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by German Lopez 11.08.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Parking, Transportation at 08:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar fight continues, state evaluating transit services, parking plan moving ahead

A small group of Over-the-Rhine homeowners is preparing for a possible lawsuit and other actions should Mayor-elect John Cranley try to cancel the $133 million streetcar project. Ryan Messer says the fight is about protecting his family’s investment along the streetcar route. Streetcar supporters plan to host a town hall-style meeting in the coming weeks to discuss possible actions to keep the project on track, including a referendum effort on any legislation that halts construction of the ongoing project. While Cranley says canceling the streetcar is at the top of the agenda, questions remain about how much it would cost to cancel the project, as CityBeat covered in further detail here and here.

As Cincinnati debates canceling the streetcar project, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is evaluating transit systems around the state to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness. The agency is particularly focused on how different transit services are dealing with rising demand and shrinking budgets. But if that’s the case, ODOT might carry some of the blame: When Gov. John Kasich took office, ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council pulled $52 million from the Cincinnati streetcar project despite previously scoring the streetcar the highest among Ohio’s transportation projects. The Kasich administration also refused $400 million in federal funding for a statewide passenger light rail system, and the money ended up going to California and other states that took on light rail projects.

Cranley’s other major campaign promise is to stop the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the Port intends to finalize the lease by the end of the month — before Cranley takes office in December — by selling bonds that will finance the deal. The outgoing city administration pushed the parking plan through City Council in a matter of months for an upfront payment of $92 million. But following unsuccessful litigation and a due diligence process, the Port Authority cut the payment to $85 million, and the city is now responsible for paying $14-$15 million to build a new parking garage that the Port was originally supposed to finance under the deal. Cranley and other opponents of the parking plan say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets, while supporters argue it’s necessary to modernize the assets and help fund economic development projects.

Several of Cincinnati’s power brokers and building owners are working on a plan that would create a retail corridor in the city’s center and hopefully keep Saks Fifth Avenue in the city. Some of the efforts apparently involve financial incentives from the city, according to details provided to the Business Courier.

In the past decade, Ohio students have shown limited improvement in reading and math scores.

The Cincinnati area could become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic following new regulations imposed by the state budget signed into law in June by Gov. Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature. CityBeat covered the regulations and the rest of the state budget in further detail here.

The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police released a report outlining stricter guidelines for Taser use. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who has led lawsuits on behalf of families who lost loved ones after they were Tased, told WVXU he’s encouraged by the report, but he said he would also require annual tests of the devices and a ban on chest shots.

The Cincinnati branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is filing a federal complaint against the DHL Global Mail facility in Hebron, Ky., after DHL allegedly fired 24 of its employees on Oct. 9 in a dispute over prayer breaks.

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino reported $18.2 million in gross revenue in October, down from $19.8 million in September. The revenue reduction also cost Cincinnati’s casino the No. 1 spot, which is now held by Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino. For Cincinnati and Ohio, the drop means lower tax revenue.

The Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Center plans to close its physical space, but it’s sticking around as a virtual organization and will continue hosting Pride Night at Kings Island. A letter from the center’s board of directors stated that the transition was based on a need to “evolve with the times.”

The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would ban discrimination against gay and transgendered workers, but the bill’s chances are grim in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Ohio senators — Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman — voted in favor of the Senate bill. CityBeat previously covered efforts in Ohio to pass workplace protections for LGBT individuals here.

Watch a homeless veteran’s aesthetic transformation, which apparently helped push his life forward:

The popular video of a baby’s reaction to his singing mom might actually show conflicting feelings of fear and sociality, not sentimentality.

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by German Lopez 08.23.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Privatization at 03:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

Port Authority Unveils Parking Lease Details

Parking meter enforcement will go up, but Port says it's not for revenue

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today acknowledged that it will increase enforcement when it takes over Cincinnati's parking meters, but the agency says its goal is to encourage people to pay up, not raise revenues that will make the parking lease more profitable for the Port Authority and the private operators it's hiring.

In a much-awaited presentation, the quasi-public development agency rolled out board members and statistics to explain why the city should lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port, which will hire various private companies to operate the assets.

Much of the controversy surrounding the lease has focused on enforcement, which critics argue will be ratcheted up under the deal. Port officials clarified that the deal will involve more enforcement officers and more aggressive tactics, but Laura Brunner, CEO of the Port, claimed there will be limits. For example, parking meters won't have built-in connectivity that allows officers to immediately detect when a meter is going unpaid, which means enforcers will have to make regular rounds and checks, just as they do today, before issuing a ticket.

