Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.
Among the new city government’s first priorities is canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity. They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November 2014 ballot.
Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes in the past few years.
Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.
A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid expansion to boost the local government fund, but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.
More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.
The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.
Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.
Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.
The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.
"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.
The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.
For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.
City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.
Read the full letter below:
Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.
The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.
But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.
Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.
Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.
But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.
Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.
Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.
Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.
Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.
Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.
A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.
On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.
The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.
Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.
Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.
Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.
Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.
Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
CityBeat’s German Lopez noted on Twitter the irony of The Enquirer now supporting both the streetcar and parking plan while the candidate it endorsed attempts to unravel both — Cranley already stopped the parking plan. The comment drew a response from Enquirer Editor Carolyn Washburn, who is on the newspaper’s editorial board along with Publisher Margaret Buchanan and Editorial Page Editor David Holthaus.
The editorial includes the following paragraph: “In endorsing Cranley, we said he would ‘have to rein in his dictatorial tendencies and discipline himself to be diplomatic, respectful and collaborative.’ What we’ve seen so far is a matter for concern. Hurling insults at professionals like streetcar project manager John Deatrick isn’t what we need. Deatrick enjoys a good reputation as someone who has managed The Banks project and the rebuild of Fort Washington Way. He needs to stay on the streetcar project.”
The editorial was published the same day City Council put completing the project into law and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced his decision to support the project’s completion, which Lopez pointed out leaves Council short of the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project without leaving it open to referendum. Without the emergency clause, streetcar supporters could gather the required signatures to put a 5-4 cancellation vote to referendum, which would force the city to continue working on the project until voters decide on it in November.
Mayor-elect Cranley will hold a vote to stop the project on Monday. With Sittenfeld set to vote against halting the project, Cranley will need either newly elected David Mann or Kevin Flynn to vote in favor of stopping it. Both are on the record as being against the project but have left room to consider the financial realities before making their final decisions.
Cranley announced this morning that he will name the new city manager at 2 p.m. today. Cranley removed former city manager Milton Dohoney last week.
A story by The Enquirer’s Mark Curnutte yesterday detailed life expectancy disparities among Cincinnati’s poor neighborhoods, finding a 20 year difference at times between citizens of predominantly black or urban Appalachian neighborhoods and people of wealthy white neighborhoods like Mount Lookout, Columbia Tusculum and Hyde Park. The Cincinnati Health Department will release more statistics Tuesday and a community discussion on the issue is set for Jan. 10.
Pope Francis yesterday criticized the world’s growing wealth disparity, mentioning things like “idolatry of money” and “a new tyranny” in a 50,000-word statement that sharply criticized trickle-down economics.
The Pope via The Washington Post:
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
OTR restaurant Kaze will begin offering lunch hours starting on Black Friday.
Away from home and tired of “Friends-giving” gatherings? Here’s a bunch of restaurants serving good stuff on Thanksgiving day.
Skip Black Friday craziness and use CityBeat’s Gift Guide to shop local this holiday season. There are also plenty of local retailers you can hit up online if you don't wait until the last minute!
If you’re traveling to some stuck-up East Coast city for Thanksgiving, charge the iPad or whatever because there are going to be some storms.
And high winds might cause the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to take all the air out of the Snoopy balloons so no one flies up into the air like in movies.
The NSA reportedly considered revealing the “porn-browsing history” of certain people considered to have ties to terrorist activity in order to discredit them.
Great, now America’s durable goods orders are down. Thanks a lot, government shutdown!
At least the country’s jobless claims are back to pre-recession levels. Thanks, Obama?
The University of Cincinnati Bearcats beat UMass Lowell in basketball last night and senior forward Justin Jackson jammed one in the hoop hard.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is forced to progress for nearly a year.
Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly elected officials take office on Sunday.
The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor, and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently ongoing construction.
But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.
If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a referendum.
Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”
“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous effort and expense.”
To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point, including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city pulls the plug now.
Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.
There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5 million a year.
Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.
A special improvement district would require a petitioning process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.
If the special improvement district doesn’t come to fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more difficult to support going forward.
Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.
For the third time, a representative from the federal government yesterday reiterated to Cincinnati officials that if the $132.8 million streetcar project is canceled, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left to the discretion of the state government, which could allocate the money anywhere in Ohio. The repeated reminders are necessary as Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council prepare to delay or potentially terminate the project once they take office in December. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said even a mere delay could lead to the federal government restricting or outright terminating the federal grant deals. But Cranley, a long-time opponent of the streetcar project, appeared unfazed by the news at a press conference following Carter's thorough explanation. "If we have to, we’ll give the money back," he said.
