City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council today that explained how Cincinnati could work to reduce its structural budget deficits. The presentation was presumably in response to Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who said Monday that she wanted to see a long-term deficit reduction plan before she could approve the city manager’s proposal to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.
Even with the parking plan’s one-time infusion of money (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), Cincinnati will need to make further changes to balance budgets for the next three fiscal years. To help tame these deficits, Dohoney says the city could reduce or eliminate lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, reduce subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare, semi-automate solid waste collection or introduce new or increased fees for certain programs, among other changes.
But some council members said they were more concerned about how the city will manage once it loses the parking plan’s one-time injection of funding after the 2016 fiscal year.
“I think this is a bit muddled,” Quinlivan said. “It doesn’t get to the systemic problem we have.”
Quinlivan, who has long argued for “rightsizing” police and fire departments, says the city should draw down its public safety spending to “sustainable” levels, but she says she would prefer attritioning public safety forces over abrupt, short-term cuts. Dohoney acknowledges attrition would help balance budgets, but he cautions that even attrition “would have to be married” with a plan that reduces the public’s expectations for public safety services — particularly if the city decides to not answer every 911 call by dispatching officers, which is currently required.
Dohoney says City Council needs to be clearer with its long-term budget policy. “If we’re going to make adjustments, I need clear policy direction, and I do not feel that I have it,” he says. “Give me a clear direction on where you want the police department to be, and I can get it there.”
The city manager says the city will have to approve a tax hike or cuts to government spending, which poses the possibility of layoffs, if it’s serious about eliminating structural deficit problems.
For every 1,000 residents, Cincinnati has less cops than
only two comparable cities: Cleveland and St. Louis. The fire department
has higher numbers, with Cincinnati equal to Pittsburgh and above
other comparable cities. The high levels of cops and firefighters per
capita comes despite downsizing in the police and fire departments in the past five years.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says the city may have drawn down its police force between 2000 and 2012, but the local police department has also been reorganized in a way that actually puts more cops out on patrol. Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, says street strength has moved from 832 police officers out of 1,034 officers available in 2002 to 864 out of 981 in 2012.
Between 2000 and 2012, the fire department was the only
city agency to see an increase in employment, while the city had slight
employment reductions overall. In the same time span, the General Fund increased by more than $30 million, and Cincinnati’s population fell by about 10 percent.
A bill enacting new regulations on minor political party participation in state elections yesterday passed through the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate despite objections from the Libertarian Party and other critics that the bill will shut out minor parties in future elections. The bill now needs approval from the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Republican Gov. John Kasich, who would likely benefit from the bill because it would help stave off tea party challengers in the gubernatorial election. The proposal was sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority yesterday released drafts for contracts with operators who will manage Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the city’s parking plan, which leases the parking assets to the Port Authority for at least 30 years. Xerox will be paid about $4.5 million in its first year operating Cincinnati’s parking meters, and it will be separately paid $4.7 million over 10 years to upgrade meters to, among other features, allow customers to pay through a smartphone. Xerox’s contract will last 10 years, but it can be renewed for up to 30 years. The city administration says the parking plan will raise millions in upfront money then annual installments that will help finance development projects and balance the budget, but critics say the plan gives up too much control of Cincinnati’s parking assets.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee yesterday approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits over 10 years for Pure Romance in return for the company coming to and remaining in Cincinnati for 20 years. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Pure Romance is a $100 million-plus company that originally planned to move from Loveland to Cincinnati with support from the state and city, but Gov. John Kasich’s administration ultimately rejected state tax credits for the company. Kasich’s administration says Pure Romance didn’t fit into an industry traditionally supported by the state, but critics argue the state government is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.
The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST),
Cincinnati’s vitriolic tea party group, yesterday appeared to endorse John
Cranley, who’s running for mayor against Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.
Ohio conservatives are defending their proposal to weaken the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates, which environmentalists and businesses credit with spurring a boom of clean energy production in the state and billions in savings on Ohioans’ electricity bills. State Sen. Seitz compared the mandates to “central planning” measures taken in “Soviet Russia.” A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.
