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by German Lopez 12.11.2013 134 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor, Homelessness at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar audit begins, streetcar campaign launches, committee opposes housing project

Work began yesterday on an audit of Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters are upset the audit will only look at the costs and not the potential return on investment. The city hired KPMG, an auditing firm, to review the streetcar’s completion, cancellation and operating costs by Dec. 19, the day the federal government says it will pull up to $44.9 million in grants funding roughly one-third of the project. Losing the federal funding would most likely act as a death blow for the project, since most local officials — even some streetcar supporters — say they’re unwilling to allocate a similar amount of funding through local sources. Mayor John Cranley and City Council asked for the audit before they decide whether to continue or permanently cancel the project.

Meanwhile, streetcar supporters yesterday kicked off a petition-gathering campaign to get a city charter amendment on the ballot that would task the city with continuing the streetcar project. But given the federal government’s Dec. 19 deadline, it’s unclear whether the ballot measure, which could go to voters as late as May, stands much of a chance. Streetcar supporters say they’ll lobby the federal government to keep the funding on hold until voters make the final decision on the project.

A City Council committee yesterday voted to rescind council’s support for a supportive housing complex in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income Cincinnatians. But because National Church Residence already obtained state tax credits for the project in June, it might be able to continue even without council support. The committee’s decision comes in the middle of of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates at odds. The full body of City Council could make the final decision on its support for the project as early as today’s 2 p.m. meeting.

City Council could also move today to repeal a “responsible bidder” ordinance that has locked the city and county in conflict over the jointly owned and operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The conflict comes at a bad time for MSD, which is under a federal mandate to revamp the citys sewer system. Councilman Chris Seelbach argues the ordinance, which he spearheaded, improves local job training opportunities, but opponents claim it places too much of a burden on businesses and could open the city to lawsuits. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.

Some City Council members are concerned Interim City Manager Scott Stiles’ compensation package could act as a “golden parachute.”

State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati yesterday resigned as running mate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald. Kearney’s decision came after media outlets reported that he, his wife and his business had up to $826,000 in unpaid taxes. The controversy grew so thick that Democrats decided Kearney was too much of a distraction in the campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.

An Ohio House Republican pitched a proposal that would slightly increase the state’s oil and gas severance tax, but the industry isn’t united in support of the measure. When it was first discussed, the House plan was supposed to act as a downscaled but more palatable version of Gov. Kasich’s proposal, which received wide opposition from the oil and gas industry.

Speaking against a bill that would tighten sentences for nonviolent felony offenders, Ohio’s prison chief said the state is on its way to break an inmate record of 51,273 in July. The state in the past few years attempted to pass sentencing reform to reduce the inmate population and bring down prison costs, but the measures only registered short-term gains. The rising prison population is one reason some advocates call for the legalization and decriminalization of drugs, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

More than one-third of Ohio third-graders could be held back after they failed the state reading test this fall. But the third-graders will get two more chances in the spring and summer to retake the test. Under a new state law dubbed the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee,” Ohio third-graders who fail the reading test must be held back starting this school year.

Only 5,672 Ohioans signed up for new health plans through the Obamacare marketplace in November. Still, total enrollment in federal marketplaces was four times higher than it was in October as the troubled Obamacare website (HealthCare.gov) improved. Reports indicate the website also vastly improved right before the White House’s self-imposed December deadline to get the website working better.

William Mallory Sr., prominent local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory’s father, died yesterday morning.

A home kit allows anyone to find antibiotics in leaves, twigs, insects and fungi.

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by German Lopez 12.10.2013 135 days ago
Posted In: 2014 election, News, Streetcar, Homelessness at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ed fitzgerald

Morning News and Stuff

FitzGerald could replace running mate, streetcar supporters seek vote, winter shelter opens

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is preparing to replace running mate Eric Kearney, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Kearney, a state senator from Cincinnati, has been under increasing pressure to drop out of the race following multiple media reports that uncovered he, his wife and his business owe up to $826,000 in unpaid taxes. FitzGerald is running against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014.