Cranley yesterday announced his intent to appoint Councilman-elect David Mann as his vice mayor. Cranley said Mann passed the "bus test," an unfortunate hypothetical scenario in which the mayor dies after being hit by a bus. Cranley also cited Mann's numerous accomplishments, ranging from achievements at Harvard University to previous stints as mayor when top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position. Mann promised to work with Cranley to make his administration a success and respectfully disagree but move on when the two men differ.
A Cincinnati Health Department report found life expectancy can vary by 20 years from one part of Cincinnati to another. Black men in particular can expect to live nearly 10 years less than white men. The Health Department said in a press release that it wants to find out why there's such a disparity.
A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. John Kasich still ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a 44 to 37 percent match-up, but FitzGerald is gaining ground. About 71 percent of Ohioans in the poll said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him, so FitzGerald still has time to build positive name recognition while Kasich has an opportunity to paint his opponent in a negative light before the November 2014 election.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters might be investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for improperly voting.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cancel an automatic recount of the Nov. 5 vote, which Quinlivan was entitled to after she placed 10th place in the City Council race by only 859 votes.
The grand jury for the Steubenville, Ohio, rape investigation indicted four people, including a school superintendent.
Four Ohio corrections officers were fired over the escape of an inmate serving a life sentence for rape, officials announced Monday.
The University of Cincinnati is aiming for an attendance record when it hosts Louisville for a Dec. 5 game at Nippert Stadium.
The deadline to select Medicare coverage is Dec. 7 at midnight.
Scientists could be on the verge of learning how to erase and rewrite memories.
Morning News and Stuff will most likely be out of service until Monday, Dec. 2 as CityBeat staff celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday.
Mayor-elect John Cranley on Monday announced he will appoint Councilman-elect David Mann to act as vice mayor.
“Quite simply, he passes the bus test,” Cranley said at a press conference, suggesting that Mann is capable of doing his job if the mayor were to die after getting hit by a bus. “He’s the one guy who can serve as mayor and preserve the city’s heritage.”
Cranley cited Mann’s numerous accomplishments, including his time with the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal and previous stints as mayor when the top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position.
Mann and Cranley promised to work together, even if they don’t agree on every issue.
“Your success will be the city’s success,” Mann said to Cranley. “When we disagree, we’ll disagree with respect and go forward.”
Speaking on priorities he shares with Cranley, Mann
outlined his intentions to structurally balance the budget, cancel the
parking plan, investigate whether the city can afford to terminate the
streetcar project, tackle the city’s high poverty rates and refocus city
funding to benefit all local neighborhoods.
Cranley and Mann will officially take office on Sunday, along with the rest of the new City Council.
Although it has already been explicitly stated in two letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the $132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money to any project in Ohio.
The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not going to happen.
Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government would react to such circumstances.
According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would break the city’s agreement with the federal government and lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds, ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the deal altogether.
Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.
“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”
But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were canceled.
President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.
“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.
Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.
That means the city could potentially spend more than 94 percent of the project’s total costs before it manages to fully close down the streetcar project, which is currently undergoing construction and tied up to various federal grants and business contracts.
The presentation was given in advance of Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council taking office in December. Cranley is an ardent opponent of the streetcar project, and a majority of the City Council says it wants to pause the project and consider cancellation.
Cranley’s proposed alternative to the streetcar — a trolley bus system
— would cost $10-$15 million in capital funds, according to supporters of the rubber-tire trolley alternative. If streetcar cancellation costs were to reach the high end of the city’s estimate and the trolley bus is paid for, the city could end up spending $140.3 million to cancel the streetcar project and build a
considerably less ambitious trolley bus line — about $7.5 million more
than it would cost to simply complete the streetcar project.
If it’s completed, Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen says operating the streetcar would cost between $3.4-$4.5 million each year, which city officials say could come from various potential sources, including a special improvement district that would raise property taxes within three blocks of the streetcar route.
But the operating budget cost would be a wash if Cranley pursues the trolley bus system, which, according to advocates, will cost slightly more to operate than the streetcar. Cranley says the operating cost for the trolley bus is concerning if it holds true.