Lynn Marmer, a Port board member and vice chairwoman of Kroger, said increased enforcement is necessary because most people currently don't pay for the parking services they use. She blamed that on the city's dwindling enforcement for parking violations: The city handed out 65,000 tickets in 2012, down from 104,000 in 2008.

"I think it's unlikely we all got better at following the rules and paying fines," Marmer said.

The Port doesn't expect enforcement to reach the levels of 2008 any time soon, but Brunner and others said that tickets will gradually rise once the Port Authority hands the parking meters over to private operators.

One of those private operators is Xerox, which will manage Cincinnati's parking meters under the deal. The Port says it plans to establish a 10-year contract with Xerox, but the contracts will be reviewed quarterly to ensure the company is doing a good job. If not, the contract can be terminated.

Port officials stated that Xerox will not get revenue based on stringent enforcement. Instead, the Port will regularly review Xerox based on a series of measurements that attempt to gauge how efficiently the company is running the city's parking meters.

Port officials also reemphasized that parking meter enforcement hours in neighborhoods — meaning outside of downtown and Over-the-Rhine — will only last until 6 p.m., instead of 9 p.m. as originally called for in the plan. Downtown and Over-the-Rhine meters will still be extended to 9 p.m., although some areas on the edges of downtown, such as Broadway Street, are exempt and enforcement will only run through 6 p.m. in those places.

The change for neighborhood meter hours will presumably lower how much Cincinnati gets from leasing its parking assets to the Port, but officials weren't ready to unveil exactly how much money the city will get. Previous city estimates put the lump sum at $92 million and annual installments at a minimum of $3 million, but that was before the Port's changes.

Prepared statements show if the final lump sum falls under $85 million, the city manager will need to approve the changes before the Port can move forward with the deal.

The decrease in hours also comes with a caveat: It will be possible for the city manager, Port and an independent board appointed by the Port and city manager to expand parking meter hours in the future. But such a change would require approval from all three governing bodies.

Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who's running for mayor and opposes the parking lease, says the Port's presentation did nothing to address his concerns. Claiming that "the devil's in the details," Cranley pointed out that the Port still hasn't released the actual contracts or bond documents.

Brunner said the documents should be released within a month, and the Port plans to give the public two weeks to review the details between the documents' release and the Port's final vote.

Cranley argued that might not be enough time. He told CityBeat that the city "almost gave away" free Sunday and holiday parking under its original lease agreement. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld's office had to catch the error and refer it to the city administration before it was corrected.

The Port's presentation was meant to wrap up the agency's due diligence of the parking lease as it approaches a Sept. 4 deadline. Going into the presentation, Marmer explained, "Frankly, we were more skeptical (of the parking lease) than neutral."

Emails previously acquired by CityBeat back Marmer's skepticism. Writing to other Port officials in June, Marmer expressed concerns that the parking lease has been poorly handled and will snare the Port with controversy. "This whole parking issue has been a gigantic distraction from our core mission," she claimed.

Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage Cincinnati's parking assets to pay for development projects that will grow the city's tax base. Opponents argue it will take too much control out of the city's hands, cause parking rates and enforcement to skyrocket and hurt businesses and residents.

The parking lease has been engulfed in political controversy ever since it was announced in October. Most recently, the city administration was criticized for failing to disclose an independent consultant's memo that found the city was getting a bad deal from the lease. City officials argue the memo was outdated, so they didn't feel the need to release its details. 

With its due diligence nearly finished, the Port will now finalize contracts, update the financial model for the lease and vote on the bonds and contracts that will complete the deal. If all goes as planned, the Port's new system will be in place by April next year.

This story was updated to clarify some wording and what parking meters will be enforced until 9 p.m.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.18.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Parking at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Signs Parking Lease

Mayor, City Council could make changes

The city signed an agreement Monday to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the mayor and City Council may make changes to the plan before its implemented.

The city tweeted the news of the signing to several reporters today with a caveat: “Changes to hours etc. can still be made.”

The caveat comes after a majority of City Council asked City Manager Milton Dohoney to give council more time to make changes to the parking plan. Council approved the parking plan in March, but that was in the middle of a tenuous budget process that has since finished with the passing of a balanced budget.