Streetcar supporters will seek a city charter amendment that would task Cincinnati with continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project. Supporters say the amendment will act as a back-up plan if Mayor John Cranley and City Council decide to strike down the project after completion and cancellation costs are reviewed through an independent audit. But the Federal Transit Administration says the city would lose up to $44.9 million in federal funding — roughly one-third of the streetcar project — if the city government doesn’t agree to continue with the streetcar before Dec. 19. If the charter amendment gets enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot, voters could decide on the issue as late as May.

Cincinnati’s winter shelter opened today and will remain open through February, according to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The opening comes after winter storms covered Cincinnati’s streets in ice and snow and sparked a citywide snow emergency over the weekend. The colder conditions will continue into the week, according to the National Weather Service. It was originally unclear whether the shelter would be able to open for its traditional two-to-three months, but a $30,000 contribution from City Council helped pave the way forward.

The woman who was struck by a police cruiser in Over-the-Rhine last month filed a lawsuit alleging the officer deliberately deleted the dashboard camera video of the collision and lied when he claimed his emergency lights and siren were on. The camera stopped recording for about three minutes right before Officer Orlando Smith hit Natalie Cole with his cruiser. Police say the camera malfunctioned. But the incident was the second time Smith’s camera stopped working in the past year; previously, the camera failed to record during a shooting that left one suspect dead and another wounded. CityBeat covered the issues surrounding cruiser cameras in further detail here.

Councilman Charlie Winburn says the city wastefully purchased and dumped 2,000 tons of road salt. Although other council members on the Budget and Finance Committee appeared cautious of Winburn’s accusations, he asked the city administration to investigate the issue.

Ohioans can now enroll in an expanded Medicaid program, which covers anyone up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. In October, a seven-member legislative panel accepted federal funds to pay for expanded Medicaid eligibility for two years despite resistance from the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature.

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber named a new president and CEO.

The rover Curiosity found a former lake on Mars.

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by German Lopez 12.09.2013 136 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, city manager, Mayor at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar gets Dec. 19 deadline, mayor could veto project, city manager search back on

The Federal Transit Administration on Friday gave Cincinnati until Dec. 19 to make a final decision on the $132.8 million streetcar project before it pulls up to $44.9 million in federal grants. The decision gives the city less than two weeks to finish its audit of the project’s completion and cancellation costs, which should be conducted by global auditing firm KPMG. The streetcar project would presumably die without the federal grants, which are covering roughly one-third of the project’s overall costs, even if a majority of council or voters decide to continue with the project.

Mayor John Cranley might veto legislation continuing the streetcar project, even if a majority of council agrees to restart the project after its costs are reviewed through an independent audit, said Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s chief of staff, on Friday. If Cranley vetoes, council would need a supermajority — six of nine votes on council — to continue the project, which could be difficult since there are only two perceived swing votes on council. The veto threat presents a bait-and-switch for many streetcar supporters: Only five council members voted to pause the project on Dec. 4 while the city reviews completion and cancellation costs, but six members might be needed to continue the project if Cranley reviews the audit and decides it is still too expensive.

Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, withdrew from consideration on Friday. In making the announcement, the mayor’s office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while the city conducts a national search for a permanent replacement. Carden’s nomination was initially well received by council members, but it grew somewhat controversial after Carden insisted he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter — and The Cincinnati Enquirer uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from the city and private Parks Foundation.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) fell short on recommendations from a previously undisclosed 2012 survey of the region’s business needs. In particular, CVG most likely won’t be able to meet the key recommendation to land Southwest Airlines, a discount carrier that could help bring down fares and increase travel destinations.

Cincinnati turns 225 on Dec. 28.

Ohio gas prices spiked to $3.24 for a gallon after briefly dropping to around $3.

