In Cincinnati, an ankle MRI can range in price from $367.46 to $2,865.42, but weak transparency laws make it difficult for consumers to compare prices. But to make up for the lack of transparency, some companies are providing compiled price and quality data to paying employers. A previous report from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave 29 states an “F” for health-care price transparency, Ohio and six other states a “D” and only New Hampshire and Massachusetts an “A.”
Ohio House Republicans killed Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion plan, but Ohio Democrats are planning to introduce the expansion as a standalone bill. The expansion, which was one of the few aspects of Kasich's budget that Democrats supported, would have saved the state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of Kasich’s budget proposal here.
In two 5-4 votes yesterday, City Council approved the executive director position for the streetcar project and a repeal on a “double dipping” ban. The city says it needs the measures to hire John Deatrick, the current manager of The Banks project, to head the streetcar project, but critics argue the city should not be making hires when it’s threatening to lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters to balance the budget — even though the hire is through the capital budget used for the streetcar project, not the general fund that is used to employ cops and firefighters. CityBeat wrote more about the new position and the double dipping ban here.
This week’s commentary from CityBeat: “Religious Birth Control Exemptions Are a Double Standard.”
City Council also approved the Music Hall lease, which will enable extensive renovations. CityBeat covered some of the original details of the renovation plan when it was first announced here.
StateImpact Ohio has some information on how Ohio House Republicans’ plan for school funding differs from Kasich’s proposal. The big difference is Kasich’s plan was based on property taxes, which ended up being regressive, while the House plan is based on the average cost to educate each student, which makes it so less schools, particularly poor and rural schools that fell under Kasich’s plan, have their funding reduced. The House plan also expands performance-based pay and school choice, which Policy Matters previously found may hurt students and teachers. CityBeat covered Kasich’s proposal in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio posted an interactive map showing the county-by-county benefits of a state earned income tax credit. The credit, which mostly benefits low- and middle-income earners with children, is already used by the federal government and some states to progressively reward employment.
Freedom Ohio and Equality Ohio will debate the Family Research Council today over whether Ohio should legalize same-sex marriage. The debate will be streamed here. CityBeat covered Freedom Ohio’s same-sex marriage legalization efforts here.
The U.S. Postal Service will drop its threats to stop delivering on Saturdays after Congress denied the action.
A new study found humans tend to think strangers are staring at them.
Headline: “Why Are Monkey Butts So Colorful?”
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, compared Ohio’s energy efficiency laws to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan. Seitz is leading the charge on a review of the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. The review has been supported by Akron-based First Energy, an energy company that has long opposed Ohio’s energy efficiency standards. But environmental groups say they’re worried the review will water down a law that has brought clean energy and jobs to the state.
Cincinnati is poised to approve a lease of Music Hall that will allow renovations to move forward. The plan would lease the Music Hall for 75 years to carry out renovations that will likely cost between $50 million and $100 million, with the city contributing about $10 million. CityBeat covered the plan when it was first announced here.
In the midst of Cincinnati’s heated budget battle, the Ohio Casino Control Commission will release its monthly revenue estimates for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino today. City officials estimated that about $9 million to $11 million will be available at a City Council meeting Thursday — seemingly the only point of agreement in a testy exchange over the city’s budget that left city leaders with no consensus on local budget woes. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley and others have proposed using casino revenue to help balance the city’s budget without layoffs, but Cranley’s $21 million estimate has drawn criticism for being unrealistic.
The Ohio House is likely to propose alternatives to Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan this week. State legislators have criticized Kasich’s plan for favoring the wealthy, raising taxes for many Ohioans and expanding Medicaid with the use of federal funds. CityBeat covered the governor’s plan in further detail here.
National parks around Ohio are cutting hours and hiring because of sequestration, a series of across-the-board budget cuts that began March 1 after congressional inaction. The cuts have forced the James A. Garfield National Historic Site at Mentor, Ohio, to close on Sundays, which means about 30,000 tourists will be unable to visit this year, according to Todd Arrington, chief of interpretation and education at the park.
Ohio’s rural speed limit is being changed to 70 mph, and signs will soon reflect that.
Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s only female prime minister, died at age 87.
A fusion rocket could shoot people to Mars in 30 days.
Cincinnati’s plan to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains on hold as a lawsuit arguing the law should be subject to referendum works through the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and takes away the possibility of a referendum. Emergency clauses are routinely deployed in City Council, but opponents of the parking plan say that doesn’t make them right.
Whether the parking deal does go through or not, the Tower Place Mall renovations will be carried out. The city originally included the renovations as part of the plan, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the city is planning on selling the the property to a subsidiary of JDL Warm Construction for an undisclosed sum, and the company will then pay an estimated $5 million for the redevelopment.
Gov. John Kasich’s plan to expand the sales tax to fund tax cuts is being heavily criticized by some members of the business community, but Rep. Ron Amstutz, chairman of the Ohio House Finance & Appropriations Committee, says he is looking into ways to save the proposal. Kasich’s plan would expand the application of the sales tax to include more services, including cable TV and admission to sport events, but it would lower the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and carry out 20-percent across-the-board income tax cuts. CityBeat wrote about Kasich’s budget proposal in further detail here.
As part of Kasich’s education plans, the state’s school voucher program is expanding to help students meet a Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-graders pass a test in reading proficiency before they can move onto fourth grade. Supporters argue the voucher program provides more choice and control for parents, but opponents say the state should not be paying for private educations. A previous Policy Matters Ohio report found expanded school choice through more vouchers can have negative effects on education, including worse results for students and teachers.
State Auditor Dave Yost is pushing for a full audit of JobsOhio, the publicly funded private, nonprofit agency, but Republican state legislators are joining Kasich in opposition. The opposing Republicans say the state auditor can track any public funds used for JobsOhio, but they say the agency is allowed to keep its private funds under wraps. Kasich says he plans to replace the Ohio Department of Development, which can be fully audited by the state auditor at any time, with JobsOhio.
The Ohio Department of Education apparently knew or should have known of ongoing data scrubbing in schools as early as 2008, according to The Toledo Blade. Emails acquired by The Blade show officials analyzed and discussed data reports that year after media reports detailed how urban districts excluded thousands of test scores on state report cards.
Supporters of the Anna Louise Inn gathered Friday in celebration of International Women’s Day and to stand against Western & Southern’s repeated efforts to run the Inn out of the neighborhood.
The U.S. Census Bureau says Cincinnati commutes are much shorter than the national average, with only 2.9 percent of Cincinnatians spending more than 60 minutes one-way during their commute, as compared to the 8.1 percent national average.
The Cincinnati Enquirer unveiled its new tabloid format today. Ben Kaufman says it looks nice and arrived on time.
The Killers are coming to the Horseshoe Casino.
A new study says results from fMRI scans are unintentionally distorted and inaccurate — to the point that some studies on the human brain that use fMRI results may be seriously questionable.
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.
“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are void.”
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a referendum effort.
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on a vote that I was facing.”
CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.
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.
In a 5-4 vote today, City Council approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance deficits for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects in Downtown, but the plan is now being held up by a Hamilton County judge's temporary restraining order (TRO).
The plan was approved with an emergency clause, which means it is not subject to referendum, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Councilman Chris Seelbach joined the parking plan’s five supporters in approving the emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation by removing a 30-day waiting period.
Shortly after the parking plan was approved by City Council, Judge Robert Winkler signed a TRO that will halt its implementation for at least one week. The judge’s action will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.
Mayor Mark Mallory says the emergency clause was passed to speed up the plan’s implementation in time for the budget that will begin July 1, not to suppress voters: “I don't think that any member of council has ever voted for an emergency clause in an effort to keep voters from being able to reverse the decision that the council is making, so I take exception with that characterization.”
The parking plan got its required fifth vote, up from a 4-3 vote in the Budget and Finance Committee Monday, from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who abstained from voting in the committee meeting because she said she was concerned about the city’s long-term fiscal outlook. She says her concerns were eased after she read the leasing agreement and listened to a presentation from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that gave City Council a few options for fixing the city’s structural deficits.
The parking plan’s other supporters were council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young. Council members Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against the plan.
The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal will produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments will generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Opponents say they are concerned the plan will give up too much control of the city’s parking meters and garages, which they say could lead to spikes in parking rates.
Under the initial plan, downtown rates will remain at $2 an hour and neighborhood rates will be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, according to Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.
The city will be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.
Opponents also say the money from the parking plan is being used too quickly, which does little to alleviate the city’s structural deficits.
Dohoney previously argued the plan will help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.
“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said Monday. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.”
With the lease agreement approved, it is now up to the Port Authority to develop and publicize the bond documents that will further detail the framework of the parking plan.
in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution
asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration
Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council today that explained how Cincinnati could work to reduce its structural budget deficits. The presentation was presumably in response to Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who said Monday that she wanted to see a long-term deficit reduction plan before she could approve the city manager’s proposal to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.
Even with the parking plan’s one-time infusion of money (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), Cincinnati will need to make further changes to balance budgets for the next three fiscal years. To help tame these deficits, Dohoney says the city could reduce or eliminate lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, reduce subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare, semi-automate solid waste collection or introduce new or increased fees for certain programs, among other changes.
But some council members said they were more concerned about how the city will manage once it loses the parking plan’s one-time injection of funding after the 2016 fiscal year.
“I think this is a bit muddled,” Quinlivan said. “It doesn’t get to the systemic problem we have.”
Quinlivan, who has long argued for “rightsizing” police and fire departments, says the city should draw down its public safety spending to “sustainable” levels, but she says she would prefer attritioning public safety forces over abrupt, short-term cuts. Dohoney acknowledges attrition would help balance budgets, but he cautions that even attrition “would have to be married” with a plan that reduces the public’s expectations for public safety services — particularly if the city decides to not answer every 911 call by dispatching officers, which is currently required.
Dohoney says City Council needs to be clearer with its long-term budget policy. “If we’re going to make adjustments, I need clear policy direction, and I do not feel that I have it,” he says. “Give me a clear direction on where you want the police department to be, and I can get it there.”
The city manager says the city will have to approve a tax hike or cuts to government spending, which poses the possibility of layoffs, if it’s serious about eliminating structural deficit problems.
For every 1,000 residents, Cincinnati has less cops than
only two comparable cities: Cleveland and St. Louis. The fire department
has higher numbers, with Cincinnati equal to Pittsburgh and above
other comparable cities. The high levels of cops and firefighters per
capita comes despite downsizing in the police and fire departments in the past five years.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says the city may have drawn down its police force between 2000 and 2012, but the local police department has also been reorganized in a way that actually puts more cops out on patrol. Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, says street strength has moved from 832 police officers out of 1,034 officers available in 2002 to 864 out of 981 in 2012.
Between 2000 and 2012, the fire department was the only
city agency to see an increase in employment, while the city had slight
employment reductions overall. In the same time span, the General Fund increased by more than $30 million, and Cincinnati’s population fell by about 10 percent.
Two Ohio senators, including Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, are pushing a bill that will require the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles to grant driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants. The senators claim state BMV offices are inconsistently applying President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of prosecution, but the Ohio Department of Public Safety says the issue is still under review. CityBeat originally broke the story after hearing of Ever Portillo’s experiences at a Columbus BMV office here, and a follow-up story covered the internal conflict at the BMV over the issue here.