Following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley held a press conference in which he flatly denied the current city administration’s estimates. He says he will tap new experts to run over the numbers while the project is put on pause.
“We’re going to bring in new, objective leadership, not the current leadership that is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters, which was clearly expressed a couple weeks ago in this election,” Cranley says.
Deatrick’s cancellation projections account for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, which include construction to close the project — such as repaving torn-up roads — and orders on vehicles and other supplies that are already placed but not officially billed.
The federal government has also allocated $44.9 million in federal grants to the streetcar project. In a letter released by the city administration on Nov. 14, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) explicitly stated that $40.9 million would be taken back if the project didn’t adequately progress; the remaining $4 million would be left under the supervision of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of the state.
But Deatrick’s estimates don’t consider the unknown cost of litigation, which would need to come out of a city operating budget that is already structurally imbalanced, according to Meg Olberding, the city’s spokesperson.
The estimates also don’t consider that the city could potentially forgo spending $7.4 million in contingency funds on the project if it goes through completion and remains within budget, which would lower the project’s effective cost to $125.4 million.
If the city cancels the project, Deatrick says it’s also more likely that the city would lose in its legal battle against Duke Energy, which could add up to $15 million in costs. That money is tentatively allocated from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport as the city and Duke argue in court as to who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar tracks.
Those are the potential financial costs, but city officials also warn that canceling the project could have a detrimental impact on the city’s image.
“That’s what the city would be known for forever,” says Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan. “To throw this away would be unconscionable.”
City officials also warn that canceling would be pulling back on a light rail project that President Barack Obama’s administration has clearly prioritized.
“The city-federal relationship is excellent right now,” Deatrick says. “There would be immediate damage to that.”
The 200-plus workers currently involved the project would also be displaced. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson points out pausing or canceling the project in December would leave those workers jobless for the holiday season.
Another concern is the impact of cancellation on the relationship between the federal government and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates the Metro bus system and will operate the streetcar if it’s completed. If the city is unable to pay back the grants to the federal government within 30 days, Deatrick says the FTA could cut SORTA grants for bus service and potentially halt some local bus services.
One concern raised by Councilman Chris Seelbach and Councilman-elect Kevin Flynn, one of the three potential swing votes in the incoming council of nine, is whether the project’s estimated return on investment is still 2.7-to-1 over 35 years. That number is derived from a 2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was later evaluated and affirmed by the University of Cincinnati.
Deatrick points out the numbers were re-evaluated by HDR in 2011, and they still seem to hold true. He says there are still plenty of vacant buildings along the 3.6-mile streetcar line that could use the encouraged investment, despite some of the revitalization seen in the Over-the-Rhine and downtown areas that the streetcar route would cover.
The 2.7-to-1 return on investment is also “a very, very conservative estimate,” says Deatrick. He claims HDR could have relied on numbers from other cities, such as Portland, Ore., that saw considerably better returns on their streetcar systems.
Still, Flynn and Councilman-elect David Mann, another potential swing vote, say they want to scrutinize the cancellation estimates before making a final decision on the project.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a long-time streetcar supporter who lost to Cranley in her mayoral bid, encourages a re-examination of the numbers. But she cautions, “If what has been presented today stands up to scrutiny, there’s absolutely no reason to cancel the project.”
Flynn won’t say whether he would reconsider his past opposition to the project if the numbers hold up. But Mann says, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”
Both Flynn and Mann also say that they would be willing to pause the project while clearer estimates are crunched.
But that could present a short time window. If the project doesn’t adequately progress, the federal government could take back its grant money. Based on city officials’ estimates, that provides a 30-day window to re-calculate cancellation costs and the potential return on investment.
Pausing the project would also impose its own set of costs as some workers and equipment are retained.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who’s also seen as a swing vote, could not be reached for comment. He’s currently in Washington, D.C., to meet with White House officials for an issue unrelated to the streetcar.
Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.
Updated with Mayor-elect John Cranley’s comments and clearer, corrected numbers.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow Cincinnati to keep $44.9 million in federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project until midnight on Dec. 19 while the city reviews the costs of canceling or completing the project, Mayor John Cranley announced on Facebook on Friday.
The FTA's decision gives the city two weeks to assemble a team and conduct its audit, which a slim majority of City Council agreed to do on Wednesday when it put the streetcar project on pause.