Major companies are feeling increasing pressure to move or at least establish alternative facilities in the urban core as young workers flock to cities, according to The Wall Street Journal.

About 99 percent of U.S. exterminators encountered bed bugs over the past year, up from 11 percent a decade ago.

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by German Lopez 12.06.2013 138 days ago
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council, Streetcar at 04:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Mayor: Feds to Allow Streetcar Review

City has until Dec. 19 to make decision on project

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.06.2013 138 days ago
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council, Streetcar at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
john cranley

Cranley Might Veto Ordinance Continuing Streetcar Project

Decision means City Council might need a supermajority to continue streetcar project

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 Deatricks 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.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.06.2013 139 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Voting at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Only 11 streetcar workers to lose jobs, federal funds endangered, GOP reducing early voting

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.

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by German Lopez 12.05.2013 140 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Only 11 Streetcar Workers to Lose Jobs

City administration previously warned council members of 200 layoffs

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.05.2013 140 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Police at 10:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Council pauses streetcar, issue could make it to ballot, groups call for police camera fixes

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.

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by German Lopez 12.04.2013 140 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor at 06:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Council Pauses Streetcar Project

Swing votes Mann and Flynn decline private contributions for study and construction

City Council on Wednesday allocated $1.25 million to indefinitely pause the $132.8 million streetcar project and study how much it would cost to continue or permanently halt the project.

If the study's continuation and cancellation estimates aren't persuasive enough to continue the project, the vote could effectively act as council's final action on the streetcar.

Prior to the 5-4 votes to pause the project, streetcar-supporting council members proposed a motion that would use private contributions to allow construction to continue for one week while the city studies the costs of cancellation and completion.

The motion came as a result of the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation's offer to pay for the $250,000 study. An undisclosed private contributor also offered to pay $35,000 a day for slowed-down construction, which supporters say will keep the project within Federal Transit Administration (FTA) compliance.

During a brief recess, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson pulled Vice Mayor David Mann out of the council chambers to lobby him to support the motion and hold off on pausing the project.

Mann articulated misgivings with the absence of any written commitment for the private contributions. Given the lack of assurances, Mann voted to pause the project.

Mann claimed a proper study will require at least two weeks, not the one week the motion allocates. But the undisclosed private contributor is apparently willing to pay for construction for 10 business days if it's deemed necessary, according to Mann.

The motion could still be taken up by a committee, but the streetcar project is on hold for now.

Council's final decision to pause the project came despite a memo released earlier in the day by the city administration warning that pausing the project for one month could cost $2.56-$3.56 million. The memo states the numbers are only estimates and the true costs won't be fully known until a pause is actually carried out, which means the final costs could shrink or grow.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously put the cost of continuing construction for one month at $3 million, which means the pause costs could actually come in higher than simply continuing with 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 the five council members opposed to the project — Mann, Kevin Flynn, Christopher Smitherman, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn — voiced distrust toward the estimates and called for further analysis.

Streetcar supporters argue pausing the project could be tantamount to cancellation because it could convince the FTA to permanently pull $44.9 million in federal grants that are funding one-third of the project. The FTA already froze the grants pending a council decision to continue with construction.

Opponents of the project insist the FTA will return the money if the project continues.

"I hope that the spirit of cooperation that many members of this council think will come from the federal government is there," said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, a streetcar supporter.

But given the estimates for completion and cancellation, Sittenfeld cautioned whether history will look poorly on council's decision on Wednesday. He asked, "Did we choose waste or did we choose opportunity?"

The council meeting also continued the increasingly adversarial atmosphere in council since Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council took office on Sunday.

Councilman Chris Seelbach, a streetcar supporter, said it has been "the most destructive, divisive three days" since he began working at City Hall.

At one point, Cranley attempted to compare problems facing the streetcar project to the business failures of Blockbuster and other video stores.

Councilman Wendell Young, who supports the project, responded, "This idea that a bookstore or a video store can be compared to what's going to happen to the streetcar is about the most ridiculous comparison I can think of."

