Mayor Mark Mallory will join fellow streetcar supporters Thursday to discuss how the project is coming along and where it’s headed.
The event is the monthly streetcar social, hosted by Cincinnatians for Progress. Organizers expect to pull in nearly 100 people from around the city to discuss topics and issues surrounding the project. It will take place on Thursday, July 18, between 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Rhinegeist Brewery, 1910 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202. For more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.
Mallory, who’s term-limited from running for reelection this year, has spearheaded efforts to build a streetcar in Cincinnati. He’s been joined by a steady Democratic majority in City Council, which most recently approved $17.4 million more in funding for the project alongside several accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update council and the public on the project’s progress.
CityBeat’s cover story for the week of July 10 debunked the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the Cincinnati streetcar project.
Streetcar supporters argue the project will foster economic growth and development in Cincinnati, particularly downtown — a claim backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati.
Opponents claim the project, which now stands at $133 million after recent cost overruns were fixed, is too expensive. They doubt it will succeed in spurring growth and development.
The three measures set up $15 million to front to Duke Energy to move utility lines out of the proposed path; changes the source of funding to repay some $25 million in bonds used to pay for the streetcar; sells $14 million in bonds for streetcar improvements; and changes the municipal code to clarify that it is the responsibility of a utility to relocate its structures.
The $15 million comes from the $37 million sale of city-owned land near the former Blue Ash Airport.
Council voted 6-3 to approve the front money, improvement bonds and bond repayment, a vote that largely mirrored a Monday Budget and Finance Committee vote. Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole “no” vote on the ordinance to change the municipal code.
Councilmembers Cecil Thomas, Wendell Young, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach and Yvette Simpson voted to pass funding, while Councilmembers Smitherman, P.G. Sittenfeld and Charles Winburn voted against.
“My concern with all of these votes … in particular the Blue Ash Airport dollars, these were promises that you made to the neighborhoods and I don’t have the confidence that the legal battle against Duke Energy is going to yield a 100 percent win for the city of Cincinnati, so there’s no assurance that these dollars are going to come back,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman, one of the most vocal opponents of the streetcar.
“I want to be clear that it’s something that I don’t support.”
The $15 million would be fronted to Duke to move its lines while the city and utility work out who is responsible for funding the move.
Duke estimates the full cost at $18 million and argues
that the lines would not have to be moved if the streetcar wasn’t being
built. The city maintains that it has always been the responsibility of
utilities to move or upgrade their structures — which the third measure
clarified in the municipal code. If the city loses a legal battle against Duke, it will not
recoup the $15 million.
The second proposal switches the source of funding for
streetcar bonds from money coming into city coffers from southern
downtown and the riverfront area to a 1995 fund set up to collect
service payments from the Westin/Star, Hyatt and Saks. The measure wouldn't use any additional new money for the streetcar.
That downtown area wasn’t bringing in as much cash as
expected but the city hopes to repay the other fund once the downtown
district — which includes the Banks and the casino — rebounds.
Steve Chabot’s self-righteous attempt to block federal
streetcar funding found new criticism yesterday, as The Enquirer spoke to
several credible sources who say his amendment is broad enough to affect
federal funding for transportation projects beyond the streetcar,
including bus lanes or ferries.
Mayor Mark Mallory and 3CDC representatives were scheduled to kick off a grand opening celebration of Washington Park at 10 a.m. this morning. The $48 million renovation includes an underground parking garage, concession building, dog park and concert space. A rally against the renovation and displacement of residents was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CityBeat’s Mike Breen blogged away yesterday about the park’s scheduled weekly music series.
It’s going to be another sucky hot weekend in Cincinnati.
U.S. hiring is being weak again.
Walgreens is buying mass drug store chains, preparing to cash in on that ObamaCare money.
Brad Pitt’s mom wrote a pro-Mitt Romney, anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage letter to the editor of a Missouri newspaper. Brad, for the record, is pro-gay marriage and donated to the 2008 anti-Proposition 8 campaign in California.
I have given much thought to Richard Stoecker’s letter (“Vote for Mormon against beliefs,” June 15). I am also a Christian and differ with the Mormon religion.
But I think any Christian should spend much time in prayer before refusing to vote for a family man with high morals, business experience, who is against abortion, and shares Christian conviction concerning homosexuality just because he is a Mormon.
Any Christian who does not vote or writes in a name is casting a vote for Romney’s opponent, Barack Hussein Obama — a man who sat in Jeremiah Wright’s church for years, did not hold a public ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer, and is a liberal who supports the killing of unborn babies and same-sex marriage.
I hope all Christians give their vote prayerful consideration because voting is a sacred privilege and a serious responsibility.
First they were telling us that the Higgs boson is the building block of the universe. How Professor Peter Higgs says he has no idea what the discovery will mean in practical terms. Come on, Higgs!
Apparently 250,000 people are going to wake up without the Internet on Monday.
Scientists believe they’ve created the most realistic robot legs ever.
Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.
Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.
“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.
Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.
The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.
Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.
“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”
Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities.
Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.
If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.
The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes.
The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.
Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.
Dozens of residents and business owners gathered in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday to launch a campaign that seeks to persuade Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council to support the $133 million streetcar project.
Attendees included Ryan Messer, who used his life savings to renovate his home in Over-the-Rhine; Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress; Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of the Taste of Belgium; and Derek dos Anjos, owner of The Anchor.