Now, a majority of City Council is pushing to rework the deal. Democrats Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Laure Quinlivan, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman support reworking or repealing the parking plan.

In particular, Seelbach and Quinlivan have suggested reducing or eliminating the expansion of parking meter operation hours. The original plan expands hours to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in neighborhoods, but private operators wouldn’t have the ability to further expand hours.

How much City Council will be able to do remains uncertain. City Solicitor John Curp previously told City Council that a supermajority is not enough for a repeal because Mayor Mark Mallory, who supports the parking plan, can hold any ordinances until Nov. 30, which marks the end of the current City Council session.

Jason Barron, Mallory’s spokesperson, told CityBeat the mayor would reject a repeal, but he’s open to changes.

“There will be financial repercussions to that,” he said, alluding to possibly smaller payments from the Port Authority. “But there’s a ton of flexibility in this plan.”

Still, Barron says the city won’t spend any funds until there is legal certainty, meaning until potential appeals are exhausted.

At the center of the legal battles: Whether an emergency clause allows the parking plan to avoid a referendum.

Opponents gathered more than 12,000 signatures earlier in the year for a referendum effort, but the referendum may never come to pass in the aftermath of recent court rulings.

The latest ruling from the Hamilton County Court of Appeals decided the city can use emergency clauses to avert referendum efforts on passed legislation, on top of bypassing a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws.

In other words, since the parking plan had an emergency clause attached to it, the plan is not subject to referendum.

The appeals court later refused to delay enforcement of its ruling, which allowed the city manager to sign the lease within days.

Opponents are attempting to appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.

For Cincinnati, the parking plan will provide $92 million in an upfront payment, followed by at least $3 million in estimated annual payments that the city says will eventually grow to $7 million and beyond.

The city plans to use the lump sum to rescind budget cuts, help balance future budgets and fund economic development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.

Opponents of the plan argue it cedes too much control of the city’s parking assets to private operators and could hurt neighborhoods and downtown by expanding parking meter operation hours and increasing meter rates.

Correction: The city signed the lease Monday, not Tuesday as originally reported in the story. The city made the announcement Tuesday, which caused confusion and miscommunication.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.07.2013
Posted In: Economy, Budget, Media, News, Privatization, Parking at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Judge halts council's parking plan, city's deficit options, gun records could be sealed

City Council approved a plan to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, but the plan is now being held up by a judge’s temporary restraining order (TRO). The plan was passed with an emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation, but it also makes the law immune to referendum. The judge’s TRO, which will delay implementation for at least one week, will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum. The parking plan will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. Opponents say they’re concerned about the plan leading to parking rate hikes, and they say the plan will not fix the city’s structural deficits.

Before the final vote on the parking plan, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council that showed options for reducing Cincinnati’s structural deficit, including a reduction or elimination of lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, a reduction in subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare, the semi-automation of solid waste collection or the introduction of new or increased fees for certain programs, among other changes.

Ohio senators are pushing a law that would make records of people licensed to carry concealed firearms in Ohio off-limits to journalists. The senators say they were inspired to push the law after a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of permit holders in three counties. Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, says the law will decrease government transparency and limit rights: “I wish the pro-gun forces would be as respectful of the First Amendment as they are of the second, and they should be fearful of excessive government secrecy.”

The superintendent and treasurer of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, a charter school, were indicted after allegedly using school funds to go to “Girls weekends” in Chicago, sightseeing tours through California and Europe and a trip to Boston to see Oprah — allegedly costing taxpayers more than $148,000. Dave Yost, state auditor, said in a statement, “The audacity of these school officials is appalling. The good work by our auditors and investigators has built the strongest possible case to ensure they can never use the public treasury as their personal travel account again.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are working together to make the case that any delays in the Brent Spence Bridge project will hurt Greater Cincinnati’s economy. Most people involved in the issue agree the bridge needs rebuilding, but not everyone agrees on how the project should be funded. Northern Kentucky politicians in particular have strongly opposed instituting tolls — one of the leading ideas for funding the project.

In public hearings yesterday, service industry officials said Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan, which will expand the state’s sales tax to apply to more service, would drive some service providers out of Ohio and make the state less competitive. Among other complaints, Carter Strang, president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, said the plan could make it harder for Ohioans to access legal counsel by increasing costs and reducing employment in the legal sector. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in detail here.

State Auditor Yost filed a subpoena to get JobsOhio’s financial records after the agency failed to turn them over. The subpoena puts Yost at odds with Kasich, a fellow Republican who established JobsOhio, a nonprofit company, in an attempt to bring more jobs to the state and replace the Ohio Department of Development.

Hamilton County is launching the Hamilton County Community Re-entry Action Plan, which will help integrate ex-convicts back into society. Commissioner Todd Portune told WVXU the plan will help with overpopulation in jails and prisons: “When you build (jail and prison) facilities, the population in them always seems to rise to meet whatever the (capacity) level is in the facility. You never seem to have enough space. The real answer beyond facilities is that we've got to turn around the lives of the individuals who are in our corrections system that have made bad choices.”

The University of Cincinnati says it won’t block an outdoor display of vagina pictures on campus.

Yesterday, Kentucky’s U.S. Sen. Rand Paul held a nearly 13-hour filibuster to protest any possible use of drone strikes on American soil. Paul was joined by senators from both sides of the aisle in his opposition to using the strikes, which were used in Yemen in 2011 to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American citizen accused of being a high-ranking al-Qaeda official.

The same Cleveland judge who made a woman hold an “idiot” sign for driving around a school bus is making a 58-year-old man hold another sign for threatening officers in a 911 call. The sign will apologize to officers and read, “I was being an idiot and it will never happen again.” The man will also go to jail for 90 days.

There used to be camels in Arctic Canada, but that shouldn’t be too surprising — camels currently reside in the Gobi Desert, which can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.02.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Parking at 03:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
city hall

Council Members Demand Answers on Budget Alternatives

City officials frame budget debate with two choices, but there are more options

Councilman Chris Seelbach says Mayor Mark Mallory and other city officials are wrong to claim Plan B, which would lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters and make other cuts to city services, is the only solution to the city’s budget deficit if the parking plan isnt implemented.

Seelbach and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called for a special City Council session on April 4 to get the city administration to answer questions about alternatives to laying off cops or firefighters.

Seelbach, who opposes the parking plan, has pointed to casino revenue and cuts in programs ranked poorly by the city’s priority-driven budgeting process as two potential alternatives to eliminating at least 269 public safety positions.

“We spent $100,000 on the priority-based budget process to give the public and a diverse cross-section of the entire city input on what the Council and the city should be spending money on,” Seelbach says. “We should be using those results when deciding where we should make cuts.”

In the midst of the parking plan debate, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.

At a press conference on March 28, Mayor Mark Mallory implied the plan is unworkable because it relies on November ballot initiatives. “We don’t have until November,” he said.

But Seelbach says City Council could pass a stub budget that would sustain the city financially until the ballot measures are voted on. If both the measures are rejected, City Council would then be required to make further adjustments to balance the budget.

Even without the ballot initiatives, Seelbach’s suggestions for casino revenue and cuts based on the priority-driven budgeting process could be approved by City Council to avoid at least two-thirds of the $18.1 million in public safety cuts outlined by Dohoney’s Plan B memo. Seelbach says further cuts could be made through the budget-driven priority process if necessary.

“It worries me that these threats of 344 layoffs is just an attempt to sell the parking plan,” he says. “Every option should be on the table.”

Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, previously told CityBeat that City Council could choose its own cuts and use other revenue, including casino revenue, to balance the budget.

“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” she said. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another plan.”

In the 2013 mayoral race, the threat of laying off cops and firefighters has played a prominent role in the parking plan debate. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley has repeatedly said the threats are “the boy crying wolf.” On Friday, he proposed his own budget plan that he says would avoid layoffs, but critics say Cranley’s casino revenue estimates ignore recent trends.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another Democratic candidate for mayor, said the city will have to lay off cops and firefighters if the parking plan doesn’t go into effect, echoing earlier comments she made in a blog post Sunday.

On March 6, City Council passed a plan that would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). But the plan is being held up by a referendum effort after a ruling from Judge Robert Winkler on March 28.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.20.2013
Posted In: Parking, News, Budget at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
downtown grocery

Judge Extends Parking Plan Restraining Order

City says it's reaching "pressure point" for budget cuts

Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler announced today that he will be extending the restraining order on the city's parking plan until April 3, potentially delaying any ruling on the city's plan to lease its parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority for another two weeks.

Winkler's office told CityBeat that the judge has been focusing on a murder case, and the delay will give him more time to review the details of the parking plan's case before giving a ruling. The delay does not necessarily mean a ruling is delayed until April 3, and it's possible Winkler could rule within the next two weeks, according to his office.

Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the city is approaching a "pressure point" with the latest delay.

"We respect the court's right to do that (the extension), and know that every day that we cannot make the parking deal happen is a day that we are closer to having to lay people off," she says.

Olberding says the city is so far unsure what the exact effect of the delay will be. The city has repeatedly warned that extending the legal conflict for too long will force the city to make cuts to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.

City Council passed the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Winkler after he received a lawsuit from Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

The legal dispute is centered around City Council's use of emergency clauses, which remove a 30-day waiting period on approved legislation, and the city claims they also remove the possibility of referendum.

In a hearing presided by Winkler on March 15, Hartman argued the city charter's definition of emergency clauses is ambiguous, and legal precedent supports siding with voters' right to referendum when there is ambiguity.

Terry Nestor, who represented the city, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter.

Cincinnati's city charter does not specify whether emergency legislation is subject to referendum, but state law explicitly says it's not.

Opponents of the parking plan say they’re concerned the plan will give up too much control over the city's parking meters, which they say could lead to skyrocketing parking rates. 

The city says rates are set at 3 percent or inflation, but the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would comprise of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.

The city is pursuing the parking plan to help balance the city's deficit for the next two fiscal years and enable economic development projects, including the construction of a downtown grocery store ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).

 
 
by German Lopez 08.19.2013
Posted In: News, Parking at 08:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
coast_online

City Denies COAST's Parking Lease Challenge

City solicitor says conservative group's previous lawsuit forced changes

City Solicitor John Curp on Aug. 15 rebuked a conservative group that asked him to sue the city of Cincinnati over changes made to the city's parking lease without City Council's explicit approval.

With Curp's denial, the conservative group behind the request — the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) — is now legally able to once again sue the city over its plans to lease Cincinnati's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. It would be the second time COAST has taken major legal action over the parking plan.

In a letter to COAST's attorney, Curp writes that the two changes COAST called "significant and material" in its July 17 letter were shifts in dates and time limits that were necessary because a previous lawsuit from COAST forced the city to delay implementation of the parking lease for more than two months. In other words, COAST is trying to use the delays it forced to stop the parking lease once again.

Curp also argues in his letter that the lease gave the city manager the power to make changes that keep the lease "substantially in the form" approved by Council and authorizes city officials to "take all necessary and proper actions" to carry out the lease. Curp writes the disputed changes were within those terms.

In response to Curp's denial, COAST member and attorney Chris Finney told The Cincinnati Enquirer that COAST will pursue another lawsuit against the parking lease if Council doesn't vote on the disputed changes.

Although a majority of Council now says it opposes the parking lease, Mayor Mark Mallory has said he will hold any legislation trying to repeal or undo key elements of the deal.

Under the parking lease, the city will receive a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. Private operators will also be tasked with modernizing Cincinnati's parking assets so parking meters can accept credit cards and payment through a smartphone.

Supporters of the parking lease argue it's necessary to leverage the city's parking assets for development projects and modernize the city’s parking services.

Opponents say the lease gives up too much public control over the city’s parking assets and will hurt local residents and businesses by causing meter rates and operation hours to go up.

The parking plan has been engulfed in political controversies since it was first unveiled by the city manager in October. Most recently, the city administration withheld a memo that was critical of the plan from the public, City Council and Port Authority — a move that triggered outrage about the administration's lack of transparency.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.30.2013
Posted In: News, Business, Health care, Parking at 08:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

City mulling disparity study, Medicaid expansion bill underway, parking hours criticized

City Council could use leftover revenue from the previous budget cycle and money from the parking lease to fund a disparity study that would gauge whether minority- and women-owned businesses should be favorably targeted by the city’s contracting policies. The study could cost between $500,000 to $1 million, according to city officials. Because of a U.S. Supreme Court case, the city must carry out the study before it can impose policies that favorably target minorities or women with business contracts. Since the city's last race- and gender-based program was dismantled in 1999, contract participation rates for minority-owned businesses dropped from a high of 22.4 percent in 1997 to a low of 2.7 percent in 2007, but rates for women-owned businesses have remained relatively unchanged. But the numbers could be understating how many minority-owned businesses there are because classifying as one is now voluntary, while it was mandatory in the 1990s.

State Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, says he wants to move on a package of bills that would include the Medicaid expansion by early October. The bills will also tackle other issues, such as how to deal with growing concerns about opiate addiction in Ohio. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio says the federally funded Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate roughly $1.8 billion for the state in the next year. But Republican legislators in the General Assembly say they're concerned the federal government won't be able to uphold its commitment to the expansion. Recent polling found about 63 percent of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid.

East side residents pleaded with Greater Cincinnati Port Authority officials yesterday to reduce enforcement hours for parking meters under the city's controversial parking lease. The plan allows for enforcement until 9 p.m., but residents say it should only go to 6 p.m. to avoid hurting local businesses that might rely on free parking during the evening. The city is leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then manage the assets through private operators from around the country. The city administration estimates the deal will produce $92 million up front and at least $3 million a year afterward for Cincinnati, which officials plan to use for development projects and to help close budget gaps.

Meanwhile, opponents of the parking lease appealed their legal challenge to the Ohio Supreme Court. Opponents argue the lease should be susceptible to voter referendum. The city claims Cincinnati's emergency clause powers allow council members to expedite laws and remove the possibility of referendum altogether. The legal challenge was initially successful in a lower court, but the appeals court ultimately sided with the city. It's unclear whether the Ohio Supreme Court will hear the challenge.

Legal experts say it's unclear which, if any, of Ohio's new abortion restrictions could survive a court battle. The anti-abortion measures, which were passed in the state budget by Republican legislators and Gov. John Kasich, impose a series of regulatory hurdles that require extra medical procedures prior to getting an abortion and could be used to shut down abortion clinics.

An internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that fracking, an oil- and gas-extraction process, can contaminate underground drinking water. The findings could have implications for Ohio, which is currently undergoing a fracking boom as companies rush to tap into oil and gas reserves in northeastern parts of the state. CityBeat covered Ohio’s fracking boom in further detail here.

Councilwoman Pam Thomas and ex-Councilman Cecil Thomas want everyone to know that they have not endorsed anyone for mayor.

Ryan Widmer's mother, who gained notoriety for defending Widmer during his three trials, was found dead yesterday. There were no obvious signs of trauma or foul play. Widmer is currently serving 15 years for drowning his wife in a bathtub in 2008.

Scientists may have to genetically modify oranges to save them from a deadly disease.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.25.2013
Posted In: Budget, News, Parking, Infrastructure at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news_pgsittenfeld_jf2

Morning News and Stuff

Behind the parking plan drama, state budget cuts local funding, bridge to get federal bump

Being one of the first to discover a critical memo put Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at the center of an ongoing drama regarding the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The memo criticized the financial details of the lease, but it was kept from the Port, City Council and the public for nearly a month. Ever since the controversial parking plan passed City Council and was upheld in court, concerned citizens, business leaders and critics like Sittenfeld have been calling on the city and Port to rework or halt the deal. So far, the city and Port have stuck to their support. The city will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the lease, which it currently plans to use to help balance city budgets and fund development projects, such as the I-71/MLK Interchange.

The latest state budget secured more cuts to city and county governments, putting local governments at a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two years compared to 2010 and 2011, according to a new report from progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio. Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local government funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But the latest state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash in extra revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts. For Cincinnati, the original cuts cost the city more than $22 million in revenue.

The Brent Spence Bridge was bumped up in a federal funding priority list through a successful amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican. The amendment prioritized $500 million for obsolete and structurally unsound bridges, but it’s so far unclear how much of the money will go to the Brent Spence Bridge project, which state officials estimate will cost $2.7 billion. Currently, Ohio and Kentucky officials plan to pay for the bridge project by enacting tolls.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor this year, is calling on the city manager to produce a plan that would structurally balance Cincinnati’s operating budget by 2016. “To build on the momentum Cincinnati is now experiencing, we must set a course now for a fiscally sustainable future,” Qualls said in a statement. “That’s why I’m urging that we have a plan to reach structural balance by 2016, restore reserves and increase the city’s pension contribution, minimize using the parking lease payment to restore budget cuts and continue to invest in neighborhoods and jobs to grow revenue.” The announcement comes more than one week after Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating and criticized the city for its exposure to unsustainable pension liabilities and reliance on one-time sources to fix budget gaps.

Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor, is rolling out his jobs plan today. The initiative will provide a job training program for individuals facing long-term unemployment or underemployment, which the Cranley campaign estimates will result in 379 individuals per year obtaining full-time, permanent jobs. The program will be mainly paid for by pulling funds from the city’s Office of Environmental Quality, Department of Finance, travel and the state lobbyist. “My deepest conviction is that there is dignity in work. I believe all able-bodied adults should work and be self-sufficient. And I believe society has an obligation to ensure the opportunity to work exists,” Cranley said in a statement.