Supporters of the streetcar project argue it's necessary to spur development along the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. The project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.

Opponents of the project argue it's far too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. They're particularly concerned about the $3.4-$4.5 million it will cost to operate the streetcar each year, which could hit an already-strained operating budget.

After the study reviewing the project's costs is completed, council expects to make a final decision on whether to continue or cancel the project.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.04.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, city manager, Streetcar, Mayor at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar decision today, city's streetcar costs could grow, city manager nomination delayed

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.

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Latest Blogs
 
by German Lopez 01.23.2014 91 days ago
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Group protests gentrification, streetcar fares revealed, FitzGerald supports death penalty

An anti-gentrification organization says development in southern Over-the-Rhine and downtown is leaving out low- and middle-income residents. The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice (TPCEJ) cautions it’s not against development, but it supports policies that would seek to help more people take advantage of the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and downtown, such as more affordable housing, protections for renters’ rights, rent control and the formation of tenants’ unions. The agency behind much of the development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation), says “people tend to over-romanticize what this neighborhood was” and points to some examples of 3CDC-developed affordable housing as evidence the agency is trying to keep the neighborhood mixed-income.

Related: Some studies found gentrification could benefit longtime residents.

A two-hour streetcar pass could cost $1.75, and a 24-hour pass could cost $3.50, according to a new model unveiled yesterday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager. The same model set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight. Under the model, city officials expect 3,000 daily boardings, but Grether cautioned that’s a very conservative estimate and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games.

But the City Council-enforced streetcar delay could cost more than expected after the steel company originally contracted for the $132.8 million project took another job while council members decided the fate of the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick told council the company’s decision could push construction of a maintenance facility by two months if the city doesn’t hire a steel supplier from outside the region.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald yesterday clarified he supports the death penalty, which aligns him with his Republican opponent, incumbent John Kasich, on the issue. FitzGerald’s remark comes after the debate over the death penalty re-ignited in Ohio following the execution of convicted killer and rapist Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die after state officials used a new cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told CityBeat it’s reviewing McGuire’s death, as it does following every execution.

Commentary: “Death Penalty Brings More Costs than Benefits.”

After receiving support from family planning services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, Democrats running for Ohio’s executive offices re-emphasized their support for abortion rights.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce today whether he’ll challenge FitzGerald’s gubernatorial campaign in a Democratic primary. (Update: Despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made up his mind, Portune canceled his announcement and said he has no final decision yet, according to Carl Weiser, politics editor at The Enquirer.)

Hamilton County commissioners showed openness to keeping some early voting downtown even if the county moves its Board of Elections to a Mount Airy facility. Moving the board along with the county’s crime lab would allow commissioners to consolidate government services.

Cincinnati’s economy should grow faster than previously expected, one economist says.

Plan Cincinnati, the city’s master comprehensive plan, won a national planning award. CityBeat previously covered the master plan in further detail here.

Ten major projects worth more than $1.4 billion are in the planning stages or underway in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Ohio meets voting standards set by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan election commission, with the one exception of online voter registration, according to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to combat heroin abuse.

Virtual reality could help people see what gender swaps would be like.

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by German Lopez 01.22.2014 91 days ago
Posted In: City Council, News, Streetcar at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Two-Hour Streetcar Pass Could Cost $1.75

City officials project 3,000 daily boardings

Riding the streetcar will cost $1.75 for two hours and $3.50 for 24 hours, according to a model unveiled Wednesday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager.

The model also set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight.

Under the model, the streetcar should sustain 3,000 daily boardings, Grether said. But that estimate is very conservative and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games, he cautioned.

Grether presented the projections during a presentation at City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick also released numbers that show the project remains on budget and time.

But Deatrick warned council members of one potential hurdle: The originally contracted steel supplier took another job after City Council delayed the streetcar project for three weeks, which could force the city to delay construction of a maintenance facility for two months or hire a steel supplier outside the region.

