The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati's parking meters, but the agency says its goal is to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenues that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port Authority and the private operators it's hiring.
In a much-awaited presentation, the quasi-public development agency rolled out board members and statistics to explain why the city should lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port, which will hire various private companies to operate the assets.
Much of the controversy surrounding the lease has focused on enforcement, which critics argue will be ratcheted up under the deal. Port officials clarified that the deal will involve more enforcement officers and more aggressive tactics, but Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, claimed there will be limits. For example, parking meters won't have built-in connectivity that allows officers to immediately detect when a meter is going unpaid, which means enforcers will have to make regular rounds and checks, just as they do today, before issuing a ticket.
Lynn Marmer, a Port board member and vice chairwoman of Kroger, said increased enforcement is necessary because most people currently don't pay for the parking services they use. She blamed that on the city's dwindling enforcement for parking violations: The city handed out 65,000 tickets in 2012, down from 104,000 in 2008.
"I think it's unlikely we all got better at following the rules and paying fines," Marmer said.
The Port doesn't expect enforcement to reach the levels of 2008 any time soon, but Brunner and others said that tickets will gradually rise once the Port Authority hands the parking meters over to private operators.
One of those private operators is Xerox, which will manage Cincinnati's parking meters under the deal. The Port says it plans to establish a 10-year contract with Xerox, but the contracts will be reviewed quarterly to ensure the company is doing a good job. If not, the contract can be terminated.
Port officials stated that Xerox will not get revenue based on stringent enforcement. Instead, the Port will regularly review Xerox based on a series of measurements that attempt to gauge how efficiently the company is running the city's parking meters.
Port officials also reemphasized that parking meter enforcement hours in neighborhoods — meaning outside of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — will only last until 6 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. as originally called for in the plan. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine meters will still be extended to 9 p.m., although some areas on the edges of downtown, such as Broadway Street, are exempt and enforcement will only run through 6 p.m. in those places.
The change for neighborhood meter hours will presumably lower how much Cincinnati gets from leasing its parking assets to the Port, but officials weren't ready to unveil exactly how much money the city will get. Previous city estimates put the lump sum at $92 million and annual installments at a minimum of $3 million, but that was before the Port's changes.
Prepared statements show if the final lump sum falls under $85 million, the city manager will need to approve the changes before the Port can move forward with the deal.
The decrease in hours also comes with a caveat: It will be possible for the city manager, Port and an independent board appointed by the Port and city manager to expand parking meter hours in the future. But such a change would require approval from all three governing bodies.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who's running for mayor and opposes the parking lease, says the Port's presentation did nothing to address his concerns. Claiming that "the devil's in the details," Cranley pointed out that the Port still hasn't released the actual contracts or bond documents.
Brunner said the documents should be released within a month, and the Port plans to give the public two weeks to review the details between the documents' release and the Port's final vote.
Cranley argued that might not be enough time. He told CityBeat that the city "almost gave away" free Sunday and holiday parking under its original lease agreement. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld's office had to catch the error and refer it to the city administration before it was corrected.
The Port's presentation was meant to wrap up the agency's due diligence of the parking lease as it approaches a Sept. 4 deadline. Going into the presentation, Marmer explained, "Frankly, we were more skeptical (of the parking lease) than neutral."
Emails previously acquired by CityBeat back Marmer's skepticism. Writing to other Port officials in June, Marmer expressed concerns that the parking lease has been poorly handled and will snare the Port with controversy. "This whole parking issue has been a gigantic distraction from our core mission," she claimed.
Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage Cincinnati's parking assets to pay for development projects that will grow the city's tax base. Opponents argue it will take too much control out of the city's hands, cause parking rates and enforcement to skyrocket and hurt businesses and residents.
The parking lease has been engulfed in political controversy ever since it was announced in October. Most recently, the city administration was criticized for failing to disclose an independent consultant's memo that found the city was getting a bad deal from the lease. City officials argue the memo was outdated, so they didn't feel the need to release its details.
With its due diligence nearly finished, the Port will now finalize contracts, update the financial model for the lease and vote on the bonds and contracts that will complete the deal. If all goes as planned, the Port's new system will be in place by April next year.
This story was updated to clarify some wording and what parking meters will be enforced until 9 p.m.
