Although it has already been explicitly stated in two letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the $132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money to any project in Ohio.
The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not going to happen.
Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government would react to such circumstances.
According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would break the city’s agreement with the federal government and lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds, ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the deal altogether.
Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.
“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”
But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were canceled.
President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.
“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.
Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.
After the meeting, Cranley dismissed an offer by major philanthropy organization The Carol
Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation to pay for a study of
streetcar shut-down costs that opponents want to see
come in lower than the
city’s estimates before they vote to completely stop the project. Cranley dismissed
the offer because it also came with a note saying that if the streetcar is canceled the foundation will
reconsider its contributions to Music
Hall, the Smale Riverfront Park and other city projects. Cranley would rather make the city pay for the study than negotiate with terrorists respond to threats.
About seven and a half hours into this debacle of American democracy — which included numerous procedural abnormalities including the mayor asking Council to discuss and vote on ordinances no one had read yet, an hours-long delay and a funding appropriation that leaves the cancellation vote safe from the pro-streetcar-threatened voter referendum (something Cranley railed against when the city administration kept the parking plan safe from referendum) — Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld livened things up with something everyone tired of the streetcar debate can agree is funny: undermining the mayor’s authority by asking fellow council members to overrule him.
The following video published by UrbanCincy shows Cranley denying Sittenfeld an opportunity to speak. Sittenfeld then asks for a vote to overrule Cranley, which the mayor had to approve, and everyone but Kevin Flynn votes to overrule. (Flynn unfortunately had to vote first, leaving him unable to determine which way the vote was likely to go — a tough position for a rookie politician.) Once David Mann and Amy Murray voted to allow Sittenfeld to speak, the rest of the anti-streetcar faction followed suit, knowing Sittenfeld had the necessary votes to overrule Cranley. Then Sittenfeld spent a few minutes going mayoral on Cincinnati's new mayor.
Cincinnati officials will
hold a press conference Thursday to announce that the city will receive a $3
million federal grant to address lead paint problems in apartments and houses.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded the grant to the city’s Community Development Department. City staffers will work with some local nonprofit agencies in allocating the funds.
At least 240 residential units will be able to have lead abatement completed, officials said.
Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. will formally accept the money, which is the fourth lead-related HUD grant given to Cincinnati, in council chambers at 10 a.m. Thursday. The chambers are located on the third floor of City Hall, 801 Plum St., downtown.
Representatives from the agencies that will help the city use the money also are expected to attend. They include Price Hill Will, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, Cincinnati Housing Partners, People Working Cooperatively, Working In Neighborhoods and the Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corp.
Lead poisoning is the leading environmentally induced illness in children, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. At greatest risk are children under the age of six because they are undergoing rapid neurological and physical development.
The United States banned the use of lead in household paint in 1978, but it often can be found on the walls of dwellings in cities with older housing stock like Cincinnati.
An estimated 19,000 children under age six in Ohio have unsafe levels of lead in their blood, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group. The number includes an estimated 1,400 children in Hamilton County.
Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council announced on Tuesday that, upon taking office in December, they will terminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, following an agreement with the Port Authority to hold off on a bond sale that would have financed — and effectively sealed — the deal. But it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the assets under the deal. The current city administration argues the parking plan is necessary to help balance the budget over the next two years, pay for economic development projects around the city and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, parking meters can accept credit card payments. Opponents argue the plan gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets by outsourcing their operations to private companies based around the country.
But some business leaders are upset with the death of the parking plan because it leaves no visible alternative for funding major development projects like the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
Cranley now says he will not allow a referendum on any ordinance undoing the streetcar project and will instead try to work with supporters of the project to find another way to put it on the ballot if they can gather enough petition signatures. Cranley says blocking a referendum is necessary to avoid spending money during a referendum campaign that could last months. But for supporters of the streetcar, Cranley’s decision seems highly hypocritical following his repeated praise for the “people’s sacred right of referendum” on the campaign trail after City Council blocked a referendum on the parking plan. If the project is placed on the ballot, it will essentially be the third time it’s brought to a public vote; opponents of the project in 2009 and 2011 pursued two ballot initiatives that many saw as referendums on the streetcar.
Meanwhile, Over-the-Rhine businesses and residents yesterday officially launched a campaign to save the streetcar project from Cranley and a newly elected City Council that appears poised to cancel the project. Touting the project’s potential return on investment and cancellation costs, the group plans to lobby newly elected officials to vote in favor of keeping the project going. The group invited Cranley and all elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying effort, a ballot initiative if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action against the city.
The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board is apparently unpleasantly surprised that Cranley undid the parking plan, even though the board endorsed Cranley for mayor after he ran in opposition to the parking plan for nearly a year.
An Ohio Senate bill caps the spending ability of the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative board that previously approved the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite the Ohio legislature’s opposition. Gov. John Kasich angered many Republican legislators when he decided to go through the Controlling Board to get the Medicaid expansion, which is a major part of Obamacare.
Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is working on changes to Medicaid that would cap future cost increases and employ professional staff for a Joint Medicaid Oversight Committee that would have the ability to review Medicaid programs and agencies. The bill also includes a portion that clarifies its passage “shall not be construed with endorsing, validating or otherwise approving the (Medicaid) expansion.”
Despite attempts from city officials and local business leaders, Saks Fifth Avenue is leaving downtown to open a store at Kenwood Collection.
Kentucky’s state auditor will look at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport board’s spending policies and expenses, following reports from The Enquirer that the board spent exorbitant amounts on travel, dining and counseling.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser’s request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages. In a story titled “Cop's suspension called best move for city,” the newspaper wrongly implicated a Miami Township police officer who was previously accused but later exonerated of sexual assault.
Attorney General Mike DeWine warns that some typhoon relief requests could be scams.
Not satisfied with the mere wonder of beginning to exist, some stars explode in a rainbow of colors when they’re born.
Mayor Mark Mallory announced revisions to the city manager’s budget plan today that will reduce the amount of layoffs by making several additional cuts, particularly in funding that goes to outside agencies, and using recently discovered revenue.
Mallory’s changes will restore 18 firefighter positions, 17 police positions, three inspector positions at the Health Department and two positions at the Law Department, reducing the total layoffs to 161, with 49 of those being police positions and 53 being firefighter positions.
To balance out the restored positions, the mayor is suggesting closing down two more recreation centers: Westwood Town Hall Recreation Center and Mt. Auburn Recreation Center. He is also suggesting cuts to the mayor’s office budget ($32,000) and outside agencies ($1.3 million), including the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce.
Mallory’s revised budget plan also makes use of about $500,000 in revenue that was not located in time for City Manager Milton Dohoney’s budget proposal.
Mallory justified the cuts by saying public safety must come first, but he says he would keep the funding under better circumstances.
“The progress we have seen in our city cannot stand on its own without an emphasis on public safety,” he said.
The budget will have to be enacted by June 1 to give the
city 30 days to implement the changes before fiscal year 2014, which
begins July 1. It will now move to City Council, which will be able to make its own changes.
Mallory stressed that the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit is being driven by a few outside factors, including reduced state funding, court challenges holding up the parking plan and the recent economic downturn.
Gov. John Kasich has cut local government funding by about half in his state budget plans, which Dohoney estimated cost Cincinnati about $22.2 million in 2013 (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).
The city was planning to make up for some of that lost funding by leasing its parking assets to the Port Authority and using the funds to help balance the deficit and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). But opponents of the plan, who say they are cautious of parking rate hikes and extended parking meter hours, have successfully held up the plan in court and through a referendum effort.
Cincinnati’s population has steadily decreased since the 1950s, which means the city has been taking in less tax revenue from a shrinking population. That was exacerbated by the Great Recession, which further lowered tax revenue as people lost their jobs and cut back spending.
Still, the city has run structurally imbalanced budget since 2001, according to previous testimony from Budget Director Lea Eriksen. The previous budgets were balanced through one-time revenue sources, but Dohoney told media outlets last week that, barring the parking plan, those sources have run out.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns today pronounced his campaign dead and claimed local media, including CityBeat, is to blame.
“From day one, the Cincinnati Print Media (especially the Enquirer) have thrown Libertarian candidate for mayor, Jim Berns, under the bus,” Berns wrote in an email, listing Carl Weiser, Jane Prendergast, Ryan Hoffman and Ben Goldschmidt of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Howard Wilkinson of WVXU, German Lopez of CityBeat and Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier as the main culprits.
In the email, Berns complains that the two frontrunners in the mayoral race — Democrats Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley — have nearly identical records. Those candidates’ biggest points of disagreement are the streetcar and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes.
The email claims the media should call Berns “courageous, innovative, a real choice” instead of a “perennial candidate.”
Berns then attached this picture:
The latest stunt is just one of many that have been part of Berns’ campaign.
On July 31, Berns declared he was quitting the mayoral race in protest of the city’s primary system, which Berns says favors Qualls and Cranley. A day later, he changed his mind and said he’s back in.
On June 4, Berns, who supports marijuana legalization, said he was going to hand out free marijuana plants at a campaign event. The gifts turned out to be tomato plants, not marijuana.
In general, the Libertarian’s campaign has focused a lot on giving stuff away. His campaign card proudly touts his intent to give out free ice cream, which he has repeatedly done at events.
As a Libertarian, Berns supports lower taxes and smaller government and opposes drug prohibition. He was endorsed by the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).
Cincinnati is generally considered a Democratic stronghold, which has kept Berns’ chances of winning the mayoral race very low. The city hasn’t had a non-Democratic mayor since Charterite Arnold Bortz left office in 1984. Back then, the local Democratic Party and the Charter Committee were working together through a coalition.
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.
The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.
"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.
The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.
For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.
City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.
Read the full letter below:
Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley decisively defeated Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls today as both the Democratic mayoral candidates won the primary election and advanced to the general election.
