — but the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would be made up of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.
In the legal proceedings, the two sides are arguing whether emergency clauses eliminate the ability to hold a referendum on legislation. Opponents of the parking plan, headed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), say the city charter is ambiguous with its definition of emergency clauses, and legal precedent demands courts side with voters’ right to referendum when there’s ambiguity.
Supporters of the parking plan cite state law, which says emergency legislation is not subject to referendum. Terry Nestor, who represented the city in the court hearings, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.
Winkler sided with opponents of the parking plan in his decision. He wrote in his ruling, “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.”
Mallory says the city is not disputing voters’ right to referendum in a general sense; instead, he says the city needs to expedite the budget process to balance the budget before fiscal year 2014.
City officials say the parking plan is necessary largely because of Gov. John Kasich’s local government funding cuts, which Dohoney previously said cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in annual revenues (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20). Opponents argue Cincinnati had structurally imbalanced budgets years before Kasich took office, but the city says Kasich’s policies have made the situation much worse.
In a ruling today, Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler said the city will have to allow for a referendum on the parking plan and imposed a permanent injunction pending the outcome of a referendum.
The ruling means the city may be unable to rely on the parking plan to balance fiscal year 2014’s budget, and the city may be forced to find cuts elsewhere by July 1, when the new budget will kick in.
The ruling may be appealed, but City Solicitor John Curp says he is not aware of any filing yet. He says Mayor Mark Mallory and the city administration plan to hold a press conference later this afternoon to discuss the ruling in further detail.
For opponents of the parking plan, the ruling comes as a big victory that will allow them to put the parking plan on the ballot if they gather enough eligible petition signatures by April 5.
For the city, the ruling potentially leaves a $25.8 million hole in the 2014 budget.
When the restraining order was extended for two weeks on March 20, city spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat the delays were causing the city to approach a “pressure point”: “We respect the court's right to do that (the extension), and know that every day that we cannot make the parking deal happen is a day that we are closer to having to lay people off.”In the past, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan will force the city to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions.
But opponents argue there are ways to solve the budget without laying people off. As an alternative to the parking plan, Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.
City Council approved the parking plan on March 6 to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund more than $100 million in development projects, including the creation of a downtown grocery store and more than 300 luxury apartments ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).
Opponents of the parking plan say they’re concerned the city will cede too much control over its parking assets and cause parking rates to skyrocket. The city says rate increases are initially capped at 3 percent or inflation — whichever is higher.
But the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would comprise of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.
The ruling comes after the city and opponents of the parking plan met in court on March 15 to discuss whether the plan is subject to referendum.
Curt Hartmann, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and opponents of the parking plan, said the city charter is vague on its definition of emergency clauses, and legal precedent supports siding with voters’ right to referendum when there is ambiguity.
The city cited state law to argue emergency clauses, which remove a 30-day waiting period on legislation, eliminate the possibility of referendum. Terry Nestor, who represented the city, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.
With his decision, Winkler sided with opponents of the parking plan. He wrote in the ruling, “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.”
Cincinnati’s Youth Jobs Fair will be held today at the Duke Energy Convention Center between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The fair provides an opportunity for young people, typically aged between 16 and 24, to look for work from a variety of participating employers. Mayor Mark Mallory says attendees should “dress for success,” as if they were going to their first day on the job.
State environmental groups and an Akron-based energy company are at odds over a 2008 law that tasks the state and utility companies with meeting stringent requirements for renewable energy and energy efficiency. State Sen. Bill Seitz, the Cincinnati Republican who heads the Senate Public Utilities Committee, has agreed to review Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, while FirstEnergy, an Akron-based energy company, protests the requirements as too expensive for the company and consumers around the state. But Seitz’s decision has alarmed environmental groups who largely see the law as effective three years later.
Republicans in the General Assembly are considering an incremental approach to elections reform after their comprehensive efforts in 2011 and 2012 were received with widespread accusations of voter suppression. The details aren’t worked out yet, but Seitz is planning on introducing bills that he says will cut down on provisional ballot voting and provide clearer rules for poll workers collecting provisional ballots, and other Republicans are looking to set uniform statewide earl