Ohioans renewing their driver’s licenses or state ID cards will no longer be asked whether they want to remain on the list of willing organ donors. The move is supposed to increase the amount of participants in the state’s organ donation registry by giving people less chances to opt out.
An Ohio Senate bill would ban red-light cameras. Supporters of the traffic cameras say they deter reckless driving, but opponents argue the cameras make it too easy to collect fines for the most minor infractions.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine awarded $17 million in grants to crime victims services around Ohio, including more than $49,000 to the Salvation Army in Hamilton County.
President Barack Obama is likely to appoint Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve, which would make her the first woman to lead the nation’s central bank.
Lost in their smartphones and tablets, San Francisco train passengers didn’t notice a gunman until he pulled the trigger.
Scientists are bad at identifying important science, a new study found.
City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton Dohoney unveiled Plan B to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.
Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.
On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools. Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only to traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.
The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.
U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.
Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”
If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.
In its own memo released today, the city claims that the June 20 memo, which was first reported by WCPO yesterday, is outdated and makes a few technical errors.
The June 20 memo from Walker Parking Cosultants, a parking consultant hired by the city, found it will be 257 percent more expensive for the new private parking operator to run the city’s on-street parking services in comparison to what the city currently spends. It also concludes the city isn’t getting as much revenue as other cities got under their own parking leases.
“The on-street operating expenses shown in the model are projected to grow at a faster rate than operating revenues,” the June 20 memo claims. “The city should expect a private operator to run the parking system more cost effectively than the current operation, not less effectively. Therefore, revenues should be expected to increase at a rate faster than expenses, not slower.”
The memo’s numbers come through estimates provided by ParkCincy, the operating team set to take over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages following a decades-long lease agreement between the city and the Port Authority.
In particular, the memo highlights what it claims are extraordinary payments requested by Xerox under the deal: The private parking operator is asking for a $627,063 fee in 2013, putting about 14.6 percent of projected net operating income to management fees. That’s far higher than the typical 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent found in similar parking deals in other cities, according to the memo.
The city disputed the findings in its own memo this morning.
“The information that Walker used was from an early point in time; the deal was subsequently negotiated from that point to improve the deal,” wrote City Manager Milton Dohoney in his own memo. “For example, the profit margin used was based on different parking deals in other cities that are not the same as ours. As we know, the Cincinnati model is unique in many ways.”
One such trait: Cincinnati’s parking deal includes modernizing the city’s parking meters to accept credit cards and mobile payment.
The city cited a letter from the Port Authority sent to
City Solicitor John Curp during an email exchange on July 12, the same day the Port Authority was given the June 20 memo. The letter contradicted what Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner claims are inaccuracies.
“In its memo, Walker Consulting bases its comparisons on price, yet doesn’t qualify the information with what level of service capabilities are included in the price,” the Port Authority’s letter reads. “The Port Authority is basing its purchasing decisions on price, but also level of enhancement to the on-street system that mirrors the City’s desire to modernize these vital assets and position them to enhance economic development opportunities downtown and in City neighborhoods.”
Besides this “‘apples to oranges’ comparison,” the Port
Authority’s letter disputes many of the technical details behind
the June 20 memo, particularly questioning some of the measurements
used and comparisons that don’t account for differences between Cincinnati’s parking lease and other cities’ agreements. It also emphasizes that contracts with Xerox and other companies
are not finalized yet.
Much of the focus is now on why the June 20 memo was kept from City Council, the Port Authority and the public for nearly a month, given the memo’s controversial findings about a controversial deal.
“The city administration misled the public for months on the need for the deal, saying it was needed to avoid laying off cops and firefighters and then they don’t do it. Now it’s keeping vital information from the public and council. It’s a violation of the public trust of the highest order,” Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley said in a statement. “I am urging the Port to reject this deal that is bad for the City.”
Cranley and other city officials, including several City Council candidates and council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn, signed a letter to the Port Authority asking the city-funded agency to reject its agreement with Xerox.
The city manager’s office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if further comments become available.