Without the federal grants, the streetcar project would have lost one-third of its funding and presumably died, even if a majority of City Council decided it wants to continue with the project.
The city is currently working to hire KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm, for the audit, according to Jay Kincaid, Cranley's chief of staff.
Council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn in particular asked for the review before they make a final decision on the streetcar.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants.
Mann and Flynn were among a majority of council members who voiced distrust toward Deatrick's estimates, hence the need for an independent review.
But the review might not matter if Cranley decides to veto any ordinance continuing the streetcar project, which Kincaid said Cranley would do if he deems the project too costly following the audit.
A mayoral veto would require both Flynn and Mann to help provide a supermajority — six of nine council votes — to save the streetcar. That could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.
Update: Added who the city plans to hire for the audit.
Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, has withdrawn from the nomination process, the mayor's office announced on Friday.
The mayor's office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while it launches a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
"After consulting with my family, we have come to the personal, private decision that it is best for me to remain as the director of the Parks Department," Carden said in a statement. "John Cranley is going to be a great mayor and this is a difficult decision for me. But it’s simply about what is best for me and my family. As a personal matter, I would ask that you respect our family's privacy."
Carden's nomination initially drew wide praise from City Council, but it was snared in controversy after Carden said he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter. The Cincinnati Enquirer also uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from both the city and the private Parks Foundation.
Councilman Chris Seelbach responded ambivalently to the news, praising both Carden and the decision to go through a national search.
"Although I would have supported Willie Carden as the permanent city manager, I'm glad to see we are now going to undertake the process we should have taken all along," Seelbach posted on Facebook.
When Cranley announced the nomination on Nov. 27, the Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, criticized Cranley for not undertaking a transparent national search prior to his decision.
City Council's Rules and Audit Committee almost considered Carden's nomination on Tuesday, but the decision was delayed for a week to give council members time to interview Carden one-on-one and evaluate ordinances for the nomination.
Mayor John Cranley might veto an ordinance continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project, even if a majority of City Council wants the project to continue after its costs are reviewed through an independent audit, said Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s chief of staff, on Friday.
The decision means six of nine council members — a supermajority — might be required to overturn a mayoral veto and continue the streetcar project. With only two perceived swing votes on council, that could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.
“Of course he reserves the right to veto the legislation,” Kincaid said.
If Cranley reviews the numbers and decides that the project is too costly, he will use the veto powers provided to him through the city charter, Kincaid explained.
Kincaid’s response came after CityBeat confirmed with City Solicitor John Curp that continuing the streetcar project would require a new ordinance that, in theory, could be vetoed by the mayor. City Council can overcome a mayoral veto with a supermajority, or six of nine total council votes.
When CityBeat talked to Kincaid the day before he confirmed Cranley’s willingness to veto, Kincaid speculated that Cranley would not veto legislation continuing the streetcar project.
“I have not talked to (Cranley) about it. I assume that he would let it go forward since he gave (Councilman) David Mann his word that he would give this time to review it, and he gave the same assurance to (Councilman) Kevin Flynn,” Kincaid previously said.
Five of nine council members on Wednesday agreed to allocate $1.25
million to indefinitely pause the streetcar project and pay
for an independent study that will gauge how much it will cost to
continue or permanently cancel the project.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Almost immediately, a majority of council voiced distrust toward Deatrick’s numbers. In a press conference following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley called city officials in charge of the streetcar project “incompetent.”
Council members Flynn and Mann vocally opposed the streetcar project on the campaign trail. But both said they’ll make a final decision on the project once the cancellation and completion numbers are evaluated through an independent review.
Mann previously told CityBeat, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”
Flynn wouldn’t speculate on what stance he will take if the numbers stand to scrutiny. He said a pressing concern for him is how the city will pay for $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar, which could hit an already-strained operating budget.
If Cranley vetoes an ordinance continuing the streetcar project, both Flynn and Mann would likely need to agree to continue — or at least overturn a mayoral veto — to keep the streetcar alive.
City officials estimate the review will take at least two weeks. Once the audit is finished, council members are expected to announce their final positions on continuing or canceling the project.
Update: Mayor John Cranley on Friday announced the federal government is giving Cincinnati until Dec. 19 to make a decision on the streetcar project. Read more here.