National conservative groups have brought their concerted effort to weaken state energy standards to Ohio. State Sen. Bill Seitz, who’s on the board of directors of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), says he will introduce a bill within two weeks that would cap how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and eliminate requirements for in-state wind and solar power. ALEC and the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank backed in part by oil companies and global-warming deniers, have teamed up to undo energy standards in different states, but so far the groups’ efforts have failed. Seitz’s proposal would weaken Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, which environmentalists and other green energy advocates say have revitalized wind, solar and other renewable projects around the state.
Cincinnati Public Schools got six F’s, one D and two C’s in the 2012-2013 school report card released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE). The scores come with a big caveat: The school district is still being investigated for scrubbing data, which could be favorably skewing results for CPS. This is the first year ODE is using its A-F grading system, which is much more stringent than the previous system — to the point that no school district earned straight A’s this year, according to StateImpact Ohio.
Cincinnati for Pension Reform, the group behind the controversial pension amendment that will appear on the ballot this November, officially registered with the state. The group isn’t disclosing how much money it’s raised so far. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize the city’s pension system, a pooled fund that’s managed by an independent board, so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who use a different system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. City officials and unions say the amendment will raise costs for the city and hurt gains for employees. Tea party supporters say it’s needed to deal with Cincinnati’s rising pension costs. CityBeat covered the pension amendment and the national groups who may be helping fund its campaign in further detail here.
Ohio’s oil and gas boom has apparently failed to create all the jobs state officials previously promised. “Total employment growth has been much less robust than sales activity in Ohio's shale country,” claims the Ohio Utica Shale Gas Monitor, which is produced quarterly by the Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. CityBeat covered Ohio’s oil and gas boom in further detail here.
A company that received a tax credit through JobsOhio two years ago is moving some executives and operations from Ohio to Chicago. Rittal Corp. has not received the tax credit yet, but it intends to uphold its tax agreement through other operations. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency established by Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the Ohio Department of Development. Kasich and allies argue its privatized, secretive nature allow it to more quickly establish job-creating development deals, but Democratic opponents argue the agency is too difficult to hold accountable.
CityBeat commentary on JobsOhio: “Gov. Kasich’s Bias Toward Secrecy.”
Ohio has received more than $383 million as part of the national mortgage settlement, which has helped more than 10,000 Ohioans, according to the state attorney general’s office. The payout, which is paid by banks as part of a settlement reached with states and the federal government, is meant to provide some relief to Americans who were impacted by the housing and economic crisis of 2008.
Enrollment at Ohio colleges, including the University of Cincinnati, is continuing its steady rise.
A campaign supported by AAA, local school officials and police is attempting to reduce the amount of car accidents involving school children. The “School’s Open — Drive Carefully” campaign aims to give drivers a few tips for navigating roads filled with children going to school.
Local startup incubator Hamilton County Business Center was granted $250,000 by the state to help develop tech companies. Cincinnati recently gained national recognition for its tech boom in Entrepreneur and CNBC, with Entrepreneur calling the city “an unexpected hub for tech startups.”
Cincinnati-based Macy’s will pay a civil penalty to settle accusations that it engaged in unfair documentation practices against immigrant employees.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is charging Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank for allegedly discriminating against a couple with disabilities. The bank and others reportedly required unnecessary medical documentation from the couple when the two attempted to refinance their home mortgage with a Federal Housing Administration loan.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) got six F’s, one D and two C’s in the 2012-2013 school report card released today by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE).
The school district got an F for state test results, closing gaps related to income, race, culture and disabilities, progress among gifted students, progress among students with disabilities and both categories for graduation rates, which measure how many students graduated within four or five years.
CPS also got a D for progress among students who started out in the bottom fifth for achievement, and it got a C for progress among all student groups and how many students passed state tests.
The grades come with a big caveat: CPS is still being investigated for scrubbing data, which could be favorably skewing the school district’s results.
This is the first year ODE is using the new A-F grading system, which is more stringent than how schools were previously scored. No school district earned straight A’s this year, according to StateImpact Ohio.
Because the system is new, some of the categories that schools are graded on are missing and will be added in the next few years. Specifically, the report card won’t measure overall results for the district, test scores, gap closing, K-3 literacy, progress, graduation rates and preparation for college and careers until 2015.
Under the old system, CPS dropped from “effective,” which made it the best-rated urban school district in Ohio for the 2010-2011 school year, to “continuous improvement” for 2011-2012. Those results are also under review based on data-scrubbing investigations.
CPS has recently gained national recognition in The Huffington Post and The New York Times for its community learning centers, which turn schools into hubs that can be used by locals for resources ranging from education to dental care.
In November 2012, Cincinnati voters approved a levy renewal for CPS in a 65-35 percent vote, which kept local property taxes roughly $253 higher on a $100,000 home.