City officials also said they are looking at potential funding avenues for the next phase of the streetcar project, which would establish a rail line from Findlay Market up the Vine Street hill. The goal, they said, is to clear up any misconceptions about what the next phase of the project would cost.

The latest federal budget allocated $600 million in TIGER grants and $2 billion in Federal Transit Administration New/Small Starts grants that could go to a future phase of the streetcar project.

City Council would need to approve the next phase of the streetcar project before it could move forward.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.10.2014 103 days ago
Posted In: News, Development, Transportation, Streetcar at 02:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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Streetcar Supporters Oppose Oasis Rail Line

HDR study finds low economic development along intercity line

At first glance, it might seem like a rail line between downtown Cincinnati and the city of Milford would earn support from the same people who back the $132.8 million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters, including advocacy group Cincinnatians for Progress, say they oppose the idea and its execution.

Critics of the overall project, called the Eastern Corridor, recently pointed to a November study from HDR. Despite flowery language promising a maximized investment, HDR found seven of 10 stations on the $230-$322 million Oasis rail line would result in low economic development, five of 10 stations would provide low access to buses and bikes, and the intercity line would achieve only 3,440 daily riders by 2030.

HDR’s findings for the Oasis line stand in sharp contrast to its study of Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The firm found the streetcar line in Over-the-Rhine and downtown would generate major economic development and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.

Given the poor results for the Oasis line, streetcar supporters say local officials should ditch the Oasis concept and instead pursue the 2002 MetroMoves plan and an expansion of the streetcar system through a piecemeal approach that would create a central transit spine through the region.

“To have (the Oasis line) be our first commuter rail piece in Cincinnati … just doesn’t make sense to me,” says Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress.

MetroMoves spans across the entire city and region, with the rail line along I-71 from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to downtown Cincinnati to King’s Island fostering particularly high interest.

Voters rejected the MetroMoves plan and the sales tax hike it involved in 2002, but streetcar supporters say public opinion will shift once the streetcar becomes reality in Cincinnati.

“That’s been proven in other cities, especially ones that have not historically been transit-oriented,” Bauman says, pointing to Houston and Miami as examples of cities that built spines that are now being expanded.

Opposition to the Oasis line is also more deeply rooted in a general movement against the Eastern Corridor project. The unfunded billion-dollar project involves a few parts: relocating Ohio 32 through the East Side, the Oasis rail line and several road improvements from Cincinnati to Milford.

Supporters of the Eastern Corridor claim it would ease congestion, at least in the short term, and provide a cohesiveness in transportation options that’s severely lacking in the East Side.

Opponents argue the few benefits, some of which both sides agree are rooted in legitimate concerns, just aren’t worth the high costs and various risks tied to the project.

“When it comes to widening roads and highways, it’s kind of like loosening your belt at Thanksgiving. Somehow traffic always fills to fit,” Bauman says. “Highway expansion, especially in urban areas, is not the future. It’s not even the present in some areas.”

The big concern is that the relocation of Ohio 32 might do to the East Side and eastern Hamilton County what I-75 did to the West Side, which was partly obliterated and divided by the massive freeway.

“It hurts the cohesiveness of our communities when you create these big divides,” Bauman argues. “You would see that repeat itself.”

Officials are taking feedback for the Eastern Corridor and Oasis rail line at EasternCorridor.org.

This article was updated to use more up-to-date figures for the cost of the Oasis rail line.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.09.2014 105 days ago
Posted In: News, Governor, 2014 election, Mayor, Streetcar at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_kasichtaxcuts

Morning News and Stuff

Economy could hurt Kasich, Cranley sustains attacks on streetcar, busy intersection to close

Ohio's weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich and other Republican incumbents' chances of re-election in 2014, even if they don't deserve the blame for the state of the economy, as some economists claim. For Republican incumbents, the threat is all too real as groups from all sides — left, right and nonpartisan — find the state's economy is failing to live up to the "Ohio miracle" Kasich previously promised. Economists agree state officials often take too much credit for the state of the economy, but political scientists point out that, regardless of who is to blame, the economy is one of the top deciding factors in state elections. For Kasich and other incumbents, it creates a difficult situation: Their influence on the economy might be marginal, but it's all they have to secure re-election.