This story was updated to better explain that Jay Kincaid’s second direct quote came from a separate conversation on Thursday, the day before he announced Mayor John Cranley’s willingness to veto.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick yesterday said only 11 streetcar workers are expected to lose their jobs following City Council’s pause of the $132.8 million project, far below the original estimate of 200 city officials gave on Monday. The remaining workers will be moved by contractors to other jobs or kept under ongoing utility work, which utility companies agreed to continue despite no longer qualifying for reimbursements from the city, according to Deatrick. He also said it’s “a wild guess” whether the number of layoffs will grow in the future.
Cincinnati should expect to return up to $44.9 million in federal grants funding nearly one-third of the streetcar project even though the project is only on “pause” as local officials weigh the costs of cancellation and completion, according to transportation experts who talked to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Without the federal grants, the project is effectively dead. The two swing votes on council — David Mann and Kevin Flynn — say they want to evaluate whether it would make financial sense to cancel the project this far into construction. Deatrick previously estimated the costs of cancellation could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and $44.9 million in lost federal grants. But Mann and Flynn voiced distrust over the projections and called for an independent review.
Democrats and voter advocates claim Republican legislators are slowly rebuilding “voter suppression” laws that were the subject of referendum in 2012 before Republicans backed down. Democrats called on Gov. John Kasich to veto the bills. Among other measures, the bills would reduce the amount of in-person early voting days and restrict elected officials’ ability to to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats claim the bills are meant to suppress voters. Republicans argue the measures help reduce “cheaters,” even though in-person voter fraud is very rare.
Chris Finney, a high-profile lawyer who is critical of local tax breaks for businesses, apologized for denying that he sought tax breaks for his law firm. Finney sought the tax breaks shortly after criticizing Cincinnati for granting a tax incentive package to convince Pure Romance to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati. Finney is the top legal crusader for the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), a conservative group with a history of anti-gay causes.
Tea party group One Percent for Liberty nominated Mayor John Cranley as a “Defender of Liberty for 2013” for his work against the streetcar project and parking privatization plan. The group previously nominated various conservative politicians and activists from around the region. The award will be presented at COAST’s Christmas party.
Hundreds of schools and businesses in the Cincinnati area today closed in response to the developing winter storm.
St. Elizabeth Healthcare and TriHealth, two of the areas’ largest health systems, yesterday announced they’re teaming up to reduce costs, improve the patient experience and generate better health outcomes.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced he will crack down on electronic raffle operations.
Nelson Mandela, a South African icon of peace, died yesterday. Mandela was a peaceful leader of the anti-apartheid movement who went on to become South Africa’s first black president. His consistent devotion to peace inspired similar peaceful protests around the world. The New York Times put together a great interactive featuring several correspondents who witnessed Mandela first-hand here.
U.S. unemployment fell to 7 percent in November, the lowest rate in five years.
Popular Science explains how to get rid of animal testing.
Only 11 streetcar workers are expected to lose their jobs following a City Council-approved pause of the $132.8 million project, according to Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick.
The final number is far below the original estimate of 200 layoffs that city officials gave on Monday when council members asked about the effects of halting the streetcar project.
The remaining workers will be moved by contractors to
other jobs or kept under ongoing utility work, which utility companies
agreed to continue despite no longer qualifying for reimbursements from
the city, according to Deatrick.
Deatrick says it’s “a wild guess” whether the amount of layoffs will grow in the future.
“Our contractors have real heart,” he says.
The number is good financial news for the city. If 200 workers were laid off, Deatrick previously estimated that unemployment benefits would cost the city $419,000 for the month.
Still, the city administration on Wednesday warned that it could cost $2.56-$3.56 million to pause ongoing construction for the month. In comparison, Deatrick estimates that continuing construction at current speeds would cost $3 million.
A majority of council members dismissed the pause cost estimates as exaggerated when they voted to halt the project on Wednesday.
With the streetcar project on hold, council now plans to review how much it would cost to complete or cancel the project.
Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
But a majority of council members voiced distrust toward the estimates and called for an independent review.
Depending on the outcome of the cost analysis, Vice Mayor
David Mann and Councilman Kevin Flynn say they could change their minds
on canceling the streetcar project. Only one of them needs to do so to give streetcar supporters a majority on council.