The parking lease was finally signed by the city and Port Authority in June after months of political and court battles. The deal was signed even though a majority of City Council now opposes the lease after the city managed to balance its budget without the parking deal and without laying off cops and firefighters.
City Council approved the parking lease on March 6, more than three months before the June 20 memo was given to the city administration.
In return for the lease, Cincinnati is getting a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The city plans to use that money to pay down future budget gaps and fund development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
Update: Clarified Port Authority didn’t receive the memo until July 12.
The Democratic Party’s nominating committee announced who it’s supporting for City Council Friday: Greg Landsman, who heads the Strive Partnership and worked for former Gov. Ted Strickland; Shawn Butler, Mayor Mark Mallory’s director of community affairs; Michelle Dillingham, a community activist; and the six incumbents, which include Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young. The nominations still have to be approved by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee.
Petitioners against the city’s parking plan are supposed to get their final tally on referendum today, but a new video shows at least some of the petitions may have been signed without a legitimate witness, which are needed to validate a signature. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced Thursday that petitioners had met the necessary threshold of 8,522 signatures, but the video casts doubts on whether those signatures were legitimately gathered. The city wants to lease its parking assets to help balance the deficit for the next two years and fund development programs around the city (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but opponents worry higher parking rates and extended hours will harm the local economy. Here is the embedded video:
The Ohio Senate could restore Gov. John Kasich’s tax, school funding and Medicaid plans when it votes on the biennium budget for 2014 and 2015. Kasich’s tax and education funding plans were criticized by Democrats and progressive groups for favoring the wealthy, but the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would expand Medicaid coverage to 456,000 low-income Ohioans and save the state money, was mostly opposed by state Republicans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
New polling from Quinnipiac University found a plurality of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage rights — granting promising prospects to Freedom Ohio’s ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year.
An audit on JobsOhio could take months, according to State Auditor Dave Yost’s office. Gov. John Kasich was initially resistant to a full audit, but Yost eventually won out, getting full access to JobsOhio’s financial records. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that is meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
In response to not getting a Democratic endorsement for his City Council campaign, Mike Moroski, who was fired from his job at Purcell Marian High School for supporting gay marriage, launched the Human Party.
Cincinnati received an “F” for business friendliness in the 2013 Thumbtack.com U.S. Small Business Friendliness Survey from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Embattled attorney Stan Chesley will no longer practice law in Ohio. Chesley, who has been criticized for alleged misconduct, was recently disbarred in Kentucky. He recently resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to in a letter from fellow board members.
Ohio gas prices are shooting back up.
PopSci has an infographic showing sharks should be much more scared of humans than humans should be afraid of sharks.
In a 5-4 vote today, City Council approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance deficits for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects in Downtown, but the plan is now being held up by a Hamilton County judge's temporary restraining order (TRO).
The plan was approved with an emergency clause, which means it is not subject to referendum, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Councilman Chris Seelbach joined the parking plan’s five supporters in approving the emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation by removing a 30-day waiting period.
Shortly after the parking plan was approved by City Council, Judge Robert Winkler signed a TRO that will halt its implementation for at least one week. The judge’s action will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.
Mayor Mark Mallory says the emergency clause was passed to speed up the plan’s implementation in time for the budget that will begin July 1, not to suppress voters: “I don't think that any member of council has ever voted for an emergency clause in an effort to keep voters from being able to reverse the decision that the council is making, so I take exception with that characterization.”
The parking plan got its required fifth vote, up from a 4-3 vote in the Budget and Finance Committee Monday, from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who abstained from voting in the committee meeting because she said she was concerned about the city’s long-term fiscal outlook. She says her concerns were eased after she read the leasing agreement and listened to a presentation from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that gave City Council a few options for fixing the city’s structural deficits.
The parking plan’s other supporters were council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young. Council members Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against the plan.
The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal will produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments will generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Opponents say they are concerned the plan will give up too much control of the city’s parking meters and garages, which they say could lead to spikes in parking rates.
Under the initial plan, downtown rates will remain at $2 an hour and neighborhood rates will be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, according to Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
The city will be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.
Opponents also say the money from the parking plan is being used too quickly, which does little to alleviate the city’s structural deficits.