Ohio officials have said the state has only put $1 million toward JobsOhio, but records recently acquired by The Columbus Dispatch show $5.3 million in funding has been directed to the program
so far, and the public investment could be as high as $9 million. State
officials said the funding is necessary because constitutional
challenges, which the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up,
have held up the program’s original source of funding — state liquor
profits. JobsOhio is a nonprofit company established with the support of
Gov. John Kasich that’s meant to attract investment and bring jobs to
the state. Kasich says he wants to replace the Ohio Department of Development with the nonprofit company in the future.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote yesterday, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote tomorrow. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered, would 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. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration. Critics are worried the city will give up too much control of its parking assets as part of the deal, and concerns about the city’s long-term deficits remain. The alternatives — plans B, C and S — would fix structural deficit problems, while the budget only helps balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years.
The company that will operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the parking deal is approved by City Council had problems in the past, according to a tip received by multiple news outlets from Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing. One of the issues is a 2007 audit, which found ACS mismanaged parking meters in Washington, D.C. Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit was based on “faulty information,” and a lot of the problems found were because the auditor improperly read parking meter screen displays.
An approved commitment by the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (HCTID) may ensure a rail service is ready for Cincinnati in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing for local and state governments to break down any barriers for Oasis Rail Transit, which will carry passengers from Downtown to Milford.
The Ohio Board of Education will decide between two candidates for state superintendent next week: acting Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers or Dick Ross, Gov. John Kasich’s top education adviser.
After years of development and anticipation, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino opened yesterday. The casino comes with the promise of jobs and economic development, but it also poses the risk of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide. State and local legislators are also looking forward to extra government revenue from the casino, even though casino revenue around the state has fallen short of projections. For Over-the-Rhine residents, the grand opening, which culminated in a fireworks display, was sort of like being in the middle of a thunderstorm.
Livability.com named Cincinnati the No. 10 spring break destination because of the Cincinnati Zoo, Botanical Garden, IKEA, Cincinnati Art Museum, the 21c Museum Hotel, Newport Aquarium and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, among other places and family-friendly activities.
Science doesn’t want pregnant women to be capable of anything.
Here are two pictures of Venus from Saturn’s view.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a
plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote on March 6.
Council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young voted for the plan, and council members Chris Seelbach, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against it. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was absent, and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan abstained, although she said she could vote yes if she sees more details about how the city will curb its long-term budget problems.
The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Before the vote, several City Council members said the parking plan would not solve Cincinnati’s structural deficit problems, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan would help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.
“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate
growth right now, not later,” he said. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to
have further negative ramifications to deal with.”
Still, Dohoney admitted the plan would not solve all the city’s budget woes — just like he has repeatedly said in the past. Even with the parking plan, the city projects a $10 million deficit in 2014, $15.5 million deficit in 2015 and $20 million deficit in 2016.
The council members insisted there are alternatives to the parking plan and Dohoney’s Plan B, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes.
On March 1, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would not lease the city’s parking assets to balance the budget and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
On the same day as the hearings, Winburn, the sole Republican on City Council, proposed Plan C, which would reduce city employees’ salaries across the board — with exemptions for police, ﬁre, health, garbage, recreation, parks and road paving — and use casino and parking revenue to clear the deficit.
At the City Council hearings, Quinlivan listed a few other
possibilities, including sharing public safety services with other
local communities. She also advised the city to put together a long-term deficit reduction plan. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road any more,” she said.
Thomas suggested putting an earnings tax hike of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent on the ballot. He said, “It would solve this (deficit) problem once and for all.”
Some council members also raised concerns about the release of bond documents, which will further detail the framework of the parking agreement. Dohoney and Laura Brunner, president of the Port Authority, said the bond documents have not been crafted because a lease agreement has to be approved by City Council first, but the documents will be made public once they are put together.
Before the final committee vote, Smitherman successfully
motioned to separate part of the parking plan from the budget, which opens the plan to referendum. The motion was in response to City Solicitor
John Curp, who said appropriation ordinances, or ordinances that are essentially budgets, aren’t subject to
referendum, according to state law.
The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters
if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and
complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.
A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.
For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair
tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter
tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.
The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4
percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public
The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington,
D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s
parking meters today.
The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges.
All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.
Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.
CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today.
On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward
his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human
Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other
changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit.
Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.