City Council yesterday voted to allocate $1.25 million to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project and study how much it will cost to continue or cancel the project. The final 5-4 votes to pause came despite offers from private contributors to pay for the $250,000 study and construction for the one or two weeks necessary to carry out the cost analysis. The city administration warned council earlier in the day that pausing the project for one month could cost $2.56-$3.56 million, while previous estimates put continuing construction for the month at $3 million. After the cost study is finished, council members expect to make a final decision on whether to continue or cancel the project.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson filed a motion to draw up a city charter amendment that would task the city with completing the current streetcar project. If the charter amendment gets council approval, Cincinnatians would vote on the issue approximately 60 to 120 days afterward. But it’s unclear whether the $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar project would survive through the months; the federal government previously warned a delay could be grounds for pulling the money.
Commentary: “Atmosphere at City Hall Changes for the Worse.”
Following various cases of malfunctioning or disabled police cruiser cameras, various groups, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, are asking to get to the bottom of the issue. Police officials say old, deteriorating technology is to blame, but critics claim some officers are purposely tampering with the technology to avoid filming themselves during controversial moments in the line of duty. For both sides, getting the cameras working could be mutually beneficial; functioning cameras would allow police to clear their names but also show when officers make mistakes.
The University of Cincinnati asked Hamilton County judges to crack down on criminals targeting students on or near campus.
State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati says he won’t give up his Democratic candidacy for lieutenant governor despite $825,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati canceled a vote for a proposal that would greatly weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. But he vowed to pursue a “three-pronged strategy to reform the current envirosocialist mandates,” including potential litigation. Environmental groups argued Seitz’s proposal would have effectively eliminated the state’s energy standards. According to a study from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal in greater detail here.
The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved a bill that establishes a state panel to oversee Medicaid and recommend changes for the costly program. Republicans insist the measure isn’t about reducing benefits or eligibility for Medicaid; instead, they argue it’s about finding ways to cut growing health care costs without making such cuts. Gov. John Kasich must sign the bill for it to become law.
Months after rejecting Kasich’s proposal to do so, Ohio House leaders introduced a scaled-down measure that would slightly raise the oil and gas severance tax and cut income taxes. Unlike the governor’s previous proposal, the House plan seems to have support from the oil and gas industry.
Another Ohio House bill seeks to reintroduce prayer in public schools.
Ohioans are borrowing more to pay for college, but the debt load remains less than the national average.
Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “CVG board votes to hire investigator for butt-dialed call.”
It seems Metropolitan Sewer District rates will increase by 6 percent.
Cincinnati could get three to six inches of snow tomorrow.
Robert Carr, a 49-year-old Cincinnati man, has been going into the homes of strangers and trying to claim them as his own. He’s now being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center on six felony charges for breaking into homes.
Ohio gas prices fell below $3 a gallon.
According to a study from the Library of Congress, 70 percent of America’s silent films are lost and a good portion of the remaining films are in poor condition.
City Council plans to vote today on 11 ordinances that would indefinitely pause the $132.8 million streetcar project while council members review and weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion. The measures are expected to pass. Because they each allocate at least $100,000 in funding, the ordinances are not susceptible to referendum. Although Mayor John Cranley repeatedly defended the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, he now says he doesn’t want the city to be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project he adamantly opposes until November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
If a 1930 Ohio Supreme Court ruling applies, Cincinnati could be responsible for paying to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks, but the city might be able to charge some of those costs back to utility companies, according to a newly disclosed 2011 memo from a city attorney to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. The memo is the latest twist in the ongoing legal battle between Duke Energy and the city over who has to pay $15 million to move utility lines for the streetcar project. If the city loses the case, the cost of the project could climb from $132.8 million to $147.8 million. But it’s still unclear how much the 1930 case applies, given that the 1930 streetcar system was owned by a private company and the 2016 version would be owned by the city.
Editorial from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Pausing streetcar same as killing it.”
Mayor Cranley and City Council agreed to delay a vote on Willie Carden’s nomination for city manager to give council members enough time to meet with the candidate one-on-one and “digest” ordinances for his nomination. The nomination of Carden, who currently heads the Parks Department, has been plagued by some controversy because of Carden’s decision to live outside Cincinnati, which violates the rules set by the city charter for the city manager, and recently uncovered ethics issues in which Carden wrongfully took pay from both the private Parks Foundation and city.
City Council also delayed voting on new rules for a week to give council members more time to analyze and discuss the rules. Until then, City Council will operate under the standard Robert's Rules of Order. One possible change to the rules would increase the time given to public speakers during committee meetings from two to three minutes.
Watch Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld outmaneuver Mayor Cranley here.
The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents. The court argued that state law passed by Republican legislators largely exempted JobsOhio from public record requests, which means the privatized development agency can keep most of its inner workings secret. Republicans argue the agency’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly establish business deals around the state, while Democrats claim the anti-transparency measures make it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it uses taxpayer dollars.
The addition of measures that would create state and county councils to help get people off Medicaid ruined some of the bipartisan efforts behind Medicaid overhaul legislation, but Republican legislators still intend to bring the legislation to an Ohio House vote today. Republicans argue the controversial amendments merely update the “framework” under which counties can streamline efforts to get people off public assistance programs. But Democrats say the last-minute measures might have unintended consequences, including one portion that might give the state council the ability to change — and potentially weaken — Medicaid eligibility requirements.
An Ohio Senate bill would revamp and reduce teacher evaluation requirements to make them less costly and burdensome for school districts. The current standards require an annual evaluation of any Ohio teacher rated below “accomplished” and, according to some school districts, create high costs and administrative burdens that outweigh the benefits.
For the second time in two weeks, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter left court in an ambulance after supposedly passing out in court. Hunter faces increasing pressure from higher courts to rule on long-stalled cases.
A 9-year-old boy who was abandoned by his adoptive parents in Butler County allegedly threatened to kill his adoptive family.
Here is how bars are using cutting-edge technology to make better drinks.
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday after moving forward yesterday with 11 ordinances that aren’t susceptible to referendum. The bills allocate $1.25 million to stop contracts tied to the project and hire expert consultants to study what it would cost to continue or suspend the project — information a majority of council plans to use to gauge whether the project should continue after the pause. Streetcar supporters planned to hold some sort of referendum on the pause ordinances, but Cranley, who previously spoke in favor of the “people’s sacred right of referendum,” now says that the city shouldn’t be required to continue spending on the project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration yesterday announced it froze $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar until Cincinnati agrees to move ahead with the project. The decision shows Cranley and other opponents of the project were in the wrong when they claimed they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the grant money to other projects. But the decision should also come as little surprise to the new mayor and council, considering federal officials warned of the consequences of canceling the streetcar project on three separate occasions in the past six months.
The Haile U.S. Bank Foundation also joined the fray yesterday with an email to city officials plainly stating that the streetcar project’s cancellation “will definitely cause us to pause and reconsider whether the City can be a trusted partner” and endanger contributions to the carousel in Smale Riverfront Park, the shared-use kitchen at Findlay Market and the renovations of the Globe Building and Music Hall. The email also offered to pay for a study that would evaluate the costs of the streetcar project going forward. But Cranley brushed off the letter as a threat and argued the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation “can’t be a passive-aggressive dictator of legislative process.”
Although his nomination to the city manager spot was initially met with praise, some are beginning to raise questions about Willie Carden’s refusal to live in Cincinnati and his history, including an ethics probe that found he was wrongfully taking pay from both the city and private Parks Foundation. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’s also worried about the process for Cranley’s pick, which didn’t involve a national search and never put any other candidates in front of council.
Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have asked state officials to investigate Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for improperly voting.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati plans to introduce on Wednesday a new version of his overhaul of the state’s renewable energy and efficiency requirements. The new version will dampen a plan that would have allowed Canadian hydroelectric power facilities to satisfy Ohio’s renewable energy requirements, but it will also allow decades-old hydro plants along the Ohio River to fulfill the requirement. Seitz and other supporters of the overhaul argue it’s necessary to make the requirements friendlier to businesses and consumers. But opponents of the bill, including businesses and environmentalists, argue it would effectively ruin Ohio’s energy requirements and, according to a study from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, cost Ohioans $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered the proposal in greater detail here.
Ohio schools can now tap into a $12 million program to make their facilities safer through various new measures, including a radio system directly connected to emergency responders, cameras and intercoms. “Naturally, after Sandy Hook, I think we were all just extremely upset about that, and you want to be able to do something,” Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning told StateImpact Ohio.
A report found staff weren’t at fault for the high-profile prison suicides of Billy Slagle, whose case CityBeat covered in further detail here, and Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade.