The official website for the school report cards can be found here, but it’s been having technical problems for most of the day.
State Sen. Bill Seitz says he’s working on a bill that would cap how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and eliminate requirements for in-state wind and solar power. But the proposal isn’t completely unique to Ohio, which is just one of many states in which national conservative groups are working to weaken state energy standards.
Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, told Gongwer
that his bill will keep requirements for utilities to provide 25
percent of their electricity from alternative sources and reduce
customers’ consumption by 22 percent by 2025.
But the other measures will likely weaken renewable energy and efficiency standards set by Ohio’s Clean Energy Law in 2008.
The bill is presumably the result of Seitz’s review of Ohio’s energy rules, which the state senator announced earlier in the year.
FirstEnergy, an Akron-based utility company, says the review is necessary because the regulations impose too many costs. But there’s another major group involved: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Seitz is on the board of directors of ALEC,
a conservative group that’s gone from state to state to push legislation
that typically favors corporate interests.
Some state officials, including Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, reportedly attended ALEC’s 40th annual meeting in Chicago Aug. 7-9.
Just a couple weeks after that meeting, Seitz announced he still intends to rework Ohio’s energy standards.
ALEC previously teamed up with the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets much of its funding from oil companies, to write the standard for legislation that pulls back state energy rules. Many of the effort’s backers, particularly at the Heartland Institute, deny man-made global warming, even though scientists are 95 percent certain climate change is influenced by human actions.
ALEC’s efforts have so far failed in every state in which legislation has been proposed, as shown in this map from ThinkProgress:
But Ohio may be the first state to buck that trend if Seitz insists on pushing his review.
A report from advocacy group Environment Ohio found the current energy standards, which require Ohio utility companies get 12.5 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources, have successfully spurred clean
energy projects all around the state, particularly in Cincinnati.
One local example: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 2011 installed solar panels in its parking lot that will generate enough electricity to meet 20 percent of the zoo’s electricity needs and reduce pollution associated with global warming by 1,775 tons annually, according to the report.
But the standards are written in a way that favors in-state sources, which was supposed to ensure that at least half of the renewable energy development spurred by the Clean Energy Law happened in Ohio. A June 2013 ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that the in-state preference is an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause.
Seitz will introduce his bill in the next two weeks.
As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, Metro, Greater Cincinnati’s bus system, is moving forward with changes that seek to improve services that have dealt with funding shortfalls and cuts in the past few years. The biggest change is Metro*Plus, a new limited-stop weekday bus service that will be free through Aug. 23. Metro spokesperson Jill Dunne says Metro*Plus is a step toward bus rapid transit (BRT), an elaborate system that uses limited stops, traffic signal priority and bus-only lanes. Metro*Plus is mostly federally funded, and Metro says an expansion into BRT, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, would also be carried by federal grants. Besides Metro*Plus, Cincinnati’s bus system is also adding and cutting some routes.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says he will introduce legislation
capping how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and
scrapping requirements for in-state solar and wind power — two major
moves that will weaken Ohio’s Clean Energy Law. But Seitz says the
changes would keep mandates for utilities to provide one-fourth of their
electricity through alternative sources and reduce consumer consumption by 22
percent by 2025. Environmentalists have been critical of
Seitz’s review ever since he announced it in response to pressure from
Akron-based FirstEnergy, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. (Correction: This paragraph previously said utilities are required to provide one-fourth of their electricity through renewable sources; the requirement actually applies to “alternative sources.”)
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns yesterday declared his campaign dead and blamed local media, including CityBeat, for its demise. Berns said the media has done little to promote him over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley, who have similar views on every major issue except the streetcar and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. In response, Berns attached a picture of himself playing dead in front of a vehicle. The stunt was just the latest in the Libertarian’s campaign, which has included Berns quitting the race for one day before deciding to stay in, the candidate giving away tomato plants while claiming they’re marijuana and lots of free ice cream.
Commentary: “Gov. Kasich’s Bias Toward Secrecy.”
Cranley is airing a new advertisement attacking Qualls. The ad focuses largely on the streetcar and parking plan. As Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier points out, the ad “takes some factual liberties”: Parking meters are being leased, not sold, to the quasi-public Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, and it’s so far unclear how the money from the lease is going to be spent and if the resulting projects will really favor downtown over neighborhoods.
Hamilton County commissioners approved the next phase of The Banks, which could include another hotel if developers can’t find office tenants to fill the currently planned space. The second phase of the project already includes a one-block complex with 305 apartments.
State officials are reporting a 467-percent increase in the amount of seized meth labs this year. “We’re seeing a continuous spike,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “It is easier (for people to make the drug). We used to talk about ‘meth houses,’ or places people would make this. Well, today, you can make it in a pop bottle.”
Ohio’s school report cards will be released today, allowing anyone to go online and see what a school is rated on an A-F scale.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs yesterday announced more than $317,000 will be directed to Ohio to provide critical housing and clinical services for homeless veterans. The grants are part of the $75 million appropriated this year to support housing needs for homeless veterans.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is launching a new initiative called #RunTheCity, which will allow citizens to run or walk alongside local officials in an event that’s supposed to simultaneously encourage access and healthy living. The first event with City Solicitor John Curp, Cincinnati’s top lawyer, will be tonight at 6 p.m. at Wulsin Triangle, corner of Observatory Avenue and Madison Road in Hyde Park.
Two Greater Cincinnati companies — U.S. Logistics and ODW Logistics & Transportation Services — made the Inc. 500 list for fastest-growing companies, and more than 50 others made the Inc. 5,000 list. Four landed on the Inc. 500 list last year and one got on the list in 2011.
Another good local economic indicator: Greater Cincinnati home sales jumped 30 percent in July.
Mouse skin cells were successfully transformed into eggs, sperm and babies, but a similar treatment for infertile humans is likely a few decades away.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns today pronounced his campaign dead and claimed local media, including CityBeat, is to blame.
“From day one, the Cincinnati Print Media (especially the Enquirer) have thrown Libertarian candidate for mayor, Jim Berns, under the bus,” Berns wrote in an email, listing Carl Weiser, Jane Prendergast, Ryan Hoffman and Ben Goldschmidt of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Howard Wilkinson of WVXU, German Lopez of CityBeat and Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier as the main culprits.
In the email, Berns complains that the two frontrunners in the mayoral race — Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley — have nearly identical records. Those candidates’ biggest points of disagreement are the streetcar and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes.
The email claims the media should call Berns “courageous, innovative, a real choice” instead of a “perennial candidate.”
Berns then attached this picture:
The latest stunt is just one of many that have been part of Berns’ campaign.
On July 31, Berns declared he was quitting the mayoral race in protest of the city’s primary system, which Berns says favors Qualls and Cranley. A day later, he changed his mind and said he’s back in.
On June 4, Berns, who supports marijuana legalization, said he was going to hand out free marijuana plants at a campaign event. The gifts turned out to be tomato plants, not marijuana.
In general, the Libertarian’s campaign has focused a lot on giving stuff away. His campaign card proudly touts his intent to give out free ice cream, which he has repeatedly done at events.
As a Libertarian, Berns supports lower taxes and smaller government and opposes drug prohibition. He was endorsed by the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).
Cincinnati is generally considered a Democratic stronghold, which has kept Berns’ chances of winning the mayoral race very low. The city hasn’t had a non-Democratic mayor since Charterite Arnold Bortz left office in 1984. Back then, the local Democratic Party and the Charter Committee were working together through a coalition.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld has resolved his petition problems and will appear on the ballot for reelection this November.
“The (Hamilton County Board of Elections) confirmed last night we have more than enough signatures to be placed on the ballot,” Sittenfeld wrote in an email.
Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Board of Elections, says the board has so far verified more than 900 signatures out of the 1,500 Sittenfeld turned in. Council candidates need 500 to get on the ballot.
Sittenfeld was one of two candidates who faced petition problems last week. In his case, petitions were found to have crossed-out dates with corrections written on the back, which election officials said might disqualify hundreds of signatures. In response, Sittenfeld renewed his petition drive.
In a Facebook post this morning, Sittenfeld thanked a 93-year-old family friend, a former teacher, City Council candidates and other volunteers for helping with the effort.
Mike Moroski, who was told his original batch of petitions fell 46 signatures short, wrote on Twitter that he turned in more than 1,100 signatures this morning. In a statement, Moroski thanked his team and participants
for helping him collect the signatures, which the Board of Elections will now need to verify.
The deadline for turning in City Council petitions is Aug. 22. Once the Board of Elections finishes verifying the numbers, it will release the full slate of candidates.