With all precincts reporting, Cranley got 55.9 percent of the vote and Qualls picked up 37.2 percent, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The other two candidates — Libertarian Jim Berns and Independent Sandra “Queen” Noble — each failed to break 5 percent of the vote.
The two victors come as little surprise to most election watchers, who have long been calling Cranley and Qualls the frontrunners. But Cranley’s strong lead has led to celebrations from Cranley’s supporters and downplaying from Qualls’ backers.
The city has held only two primaries since it enacted its “strong mayor” rules in 1999, which call for a primary when there’s more than two eligible candidates. The two winners then go on to the general election for the final decision. Previously, the City Council candidate with the most votes was designated mayor.
In both the primary elections held since 1999, the primary winner ended up losing the general election. In 2001, Courtis Fuller beat Charlie Luken in the primary in a 53.8-38.5 percent vote; Luken went on to win the general election 55.4-44.6 percent. In 2005, David Pepper narrowly beat Mark Mallory in the primary 31.2-30.7 percent; Mallory is currently mayor after winning the general election 51.8-48.2 percent in 2005 and getting re-elected in 2009.
The results’ significance is even murkier because voter turnout was a dismal 5.68 percent. In comparison, the mayoral primary held on Sept. 11, 2001 — the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon — had 15 percent voter turnout. In 2005, 21 percent of voters participated in the mayoral primary.
Still, Cranley’s victory is being heralded by his supporters tonight, particularly because it might show a shift from Qualls’ strong lead in early polls.
For the two camps, the contentious race is about which vision Cincinnati should embrace as the city’s downtown revitalization gains national recognition and momentum. Qualls supports the streetcar project and parking lease, while Cranley opposes both.
Cranley served on City Council from 2000 to 2009. Qualls has been on City Council since 2007 and previously served on City Council from 1991 to 1993 and as mayor from 1993 to 1999.
Voters will make the final decision between Cranley and Qualls on Nov. 5.
This story was updated with clearer election results and to correct Cranley’s full time on City Council, which the story previously said was from 2001 to 2009 instead of the accurate timespan of 2000 to 2009.
Cincinnati could lose up to $45 million in federal funds if it cancels the $133 million streetcar project, according to a new letter from the Federal Transit Administration released on Thursday by Mayor Mark Mallory.
The letter confirms much of what was stated in a previous June 19 letter to Mallory, and it presumably acts as a warning to Mayor-elect John Cranley, who intends to permanently cancel ongoing construction on the streetcar project once he takes office in December.
Cranley previously said he could lobby the federal government to re-appropriate the money to other projects, but the FTA letter unequivocally states the money is only for the streetcar project.
“FTA’s oversight contractor for the Project informs me that the City’s expenditures plus committed costs on the Project as of this date exceed $116 million, which is approximately 88 percent of the total project cost,” wrote FTA administrator Peter Rogoff. “These commitments include many construction activities that cannot be easily reversed — the City has relocated utilities, embedded rail in City streets, and purchased streetcars. Should the City choose to prematurely terminate the Project, all cost associated with closing down the project, including any claims from the contractors, will not be eligible for any federal reimbursement.”
The letter confirms that, as CityBeat originally reported, canceling the streetcar project carries its own costs.
Should the city cancel the project, it would first need to return nearly $41 million in federal grant money. The remaining $4 million in federal funds would fall under the discretion of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat
the city already spent $2 million of the federal funds. Olberding said the $2 million in repayments would need to come out of the operating budget
that pays for cops, firefighters and human services instead of the
capital budget that’s currently financing the streetcar project.
Since the operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, adding millions in costs could force the city to cut additional services or raise taxes.
Upon cancellation, the city would also need to pay back some of the $94 million in standing contractual obligations for the streetcar project. In many cases, the obligations reflect supply orders and other expenses contractors and subcontractors already took on but haven’t officially billed to the city. If the project were canceled, city officials say the already-spent money would need to be paid back, along with extra costs to close the project — to repave torn-up streets, for example.
Project executive John Deatrick previously told CityBeat that paying back the contractual obligations could involve litigation, which would also be paid for through the operating budget, as the city tries to minimize cancellation costs and private contractors try to recoup as much as they can from the project.
All of that is on top of the $23 million that’s already been billed to the project as of September, which should grow by $1.5 million each month as contractual obligations are turned into official bills, according to Deatrick.
The final decision on the streetcar project rests on City Council. Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Thursday that he’ll pursue a 30-to-90-day time-out on the project as the city conducts a full accounting of cancellation costs, completion costs and the potential return on investment of the project, following requests from Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and incoming council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn — three crucial swing votes in the newly elected council of nine — for more information before placing a final vote on the project.
The talk of cancellation already spurred some Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses to launch a campaign to save the streetcar. Cranley insists it’s too expensive and the wrong priority for the city, but supporters tout independent studies and their own experiences to argue it would spur economic development. The pro-streetcar group will meet on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100, downtown Cincinnati.
The full letter: