Mayor Mark Mallory will deliver his operating budget proposal to City Council today after making changes to the city manager’s proposal, which hikes property taxes and lays off 201 city employees, including cops and firefighters. City Council will then be able to change and give final approval to the budget plan before June 1. Some of the cuts may hit parks the hardest, but city administration officials are cautioning that they did not recommend the specific cuts being outlined, and it’s up to the Cincinnati Parks Board to decide which areas the cuts will impact. The city planned to help balance its $35 million operating budget deficit with the parking plan, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is speaking out against the settlement to sell the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million. “What has been served today is not justice nor moral on the part of Western & Southern, and we will push for a day when Western Southern recognizes their wrong-doings, asks for forgiveness and turns to doing good,” said Josh Spring, executive of the Homeless Coalition, in a statement. The group is asking supporters of the Anna Louise Inn to meet at the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church Friday at 6 p.m. to discuss further action.
City Council is likely to keep its ability to call votes on different items in larger ordinances and motions after seemingly failing to get support from six elected council members. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who proposed the changes, says the power is confusing because there’s no hard standard set for what is separable, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who has used the power before and supports it, says the rule retains choice and flexibility. City Council is currently reviewing many of its procedural rules, according to Simpson.
Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee was reworked by the Ohio House in part to relax standards for teachers. Previously, the law mandated teachers providing reading guarantee services to have taught the subject for at least three years, which critics of the law previously called “impossible to meet.”
The Ohio House is slowing down with its Internet cafe moratorium bill while the Ohio Senate works on its bill that would effectively ban the businesses altogether. State officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, have warned that Internet cafes are prone to criminal activity, but supporters say the businesses are just providing a demanded service.
The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending states strengthen drunken driving standards from a blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.
Here is the science behind hating nails on a chalkboard.
As an example of IRS intrusiveness, the Enquirer reports that the Liberty Township Tea Party received a questionnaire demanding information the IRS is not allowed to seek. “The letter was signed by a local IRS official, who did not return calls seeking comment,” the paper initially reported. Who? Name names. If the IRS employee signed and sent an official government document, there’s no reason to grant anonymity.
Later in its initial full page A-section story, the Enquirer quotes Ohio IRS spokeswoman Jennifer Jenkins saying, “Mistakes were made.” By whom? Again, names, please. Americans increasingly favor the passive voice, “mistakes were made” but no one made them. If the paper pressed for names of mistake-makers, it’s not evident. And who was fired? Anyone?
The Associated Press — whose reporter broke this scandal story — says the Cincinnati mess is at least two years old. This isn’t new. We’ve seen IRS harassment of activists before and probably will again. Each time, it’s a scandal. Or should be.
Any loss of residual confidence in IRS nonpartisanship is a helluva lot more serious than the muddle surrounding the killing of four Americans in Benghazi or the murder of three spectators at the Boston marathon.
I’m sure it’s coincidence that the Cincinnati IRS harassment preceded the 2012 election. And I’m sure those employees were motivated only by zeal to protect the purity of the 501(c)(4) status from improper or illegal political activity. But I’m also sure that any agnostic or atheist Republicans are looking at this Cincinnati-born national IRS scandal as proof that “there is a God.” Now, to keep that wrath boiling with hearings until 2014 elections.
• The Associated Press says it’s the target of a sweeping Justice Department search for the news service’s confidential sources. Monday, AP reported the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors . . . in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.
“The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls.
“In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.”
Maybe it’s time to call in the Plumbers.
• I’m no fan of public radio’s Ira Glass. His whiney voice sends me to WLW 700 AM radio for something more insanely macho. Now, he’s shoveling natural soil enrichment in recorded promos for public radio fund raising. I heard them on WVXU-FM’s just-ended fund drive. His point: We should all be happy because everyone who listens to public radio helps support public radio. Not true. Never will be. At WVXU, fewer than 10 percent of us donate to its support. That means Ira Glass’s everyone are mostly parasites, listening but not paying. (Our family is a sustaining member of WVXU and WGUC . . . )
• How do our local news media track Macy’s commitment to ethical sourcing of its house-brand clothing from Asian countries where factory fires, collapses, etc., are just a cost of doing business? Contracts go where labor is cheapest. People work or go hungry. It’s only going to get worse when huge numbers of youngsters mature. Macy’s said the right things after hundreds died after a Bangladesh factory crumbled, but now it’s up to reporters to stay on the story.
• I glad Macy’s says it will continue to buy products made in Bangladesh. Pleasing writers of anguished Letters to the Editor and leaving Bangladesh in a virtuous huff doesn’t employ or feed anyone. I’ve been in and out of developing countries for half a century. Lots of cheap unskilled or semi-skilled labor feeds more families than one machine (that breaks and rusts unrepaired). Whether it’s subsistence farming, breaking stones with hammers for roadbeds, pedaling a rickshaw or laborers carrying building materials up ladders in baskets on their heads, it’s work that feeds. We can feel guilty, but walking away helps no one...else.
• BBC accuses the Plain Dealer of racist news judgment over stories about kidnapped young women freed recently after a decade of imprisonment and abuse. BBC based its provocative judgment on its count of stories about two of the three young women, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry. “In Cleveland, the newspaper stories were mainly about the white girl,” BBC News Magazine reporter Tara McKelvey wrote. “In the 10 years Berry was missing, the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper published 36 articles about her, according to a search of electronic news archive Lexis-Nexis. During the nine-year period that DeJesus, who is Hispanic, was missing, the newspaper published 19 articles about her case.”
This is typical of American news media where MWW (Missing White Woman) gets more coverage than black or Hispanic girls and women, according to academics McKelvey quoted.
But Chris Quinn, the Plain Dealer’s assistant managing editor/metro, rejects McKelvey’s accusation. He says it’s not only wrong but “based on an analysis so simplistic we would have thought it beneath an organization such as yours.” Quinn said his “much more thorough review” shows the reverse of the BBC tally. “The number of stories about DeJesus actually is greater than the number mentioning Berry, contrary what you assert. Your analysis did not include all variations of the DeJesus first name, a rather glaring lapse.”
Quinn continued, “Because of the racial aspect your network chose to focus on, we also included in our review stories about Shakira Johnson, a black child who went missing around the same time as Amanda and Gina. The hunt for Shakira was as big a community effort as the hunt for the other missing girls.” Here’s his tally:
Stories mentioning Shakira Johnson and not Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry: 145
Stories mentioning only Gina DeJesus (or Georgina DeJesus): 24
Stories mentioning only Amanda Berry: 17
Stories mentioning Berry and DeJesus together: 8
Stories mentioning Berry, DeJesus and Johnson: 6
Stories mentioning DeJesus and Johnson together: 2
And Quinn closed, “The suggestion that this newspaper has used race as any kind of filter in its story choices is offensive in the extreme. We’re shocked that such a poorly reported story could be posted by a network with your reputation.”
• You can thank Time magazine and writer Steven Brill for prying comparative hospital costs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Enquirer carried a sample for local hospitals.
According to Poynter.com, the journalism website, Brian Cook at the department’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Brill the move “comes in part” because of Brill’s article from March about health-care costs. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also offering $87 million to the states to create what she calls “health-care-data-pricing centers.”
Poynter continues, saying the centers will make pricing transparency more local and user friendly than the giant data file. Brill says the report “should become a tip sheet for reporters in every American city and town, who can now ask hospitals to explain their pricing...If your medical insurance requires you pay a percentage of a procedure’s cost, that’s very useful information.”
• When are reporters going to call their bluff when speakers wax lyrical about the joys of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns? Instead of spreading these fantasies, interview people who train others in the defensive use of handguns. Or talk to police and military firearms instructors and combat veterans on how difficult it can be to overcome the normal resistance to shooting another person.
Look at news stories that describe how many rounds officers fired in armed confrontations; adrenalin does nothing to steady the gun hand or restrain how many times an officer pulls the trigger. And these are the best we have.
I’ve used handguns for more than 50 years. I passed the official Ohio 12-hour concealed/carry course for a CityBeat cover story. If anyone thinks that training prepared them to provide armed response in schools, movie theaters, malls, etc., they’re suffering a potentially deadly delusion. It’s time reporters began to add that context to the debate of guns in our society.
• College campuses are perfect for training student reporters. These schools typically are rich with conflicts of interest, executives with edifice complexes, misspent millions, and bureaucrats eager to escape blame or avoid offending alumni. The Columbus Dispatch reported this example last week about suburban Otterbein University, a United Methodist four-year school.
It said Otterbein agreed to stop requiring students involved in sexual-assault cases to sign confidentiality agreements because student newspaper journalists discovered it was violating federal law. After initially denying it, the Dispatch reported, an Otterbein official told reporters for the student newspaper that he didn’t realize Otterbein had had victims, as well as others, sign a nondisclosure clause.