On Second Thought: “Facts vs. Perceptions in Trayvon Martin Coverage.”

Police yesterday shot and killed Roger Ramundo, an allegedly armed Clifton resident. Officers had been called to the area of Clifton and Ludlow avenues by a mental health provider, who said there was a person with mental health issues armed with a gun, according to interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul Humphries. Police said they tried to first subdue Ramundo with Tasers during an ensuing struggle, but they were unsuccessful and the man pulled out his gun and fired a shot. That’s when one officer fired two shots that hit Ramundo, who was then taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Gov. Kasich isn’t providing clemency to a Cleveland killer who stabbed his victim 17 times, overruling a rare plea for mercy from prosecutors but siding with a majority of the state parole board. Billy Slagle will be executed on Aug. 7.

Ohio will take a hands-off approach to promoting Obamacare, even though outreach will be crucial for the controversial health care law. President Barack Obama’s administration estimates it will have to enroll millions of young adults into health care plans to turn the law into a success.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County is investigating if Obamacare could result in lower property taxes by allowing the county to shift costs to the federal government.

A Cincinnati money manager is being accused of running an “elaborate Ponzi scheme” that cost investors “tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars,” according to a July 20 complaint filed in the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.

The average price of a flight from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport dropped, but the airport is still the second-most expensive in the nation.

CityBeat gave Internet cat-celebrity Lil Bub an in-depth look in this week’s issue. Find it online here.

Want to maximize your tan? Here is how close you could get to the sun and survive.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.10.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Streetcar, Health care at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar's cancellation unlikely, parking payment shrinks, Kasich could expand Medicaid

By the time a new mayor and City Council candidates take office in December, the city will have laid out roughly half a mile of track and spent or contractually obligated at least $117 million for the streetcar project. The contractual obligations mean it could cost more to cancel the project than to finish it, which will cost the city an estimated total of $88 million after deducting $45 million in federal grants. Still, mayoral candidate John Cranley and several council candidates insist they will try to cancel the project upon taking office. Check out CityBeat’s full in-depth story here.

The parking plan’s upfront payment has been reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city, as opposed to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets, according to an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city manager claims the lump sum payment dropped as a result of rising interest rates and the Port Authority’s decision to relax parking meter hours outside Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District. The parking plan leases Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which plans to hire private companies to operate the assets. CityBeat covered the plan in greater detail here and the controversy surrounding it here.

Gov. John Kasich is considering using an executive order to expand the state’s Medicaid program with federal funds. The executive order would expand eligibility for the government-run health insurance program so it includes anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $15,900 in annual income for an individual. Kasich would then on Oct. 21 ask Ohio’s seven-member legislative-spending oversight panel to approve federal funds for the expansion. Kasich, a Republican, has aggressively pursued the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government promises under Obamacare to completely fund through 2016 then phase down and indefinitely hold its payments at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs. But Republican legislators claim the federal government might not be able sustain the payments, even though the federal government has met its payments for the much larger overall Medicaid program since it was created in 1965.

At its final full session before the November election, City Council approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance to bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years. Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only one to vote against the tax incentives. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Gov. John Kasich’s administration was originally supposed to provide some tax incentives to the company, but it ultimately reneged after supposedly deciding that the company isn’t part of an industry the state typically supports. Critics say Kasich’s administration is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio yesterday announced it’s suing Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions passed in the 2014-2015 state budget. The ACLU claims the restrictions are unrelated to the budget and therefore violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s monitoring the impact of the federal government shutdown with some concerns. “I’m more concerned if this goes more than four weeks or so, when we start talking about reimbursement programs for our larger social programs such as food stamps and cash assistance to the needy and those types of things. We just don’t have the money to front that type of thing,” he said. CityBeat covered the shutdown in further detail here.

Hamilton County’s government shrunk by more than one-third in the past decade.

City Council yesterday passed a resolution condemning State Sen. Bill Seitz’s attempts to weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on their electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.

Early voting turnout is so far “anemic,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio has the No. 12 worst tax environment among states, according to a report from the Tax Foundation. The rank is unchanged from the previous year’s report.

A central Ohio school might ban Halloween.

Bill Nye explains Jupiter’s big red spot:

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 

 

 

 
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