Dohoney previously argued the plan will help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.
“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said Monday. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.”
With the lease agreement approved, it is now up to the Port Authority to develop and publicize the bond documents that will further detail the framework of the parking plan.
in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution
asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration
Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.
City Solicitor John Curp rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city’s parking lease without City Council's explicit approval. Curp wrote in a letter that the two changes disputed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) were within the lease’s terms and only made because COAST’s previous lawsuit forced the city to delay leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. If COAST hadn’t pursued the lawsuit, the city would have been able to continue with the original timetable for the parking lease.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls yesterday unveiled a motion calling for the first expansion of local disclosure and reporting requirements since 1997 that would impose new rules on city officials, lobbyists and contractors and require the city administration to post the disclosed information on the city’s website. Qualls said in a statement that the update is particularly timely because the Metropolitan Sewer District is taking on a federally mandated $3.2 billion, 15-year reworking of the city’s sewers, which will presumably involve many lobbyists trying to get lucrative contracts for businesses they represent.
New poll results from Public Policy Polling (PPP) show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald beating Gov. John Kasich 38-35 percent in the 2014 election. Kasich’s approval rating now stands at 42-47 percent, down 10 points from November. Most respondents still seem unaware of FitzGerald, with 62 percent saying they aren’t sure if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of him. PPP is affiliated with Democrats, but the polling firm performed well in the 2012 presidential race and, if anything, favored Republicans with its results.
Hop On Cincinnati is asking the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District to support a trackless trolley that the group says could live alongside the Cincinnati streetcar. The trolley, estimated to cost $10 million to $15 million, would be similar to the system in Northern Kentucky, and each route would run past major garages to allow people to park before getting on board. If the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District gives the project approval, it could get federal funding.
Investors are upset with SoMoLend, the crowdfunding incubator that has been targeted by a state investigation with accusations of fraud. Critics of the company say that the allegations could hurt future crowdfunding pursuits and harm the state. Shortly after the charges came to light, the city of Cincinnati announced it would cut ties with SoMoLend, which partnered with the city to connect small businesses and startups with up to $400,000 in loans.
Ohio is the seventh worst state for debt, according to a recent study from NerdWallet.com.
The number of low-income Ohio children in Head Start, the early education program, will drop by more than 1,800 following automatic spending cuts at the federal level. CityBeat previously covered the cuts here.
Ohio’s top waterways watchdog is stepping down from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency after his boss and Kasich asked him to step down. Kasich was apparently angered by an email in which George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s division of surface water, told his staff that the coal industry wants
permits that would damage the state’s streams and wetlands and break
state and federal laws.
Various state officials are criticizing a “stand your ground” bill currently sitting in the Ohio legislature. The self-defense law has been scrutinized because of George Zimmerman, a Florida resident who was acquitted of murder in the shooting of unarmed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Many people blame Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which expands self-defense rights, for Martin’s death. Zimmerman’s legal defense team didn’t invoke the law, but the judge involved in the case mentioned it in her jury instructions.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says some school safety plans would be “useless” during a real shooting because they’re too long and complicated.
Ohio is releasing school report cards this week, but the standards may be biased against income and racial diversity.
Cincinnati-based Macy’s stocks plunged last week, alongside other Cincinnati stocks and the rest of the market.
Renowned “Star Trek” actor George Takei will lead Cincinnati in the Chicken Dance at Oktoberfest this year.
Ancient Egyptian jewelry was made from meteorites.
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.
“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”
CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.
Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.
The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.
Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.
What is Cranley’s parking plan?
It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.
Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:
• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.
• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)
• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.
• Sundays and holidays remain free.
Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.
Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?
No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.
Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.
The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.
OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?
Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:
• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.
• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.
Otherwise, things remain the same as today.
In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.
But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.
Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.
The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.
But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South
Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says it’s up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage
revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.
What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?
Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what it’s owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.
So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?
Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.
The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.
Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.
Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.
Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial
Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.
In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)
Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.
Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?
It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.
The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)
Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.
Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?
Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.
Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.
When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?
City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to
become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the
Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline
This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.