Greater Cincinnati homeless shelters are reporting a 31 percent increase in the number of families calling for help — a sign that homelessness may be trending up. Meanwhile, City Council managed to avoid cutting funding to human services that help the homeless this year, but the local government has steadily provided less funding since 2004, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Cincinnati lost 4,000 jobs from June to July, but it gained 14,000 between July 2012 and July this year, far above the 3,000 necessary to keep up with annual population growth, according to data released yesterday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was at 7.1 percent in July, down from 7.3 percent in June and 7.4 percent in July 2012. The labor force shrunk in comparison to the previous month and year, which means the unemployment rate fell partly because many people stopped looking for jobs. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in July and the U.S. rate was 7.4 percent.
More JobsOhio controversy: The state panel that approves tax credits recommended by the privatized development agency has never said no, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Gov. John Kasich and Republicans say the Ohio Tax Credit Authority is supposed to be an independent watchdog on JobsOhio, but both JobsOhio and the Ohio Tax Credit Authority have their boards appointed by the governor. Democrats have been highly critical of JobsOhio for its lack of transparency and privatized nature, but Republicans say both are good traits for an agency that needs to move fast to land job-creating development deals.
Meanwhile, two Democrats in the Ohio House are pushing a ban on Ohio officials, including the governor, receiving outside pay. The proposal is largely in response to JobsOhio recommending $619,000 in tax credits in 2012 and 2013 to Worthington Industries, a company that paid Kasich through 2012 for his time on its board. The Ohio Ethics Commission refused to investigate the potential conflict of interest because it said Kasich made a clean break from Worthington when he was elected.
Hamilton County taxpayers might have to put up $10 million to give the Cincinnati Bengals a high-definition scoreboard, thanks to the team’s lease with the county. Economists generally see stadiums as one of the most over-hyped, unsuccessful urban investments, according to The Nation.
No City Council member supports the tea party-backed pension amendment that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city workers, excluding cops and firefighters, contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, Cincinnati pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials and unions claim the measure will cost the city more than the current system and hurt retirement gains for city employees. But tea party groups say the amendment is necessary to address Cincinnati’s growing pension costs, including an $862 million unfunded liability. CityBeat wrote about the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.
Ohio is partnering up with the Jason Foundation to provide training and information to teachers, coaches, other school personnel, parents and students about suicide, the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds after car accidents. The measure aims to curb down suicide rates.
Hamilton County and Cincinnati are pursuing joint funding of technology upgrades for 911 services, and the two local governments are moving permitting services to one location, according to a statement from Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s office. Hartmann has long pursued more city-county collaboration so both can run more efficiently and bring down costs.
The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati is now called Interact for Health.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) yesterday reported 2013’s first case of West Nile Virus. A 72-year-old woman in Cuyahoga County is apparently being hospitalized for the disease. ODH Director Ted Wymyslo said in a statement that, while Ohio has dealt with West Nile Virus since 2002, cases have dropped in the past year.
The University of Cincinnati is set to break another record for enrollment this fall.
Dunnhumby USA yesterday unveiled the design for its downtown headquarters.
A new electric car can fold itself in half when parking.
The Cincinnati area lost 4,000 jobs from June to July, but it gained 14,000 between July 2012 and July this year, far above the 3,000 necessary to keep up with annual population growth, according to data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was at 7.1 percent in July, down from 7.3 percent in June and 7.4 percent in July 2012. The labor force shrunk in comparison to the previous month and year, which means the unemployment rate fell partly because many people stopped looking for jobs.
The unemployment rate gauges the amount of unemployed people looking for work in comparison to the total civilian labor force, which means a decrease in the labor force can bring down the unemployment rate even if employment also drops.
Economists generally prefer looking at year-over-year numbers to control for seasonal factors, such as teachers leaving the work force at the end of the school year.
July’s job gains were largest in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and educational and health services, but the city lost jobs in mining, logging and construction, manufacturing and all levels of government.
Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in July. The U.S. rate was 7.4 percent.
Since the job numbers are derived from surveys, they are often revised in later months.
Councilman Chris Smitherman told CityBeat he doesn’t support the pension amendment that will appear on the ballot this November, which means no council member approves of the controversial proposal.
The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board.
City officials and unions claim the amendment will cost the city more and hurt retirement gains for public employees. Tea party groups say the amendment is necessary to address the city’s growing pension costs, including an $862 million unfunded liability.
“I do not support the amendment. I have introduced several solutions that have been ignored by council and your paper,” Smitherman wrote in an email.
The other eight members of City Council — seven Democrats and one Republican — on Aug. 7 approved a resolution that condemned the tea party amendment. But Smitherman, an Independent, wasn’t present at the meeting.
CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.