“We just followed the bread crumbs,” Chelsea Coleman, a 21-year-old journalism and public relations major who wrote the Tan & Cardinal story with another student, told the Dispatch.
• One need not agree with Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman to appreciate his recent criticism of how news media handle stories involving expertise. In his New York Times op-ed column, Krugman singles out the Washington Post but he could have included many if not most news media.
Citing a controversial study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the Post warned that Americans are “dangerously near the 90 percent mark that economists regard as a threat to sustainable economic growth.” Krugman pounced. “Notice the phrasing: ‘economists,’ not ‘some economists,’ let alone ‘some economists, vigorously disputed by other economists with equally good credentials,’ which was the reality.”
Reporters can be too eager to substitute formulaic brevity for accuracy: doctors say, psychologists say, weight loss experts say, police say, reporters say, etc. My advice: beware of any news story that identifies someone as an “expert” without a clear explanation of their expertise.
The city confirmed today that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig will be leaving Cincinnati to take a job in Detroit. During Craig’s time, the city experienced a significant drop in crime. City officials praised Craig for his attempts to forge better ties between the Cincinnati Police Department and local communities, particularly by establishing the External Advisory Committee, a group of active local community members and business leaders that gives advice on the police department’s policies and procedures. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the city will begin a nationwide search for Craig’s replacement tomorrow.
Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) is selling the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million, and CUB will be relocating the Inn’s services to Mount Auburn. Many Anna Louise Inn supporters are taking the sale as a sign Western & Southern won, while others are glad the extensive legal battles are finally over. The sale came after years of Western & Southern obstructing the planned renovations for the Anna Louise Inn through court battles and other legal challenges, which CityBeat covered here. In a Q&A with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Western & Southern CEO John Barrett reflected on the events, saying his company took the “high road” throughout the controversy — a claim many Anna Louise Inn supporters dispute.
City Council grilled Dohoney yesterday over fixing the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overruns to save the project is worth it. Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that touted the streetcar project’s return on investment, which was further supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati. Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much and the project, which now stands at $133 million, is too expensive. A final decision is expected by the end of May. The streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fix the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law.
The city and county governments are clashing over the city’s hiring policies for companies bidding on the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD) construction projects. The city’s laws require construction firms to have apprenticeship programs, which the city says promotes job training on top of employment. But the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners claims the requirements aren’t feasible and put too much of a strain on companies. Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune questioned why the city’s policy only applies to MSD and not other local government agencies.
The Duke Energy Garden is the latest addition to the Smale Riverfront Park.
A Catholic teacher union will not support Carla Hale, a gay Columbus-area teacher who was fired after she named her girlfriend in an obituary for her mother. Hale says she was fired over her sexuality, but the Catholic Church says she was fired for revealing a “quasi-spousal relationship” outside of marriage. The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, which means all gay couples are in a non-marital relationship under the Church’s desired policies.
The Internal Revenue Service scandal, which involves IRS officials unfairly scrutinizing conservative groups, is now nationwide. Previous reports pinned the practice on a Cincinnati field office, but numerous IRS offices around the country, including one in Washington, D.C., were found to be guilty of the practice in documents acquired by The Washington Post.
Headline from The Columbus Dispatch: “Man who killed wife, then self: ‘I couldn’t take her mouth anymore.’”
The brain catches grammar errors even when a person doesn’t realize it.
At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it.
Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is too expensive.
In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino.
Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project.
Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan after it was explained to him.
Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes.
A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris
Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost
overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope.
“For major projects like this … there is usually an anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said.
For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer
Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing
to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place.
Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and begins actual work on the project.
But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government.
Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no.
When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end.
Smitherman asked how the city administration can be pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a vote of council is dead?”
Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council.
Ending the project would come with its own costs of about $72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent, $14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants that would have to be returned to the federal government.
Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”
The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney.
Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits,
particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run
from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The
city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of
Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011.
“If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing,” Dohoney said. “The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that.”
But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a success by itself.
Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees. But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
Western & Southern in a press release today announced an agreement with Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) that will sell the Anna Louise Inn in Lytle Park to W&S for $4 million, ending years of entanglements between the two entities over what should be done with the property in need of millions of dollars in renovations.As part of the deal, ALI will move to a new location in Mount Auburn at the corner of Reading Road and Kinsey Avenue, in the same vicinity as the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and The Talbert House. The settlement also provides CUB time to construct the new Inn, so none of the current residents will be displaced. CUB will still retain its $13 million in funding to develop the new property.
The Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing for low-income women, has called the Lytle Park location home since 1909. The new agreement will dissolve all ongoing litigation; most recently, W&S accused ALI of potentially discriminating against men.
In 2009, W&S passed up on an opportunity to purchase the Inn for $3 million, before CUB obtained city- and state-distributed federal funding to renovate the building and stay in the neighborhood, a decision Western & Southern admitted it regretted. Since then, the Fortune 500 company has been battling with the ALI in hopes of getting another chance to purchase the property.
According to the CUB website, the settlement came about for several reasons, including concern that ongoing litigation with W&S would have caused it to lose tax credits earned through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which were due to expire at the end of 2013 and cannot be used during ongoing litigation.
Now W&S plans to renovate the building into an upscale new hotel, which will essentially give the company a monopoly on real estate in the Lytle Park neighborhood.
It's a bittersweet change for the women and staff at the Inn, explains CUB President and CEO Steve MacConnell, but "ultimately, it's the right decision," he says. MacConnell says CUB learned about the plot of land just three to four weeks ago, when they started seriously considering a move. "After two years of litigation, the women — and us — we were all feeling so much uncertainty," he says, "and ultimately what's best for the women is what we've always had in mind."
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is set to discuss the plan to close the streetcar budget gap today, which was proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on April 30. The plan borrows funding from various capital funding sources, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall funds and money from infrastructure projects surrounding the Horseshoe Casino. None of the funding pulled can be used to balance the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which is leading to cop and firefighter layoffs, because of limits established in state law between capital budgets and operating budgets.
A group of bipartisan Ohio legislators proposed bills in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate that would change the state’s anti-discrimination law to cover gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. The measures would add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the state’s anti-discrimination law, joining 21 other states and the District of Columbia, which already have similar laws.The bills have to be approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. John Kasich to become law.
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is making changes to prevent attendance data scrubbing following an audit in February
that criticized CPS for the practice. The school district says internal
investigations found no employees intentionally scrubbed data, but the
changes being made should help prevent further problems in the future. The
state auditor’s February report seemed to blame state policy over
individual school districts for the findings. Attendance data scrubbing
can make schools look much better in state reports, which could lead to
increased funds or less regulatory scrutiny from the state.
An audit revealed that the IRS targeted tea party groups that were critical of government and attempted to educate people on the U.S. Constitution. The extra scrutiny originated at a Cincinnati field office.
Most Ohio public university presidents are paid more than the nationwide median salary for the job.
The two brothers of the Cleveland man accused of holding three women captive for about a decade say they have no sympathy for him. One of them called his brother a “monster.”
Ohio gas prices are down this week.
A new study found people can better calm themselves down by watching their brains on scanners. Participants learned how to control activity in a certain brain region after just two sessions.
Watch a Canadian astronaut perform David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in space:
The city manager unveiled his budget plan to solve the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit yesterday. The plan includes less layoffs than expected — particularly to cops and firefighters — but it proposes an increase to property taxes. The plan also includes a series of other cuts, including to all arts funding and subsidies that go to parades, and new fees. The release for the budget plan says many of the cuts could have been avoided if the city obtained revenue from the proposed parking plan, which is currently being held up by a referendum effort and court challenges. The operating budget is separate from the streetcar budget, which uses capital funds that can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
The budget plan still has to be approved by Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council to become law, and City Council will hear the public’s opinion before a vote at three public hearings: May 16 at the Duke Convention Center, May 20 at College Hill Recreation Center and May 22 at Madisonville Recreation Center. All the hearings will begin at 6:30 p.m.
Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder says he hopes the Constitutional Modernization Commission will produce a ballot initiative for redistricting reform in 2014. Politicized redistricting — also known as “gerrymandering” — has been traditionally used by politicians in power to redraw congressional district borders in a way that favors the political party in charge, but reform could change that. Gerrymandering was used by national and state Republicans to blunt losses in the 2012 election, as CityBeat detailed here.
As Ohio struggles to expand Medicaid, our more conservative neighbor to the south is moving forward. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in Ohio, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half a million people and save millions of dollars by 2022, here.
While some Democrats want to attach party labels to Ohio Supreme Court elections, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wants to do away with party primaries for judicial elections.