Popular Science argues Amazon’s plan for delivery drones isn’t realistic.
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday — and voters might not get a final say on whether they approve of the pause.
In front of council are 11 ordinances totaling $1.25 million that would stop contracts tied to the streetcar project while the city hires expert consultants to review the costs of continuing or suspending the project.“I think cancellation is what we should do,” Cranley said at Monday’s council meeting. “But a majority of council wants to pause and ask questions.”
One immediate concern for supporters of the project: Because the ordinances appropriate funds, they are not susceptible to referendum.
Cranley repeatedly touted the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, but he now argues the city shouldn’t be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
Cranley encouraged streetcar supporters to instead push a ballot initiative that doesn’t require the city to continue funding the project.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who supported a referendum on the parking plan, argued Cranley’s position was hypocritical.
“I don’t want to have the voters’ voice suppressed,” he said.
Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced that he’s voting to continue the streetcar project. He asked, “Are we going to have tens of millions of dollars of wasted money or something to show for it?”
In response to the concerns, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a streetcar supporter, said she will have her staff draw up a motion to place the streetcar project on the ballot.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach, who also supports the streetcar, countered that the ballot initiative would not matter if the project is paused and the federal government decides to effectively kill the streetcar by taking back $44.9 million in federal grants that are funding one-third of the project’s costs.
The Federal Transit Administration on Monday stated the grant money is already frozen pending a council decision to advance the project.
Simpson questioned whether the ordinances allocated enough money to pause the project. Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad (MPD) estimate they’ll need $590,000 to suspend work for a month. The ordinance halting MPD’s contract allocates only $100,000.
On top of the $1.25 million — or $1.74 million, if MPD’s estimate is counted — allocated to pause the project, the suspension would also force the city to pay for unemployment insurance as construction companies lay off 200 workers involved in the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick estimates that will cost $419,000 if workers are kept unemployed for a month.
So the city could pay nearly $2.16 million to pause the project for a month. In comparison, Deatrick says one month of construction would cost the city $3 million.
The pause costs would also come from the contingency fund for the streetcar project, according to Deatrick. The $7.4 million contingency fund is already counted as part of the $132.8 million project, but it could go unspent if the project continues without complications.
Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
(The issue of cancellation costs was first reported by CityBeat in October as a follow-up with city officials to a July story that outlined the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project.)Supporters of the streetcar project argue it’s necessary to spur economic development along the planned 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR, which was later validated by the University of Cincinnati, found the project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Opponents argue the project is far too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.“I believe the progress of Cincinnati is going to continue,” Cranley said. “Our future is bullish and bright in downtown and Over-the-Rhine with or without the streetcar.”
A majority of City Council expects to vote in favor of the ordinances at its full meeting on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Council members who oppose the project plan to use the time-out to weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
Federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project are on hold
until City Council votes to continue the project, according to a Dec. 2 email from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to Cincinnati officials.
The decision means Cincinnati can no longer tap into $44.9 million in federal grants until Mayor John Cranley and a majority of the newly sworn-in City Council, both of which have shown opposition to the streetcar project, agree to continue with ongoing construction.
“As per our telephone conversation, early last week, the Administrator decided to restrict further access to the Federal project funds until the FTA received an affirmative signal from the city’s newly elected officials that the city intends to proceed with the project on the agreed-upon schedule,” wrote Marisol Simon, FTA regional administrator in Chicago. “This measure was taken to protect the taxpayer funds not yet drawn down by the city from being subject to a potential debt collection action.”
The FTA’s decision shows Cranley and other streetcar opponents were in the wrong when they insisted they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the money to other projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
But the consequence should come as little surprise to elected officials. In two letters to former Mayor Mark Mallory and a phone conference with City Council, federal officials warned the city they would pull the funding if the streetcar project were canceled.
The news comes on the same day City Council plans to vote to pause the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed against the costs of continuing.
It also comes two days after streetcar builder CAF USA warned the city of substantial costs that would be incurred if the streetcar project were canceled.
Even if council only pauses the project, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick says the path forward is unknown because it’s unclear how the city will fund costs associated with a pause.
The costs would presumably come out of the project’s contingency
fund, according to Deatrick, but pulling money out of the contingency
fund for a delay or pause changes the scope of the project and could face federal resistance.
On Nov. 21, Deatrick said the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.