Despite promising to move on after he failed to permanently halt the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the streetcar in interviews and social media. In a Sunday appearance on Local 12, Cranley threatened to replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to its offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.) The interview, held within weeks of Cranley mocking and arguing with pro-streetcar critics on social media, comes despite Cranley's promises to move on after City Council agreed to continue the project. "As I tell my son when he doesn't get his way, it's time to move on," Cranley said on Dec. 19.

Streetcar track installation will force the busy intersection at Elm and Liberty streets to close between Jan. 16 at 9 a.m. to Jan. 21 at 7 p.m., city officials announced yesterday. One northbound lane will remain open on Elm Street, but traffic heading east and west on Liberty Street will be redirected.

Commentary: "Bengals Loss Reminds of Terrible Stadium Deal."

Police are investigating three homicides in Avondale and Over-the-Rhine this morning.

Construction crews plan to turn the defunct Tower Place mall into Mabley Place, a new parking garage with several retail spaces on the exterior of the first floor. Across Race Street, other developers will turn Pogue's Garage into a 30-story tower with a downtown grocery store, luxury apartments and another garage.

Hamilton County is dedicating a full-time deputy to crack down on semis and other vehicles breaking commercial laws.

Ohio House Republicans' proposal to revamp the state's tax on the oil and gas industry would not produce enough revenue to cut income taxes for most Ohioans, despite previous promises. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the proposal would only allow for a very small 1-percent across-the-board income tax cut.

Ohio's education system received five C's and an A on a private national report card. The state's middle-of-the-pack performance is largely unchanged from last year's score.

The number of underwater residential properties is declining around the nation, but Ohio remains among the top six states worst affected by the housing crisis, according to real estate analysts at RealtyTrac.

The state auditor's new app allows anyone to easily report suspected fraud.

Macy's plans to lay off 2,500 employees and close five stores to cut costs.

Cincinnati Children's is reaching out to to 10,000 children left without a health care provider after several clinics closed.

Ohio drivers can expect lower gas prices in 2014, according to AAA and GasBuddy.com.

A new glue that seals heart defects could provide an alternative to stitches.

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by German Lopez 01.08.2014 105 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 01:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Cranley Continues Anti-Streetcar Rhetoric

Mayor threatens to replace SORTA board over streetcar debate

Despite promising to move on after he failed to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley continues criticizing the project in interviews and social media.

Most recently, Cranley appeared on Local 12’s Newsmakers program and threatened to eventually replace the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) board, which manages local Metro bus services, in response to board members’ defunct offer to take up streetcar operating costs. (City Council sets SORTA appointments, not the mayor.)

“The fact is they were willing to cannibalize bus service,” Cranley said, contrary to SORTA’s insistence that their offer would not have affected bus services. “I just felt that was a huge violation of what SORTA is supposed to be about and what Metro is supposed to be about and what public transportation is supposed to be about.”

Throughout the 24-minute interview, Cranley referenced the streetcar project when discussing the city’s parking meters and other subjects — a continuation of repetitive anti-streetcar tactics Cranley deployed on the campaign trail and in mayoral debates against former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls.

“I think the project is wasteful and not worth the investment,” Cranley said when asked about the project. “I think we would have been better off making the hard decision to cut bait.”

Still, Cranley later added, “Obviously, since the supermajority of council went against my wishes, I have to respect the process. So I’m not going to try to sabotage the streetcar.”