Former University of Cincinnati President Joseph Steger, the second longest-serving president at UC, died at 76 yesterday.
New York City could soon become the first major city to let non-citizens vote in local elections. The legislation would allow non-citizens to vote if they are lawfully present in the United States, have lived in New York City for six months or more on the date of a given election and meet other requirements necessary to vote in New York state.
When one simple question makes a huge difference: “When Did You Choose to Be Straight?”
Blood may be the key to seeing how long brain tumor patients have to live and whether their treatment is working.
A new study found oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill sickened fish for at least a year.
Here is a compilation of adorable animals trying to stay awake.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. released his operating budget plan for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 today. The plan makes lower-than-expected cuts to police, fire and other city departments to help balance the $35 million deficit in the operating budget for fiscal year 2014, but it would also effectively raise property taxes.
The City Charter allows the city to leverage 6.1 mills in property taxes, but City Council only approved the use of 5.7 mills for the operating budget in 2014, up from 4.6 mills in 2013. The budget plan would leverage the full 6.1 mills in 2015, effectively raising annual property taxes between 2014 and 2015 by $34 for every $100,000 in property value.
Water Works rates would also be reworked with a new pricing structure, which would add $3.11 to a Water Works customer’s bill each quarter.
The budget plan recommends laying off 66 employees in the Police Department, down from a previous estimate of 149. Fire personnel layoffs were also reduced to 71, down from 118. In other departments, 64 would be laid off.
The budget release estimates the fire layoffs would lead to an estimated 10 brownouts a day in which one truck in a firehouse would not run.
About $20.4 million of the fiscal year 2014 budget gap would be closed by cutting expenditures, while the rest would be closed with changes in revenue.
The budget release says the cuts are a result of the city’s parking plan falling through in light of a referendum effort and legal challenges: “While the Manager’s budget, with support from policy makers, has typically centered on strategies for growth to expand the local economy, this budget is constructed in light of the lack of revenue from the Parking Modernization and Lease, approved by the majority of City Council but held up in litigation.”
With the reduced layoffs, the city will save money by paying less in accrued leave and unemployment insurance. Previously, city officials estimated it would cost about $10 million to lay people off, but that number was reduced to $3.5 million in the revised budget plan.
The budget plan would also eliminate 17 vacant full-time positions in various departments and delay filling other vacant positions, which the budget release says would cause some strain: “These vacant position eliminations and prolonged position vacancies would further challenge departments that have already experienced significant funding and position reductions in prior budget years.”
The plan would also increase employees’ cost share for health care from 5 percent to 10 percent, reduce cost of living adjustments and force furloughs, which would span to executive and senior level management positions, including the city manager. The changes effectively add up to a 1.9 percent salary reduction, according to the budget release.
Other cuts in the budget were selected through the Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, which used surveys and public meetings to gauge what city programs are most important to local citizens. About $1.7 million would come from personnel and service reductions in the Health Department’s Community Health Environmental Inspections programs, the Law Department and the Department of Recreation. Another $1.5 million would be cut from funding to outside entities, including human services agencies, the Neighborhood Support Program, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce.
Furthermore, subsidies for “Heritage Events,” such as the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Parade, would be eliminated, along with all arts funding.
The budget plan would also eliminate various other services, including the Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills, the Office of Environmental Quality’s Energy Management program and the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit.
The budget plan includes a slew of new fees: a $75 fee for accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a 50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special events.
The budget plan would also use casino revenue: $9.1 million in 2013 and 2014 and $7.5 million in 2015.
The city was originally planning to lease its parking assets to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to help balance the operating budget and fund economic development projects (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but the plan will be on the November ballot this year if court challenges are successful.
But if the city is successful in court, the budget release claims many of the cuts could be undone by using revenue from the parking plan.
The city manager’s office says the budget must be approved by City Council and the mayor by June 1 to provide 30 days for the budget’s implementation in time for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
Previously, the city could have used an emergency clause to eliminate a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws, but City Solicitor John Curp says the court challenges have effectively eliminated the power behind emergency clauses by making all laws, even laws passed with an emergency clause, susceptible to referendum within 30 days.
The operating budget is separate from the streetcar budget, which is also facing a $17.4 million budget shortfall. The streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of budgeting limits established in state law.
With a set of initiatives unanimously approved last week, City Council is looking to join the state in combating Cincinnati’s human trafficking problem. The initiatives would evaluate local courts’ practices in human trafficking and prostitution cases and study the need for more surveillance cameras and streetlights at West McMicken Avenue, a notorious prostitution hotspot. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who spearheaded the initiatives, says the West McMicken Avenue study will serve as a pilot program that could eventually branch out to other prostitution hotspots in Cincinnati, including Lower Price Hill and Camp Washington.
Medicare data released yesterday revealed charges and payments can vary by thousands of dollars depending on the hospital, including in Cincinnati. Health care advocates and experts attribute the price disparity to the lack of transparency in the health care system, which allows hospitals to set prices without worrying about typical market checks. CityBeat previously covered the lack of health care price transparency in Ohio here.Duke Energy is the No. 1 utility company polluter in the nation, according to new rankings from Pear Energy. The rankings looked at carbon dioxide emissions, which directly contribute to global warming. Pear Energy is a solar and wind energy company that competes with utility companies like Duke Energy, but the methodology behind the rankings was fairly transparent and based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.
City Council approved form-based code yesterday, which Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls has been working on for years. In a statement, Qualls’ office called form-based code an “innovative alternative to conventional zoning” that will spur development. “Cincinnati now joins hundreds of cities that are using form-based code to build and reinforce walkable places that create value, preserve character and are the bedrock of Cincinnati neighborhoods’ competitive advantage,” Qualls said in the statement.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner is looking to amend the Ohio budget bill to add a $100 million voucher program that would cover preschool for three- and four-year-olds. The details of the program are so far unclear, but Lehner said she might put most of the funding on the second year of the biennium budget to give the state time to prepare proper preschool programs. If the amendment proceeded, it would join recent efforts in Cincinnati to open up early education programs to low- and middle-income families. CityBeat covered the local efforts and many benefits of quality preschool here.
Gov. John Kasich says he would back a ballot initiative for a mostly federally funded Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next decade. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio released a lengthy report yesterday detailing how the state could move towards clean energy and electric cars and calling for more state incentives for clean energy. The report praises Cincinnati in particular for using municipal policies to build local clean energy and keep energy jobs in the city.
The last tenant at Tower Place Mall is moving out.
Scientists are working on a microchip that could be implanted into the brain to restore memories.
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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled price data today for more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals, revealing large price variations between hospitals around the nation, including in Cincinnati.
For treating chest pain, charges from three Cincinnati hospitals varied by thousands of dollars: Bethesda North charged on average $17,696, Christ Hospital charged $12,000 and University Hospital charged $10,130.
But the initial charge seems to have little relation to what Medicare ultimately paid out. In the three cases for chest pain, Medicare on average paid $3,242 to Bethesda North, $3,657 to Christ Hospital and $5,463 to University Hospital.
In other words, University Hospital charged about 57 percent of what Bethesda North charged, but University Hospital was ultimately paid 68 percent more.
The price variation wasn’t exclusive to chest pain, either. For major joint replacement or reattachment of a lower extremity without major complications, Bethesda North charged $61,947 and was paid $12,712 on average, Jewish Hospital charged $38,465 and was paid $14,069 on average and University Hospital charged $46,463 and was paid $20,116 on average.
In fact, all of the 100 metrics tracked by CMS had at least some degree of variation in charges and payments. Whether it was chest pain, joint replacement, diabetes or cardiovascular complications, prices always varied between hospitals — sometimes greatly, other times by a little.
The data from fiscal year 2011 shows how much hospitals initially charged Medicare for the 100 most frequently billed discharges and how much Medicare ultimately paid out. The difference between charges and payments is usually large because Medicare negotiates prices down.
CMS says the price discrepancy is happening at hospitals all around the nation: “As part of the Obama administration’s work to make our health care system more affordable and accountable, data are being released that show significant variation across the country and within communities in what hospitals charge for common inpatient services.”
Still, some health care advocacy groups say Ohio is doing worse than other states. A study from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave Ohio and six other states a “D” for health care price transparency, based on the states’ laws and regulations. That was actually better than 29 other states, which flat-out flunked with an “F.” Only New Hampshire and Massachusetts received an “A,” the highest grade possible.
Even then, the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute cautioned in the study that their grades were given on a curve, which means all states would likely fare worse if the organizations measured them based on ideals instead of comparatively.
Many health care experts and advocacy groups claim the price variation is caused by a lack of transparency in the health care system, which gives hospitals free reign to charge without typical market checks (“Healthy Discussion,” issue of April 10).