The interview also follows comments on social media. After the former head of the Cincinnati Art Museum criticized the streetcar, Cranley tweeted on Dec. 27, “(N)ow some Orwellian commentators will say art director not ‘progressive.’”

The continued anti-streetcar rhetoric comes despite promises to move on that Cranley made after Councilman Kevin Flynn announced he would provide the final vote needed to veto-proof City Council’s decision to continue the streetcar project.

“As I tell my son when he doesnt get his way, its time to move on,” Cranley said on Dec. 19.

But Cranley’s heated rhetoric is nothing new in his campaign against the streetcar project.

After the Nov. 5 election, Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer the streetcar debate “is over.” Cranley’s comments marked a high level of confidence after voters elected a mayor and council supermajority that seemingly opposed the streetcar project, but his statement to The Enquirer proved to be wrong after Council Members Flynn, David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld decided to continue the project.

Cranley also called city officials “incompetent” after they projected that canceling the streetcar project would cost nearly as much as completing it. Once again, Cranley’s comments proved to be wrong — an independent audit found city officials were largely correct in their assessment — but still showed the level of confident, heated rhetoric that follows the mayor’s campaign against the streetcar project.

At the very least, Cranley’s rhetoric proves that while the policy debate over the streetcar is over for now, the public discussion is not. The question is whether the messaging will work as the project moves forward and the streetcar becomes a reality of Cincinnati.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.27.2013 118 days ago
Posted In: News, Economy, Streetcar at 09:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar construction restarts, minimum wage hike incoming, jobless benefits to expire

Construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project restarted yesterday, marking an end to the nearly two-month drama brought on by Mayor John Cranley’s election and his threats of cancellation. City Council paused the project for a little more than three weeks to conduct an audit on its costs, but the legislative body agreed to restart construction last week after receiving a signed agreement from the Haile Foundation that the philanthropic group will provide $9 million over 10 years to help pay for $3.13-$3.54 million in annual operating costs.

An automatic increase on Ohio’s minimum wage at the start of the new year will benefit 330,000 Ohioans, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). The higher wages should translate to a better economy for all Ohioans: EPI found the automatic increase will generate nearly $39 million in economic impact and 300 full-time jobs. Since a voter-approved measure in 2006, Ohio has been among several states who peg the minimum wage to increases in the cost of living.

More than 36,000 Ohioans will lose emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed tomorrow following a lack of congressional action, according to left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio. The emergency benefits were passed by Congress at the start of the Great Recession to help those hit worse by the economic downturn, but Congress failed to extend the benefits before it recessed for the holidays despite lingering signs of a weakened economy. Without the extension, Ohioans can tap into just 26 weeks of state-provided jobless aid; federally funded emergency benefits give the unemployed another 37 weeks to find work before losing government assistance.

Here are CityBeat’s top stories of 2013.

The annual review of the two-year state budget could include income tax cuts, said Ohio’s tax chief. The statement follows Gov. John Kasich’s announced push for another income tax cut to help spur Ohio’s slowing economy. The Republican governor signed a state budget that reduced taxes — particularly for the wealthy — earlier in the year, but Ohio’s economy still slowed down in the past few months as the state unemployment rate surpassed the national rate for the first time in years.

With the Ohio Supreme Court’s rejection last week of a challenge to the state’s federally funded Medicaid expansion, conservatives are conceding the battle is “over with” for now. Gov. Kasich pursued the federally funded expansion without approval from the General Assembly by going through the seven-member Controlling Board, but Republicans, who largely opposed the expansion of a government-run health care program from the start, fought against the board’s approval in court.

Gov. Kasich was “stingy” with his clemency powers during his third year in office, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Even though a review found Cintrifuse is a “Lead Applicant with strong position within SW Ohio entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Ohio Third Frontier denied state tax credits for the local startup incubator because, according to the state review group, Cintrifuse maintains an unrealistic goal to scale to 60 tenants in its first year and lacks strategy or process for the incubator services, graduation focus, an adequate staffing plan and a defined tenant award process.

Delta briefly provided very low air fares following a technical error yesterday.

Much to scientists’ frustration, 2014 could be a bad year for the flu after the adaptive virus evolves.

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by German Lopez 12.26.2013 119 days ago
Posted In: News, LGBT, Streetcar, Taxes at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
evolution of equality

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio must recognize gay marriages, governor calls for more tax cuts, citizens saved streetcar

A federal judge on Monday ordered Ohio authorities to recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. Although the ruling was narrow, many advocates of gay marriage argue the merits of the judge’s decision indicate a broader problem with Ohio’s marriage laws following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling against a federal anti-gay marriage law. The judge’s ruling came just three days after another federal court struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban on similar constitutional grounds.

Gov. John Kasich’s plan to get Ohio’s economy moving again: more tax cuts. But the policy announcement — unsurprising, coming from a Republican — comes on the same year Ohio’s economy slowed down even after Kasich and the Republican legislature passed tax cuts that heavily favored the state’s wealthiest.

Believe in Cincinnati saved the streetcar, argues The Cincinnati Enquirer. The group was formed shortly after Mayor John Cranley won the November election and threatened to halt the $132.8 million streetcar project for good. But the threats inspired a groundswell of streetcar supporters, ranging from concerned businesses to residents. And before City Council agreed to continue the streetcar project, Believe in Cincinnati in just eight days gathered 11,300 petition signatures for a charter amendment restarting the project. CityBeat covered the group in its infancy here.

Cincinnati ranked No. 2 for highest child poverty out of 76 major U.S. cities in 2012, according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Cleveland and Toledo also made the unfortunate top five, CDF found.

Overtime pay at the Metropolitan Sewer District exceeded $2 million for the third consecutive year in a row, but the number falls below the accepted standard of less than 10 percent of total payroll. MSD Director Tony Parrott says overtime allows the agency to keep staffing numbers in check but still responsive to unexpected situations. Still, the overtime estimate arrives at a time Hamilton County commissioners are raising sewer and water rates to comply with federal mandates.

Cincinnati will tap into a state program for a major demolition blitz in 2014. The city plans to knock down 240 blighted and condemned buildings next year — far higher than the typical annual rate of 70.

Eight historic buildings in Cincinnati, including Memorial Hall, on Dec. 20 received roughly $6 million in state tax credits for projects totaling $71 million.

Rhinegeist Brewing plans to begin canning its craft beer in January.

Humans were getting the flu as far back as the year 1510, but it’s completely unknown if dinosaurs suffered from similar illnesses.

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by German Lopez 12.20.2013 125 days ago
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor, Health care, LGBT at 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_streetcar_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati streetcar saved, gay marriage could appear on ballot, Medicaid overhaul signed

City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project, which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.

Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot. The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1 million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which provides exemptions for religious groups.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the state’s budget in the past few years.

A new report from the state attorney general’s office found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8 percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in the past year.

Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.

Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.

Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.

Miami University is the second most efficient university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.

Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.

A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.

After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!

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by German Lopez 12.19.2013 125 days ago
Posted In: Mayor, Streetcar at 02:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
streetcar

Cincinnati Streetcar Saved

Council gets six votes to override mayor's veto and continue project

After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.

Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project.

Flynn was the final holdout in what some council members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a year after fares and sponsorships.

The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's books, he said.

"That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added.

Flynn also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger responsibilities.

Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.

Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it.

Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision.

"I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.

Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda.

Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.

Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate.

"I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project.

Mann officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it.

The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.

Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.

Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.19.2013 126 days ago
Posted In: Streetcar, City Council, Charter Committee, Mayor at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Decision Day for Streetcar

Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project

It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.

But hours before City Council expects to make a decision, it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar project.

The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.

The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young. 

Three council members have long opposed the project: Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman.

It's a big financial decision for the city.

If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost $53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG.

If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future. 

Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2 p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.

 

 
 
 
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