“We’re here today to keep the conversation going outside of political rhetoric and partisan politics,” Messer said. “Simply put, the streetcar is a component of Cincinnati economic development, and it’s a project that grows the whole city — not just an urban core, which, by the way, is an important part of developing this region.”
The group intends to lobby Cranley and the newly elected council, which appear poised to cancel the project when they take office in December.
At least three of nine elected council members — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — have told media outlets that they want a full accounting of the project before making a final decision. Another three — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — are on the record as supporting the project. The final three — Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray — adamantly opposed the project in the past.
Members of the pro-streetcar 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 referendum if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action.
As CityBeat first uncovered, the costs of canceling the project are currently unknown, and some of the costs could actually fall on the operating budget that pays for police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget that is currently financing the streetcar project.
Much of the uncertainty falls on ongoing construction for the streetcar, which has continued despite the newly elected city government’s intent to stop the project. As of September, the city spent $23 million on the project and contractually obligated $94 million, some of which city officials say will need to be paid back even if the project were canceled.
The U.S. Department of Transportation also told city officials in a June 19 letter that nearly $41 million of nearly $45 million in federal grants would need to be returned if the project were terminated.
Supporters also claim Cincinnati would be giving up a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years if the city abandoned the streetcar now. That estimate is derived from a 2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.
Project executive John Deatrick says the HDR study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. Still, Deatrick says the project is intended to spur economic development, not just provide another form of public transportation.
The Nov. 13 issue of CityBeat will give a more in-depth look at the campaign to save the streetcar and some of the people involved in the movement.
Somewhat of an agreement, anyway. Mallory said that the city and Duke will go before a judge in Common Pleas court, who will make the final decision as to who should pay for the utility relocation. According to the agreement, Duke Energy will begin moving its utilities in the next few weeks, and the court decision will determine cost responsibility later. The city and Duke are expected to file in Common Pleas court within the next few weeks, although the court decision could take years to finalize.
Roxanne Qualls, city council member and Democratic mayoral candidate, has long been a supporter of the streetcar project, which she values as an indispensable economic investment for the city of Cincinnati. Yesterday, Qualls announced her request for the city to ramp up the streetcar construction timeline in order to have the project completed in time for the All-Star Games, which will take place in Cincinnati July 2015. Her announcement came just weeks after the city revised its timetable to delay project completion until April 2016.
In a letter from Qualls to Mallory and Dohoney, she explains: “This may present a
challenge, but it is one I am sure the administration is capable of
meeting. The streetcar will serve a critical role in efficiently and
effectively moving visitors to and from Great American Ballpark and
allowing them to conveniently visit other venues such as Fountain
Square, Horseshoe Casino, Over-the-Rhine, Washington Park, etc.”
At the meeting, Mallory announced that the city would shoot for construction to be completed prior to the games, but there were no guarantees. The streetcar builder will ultimately set the timeline for the project, according to Jason Barron, Mallory's director of public affairs.
CityBeat recently covered the streetcar project's delays and how the 2013 mayoral race could affect its progress here.
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.
For both the candidates, the issues are about where they want to see the city going. Cranley says the city government lacks transparency and openness as it prioritizes controversial ideas to support downtown over Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. Qualls says the investments are continuing Cincinnati’s nationally recognized momentum and bringing growth to both downtown and the neighborhoods.
Whether the subject was the Metro bus system or bringing more flights to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Cranley repeatedly referenced his opposition to the streetcar project and his belief that it is siphoning city funds away from more important projects and forcing the city to raise property taxes to pay for debt.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” Cranley said. “We have to re-prioritize.”
Qualls argued the streetcar project will produce economic growth and grow the city’s tax base, which the city could then leverage for more development projects. That claim has been backed by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which put the streetcar’s return on investment at three-to-one.
Cranley argued Hop On Cincinnati,
a trackless trolley system, is a better option. He said the project would cost considerably less
and come with more flexibility since it wouldn’t run on set tracks.
But in a 2007 letter citing swathes of data from cities around the nation, Charlie Hales, now mayor of Portland, Ore., found trackless trolleys consistently underperformed rail projects in terms of economic development and ridership.
At this point, cancelling the streetcar project would also carry its own costs. As of May, city officials estimated they had already spent $20 million on the project and cancelling it would cost another $45 million in federal funding and $14 million in close-out costs.
But expanding the streetcar project into a second phase, as Qualls advocated, would also carry its own set of unknown costs.
On other issues, Qualls touted the city’s plans to lease its parking assets to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority as a potential avenue for economic development.
Qualls and the current city administration originally supported leveraging the city’s parking meters, lots and garages through the lease to pay for budget gaps and economic development projects. But as the city managed to balance its budget without the lease, the focus has moved toward using the lump-sum and annual payments from the lease to only pay for more development projects.
Cranley claimed, as he long has, that the deal will have a negative impact on a generation by shifting control of the city’s parking assets from the local government to the unelected Port Authority and private companies. He also criticized Qualls and the city administration for withholding a memo that criticized the lease’s financial details and hastily pursuing the lease with limited public input.
Cranley also implied that the deal will actually lower long-term revenues by capping the city’s parking revenues at $3 million a year.
“It’s almost hard to respond to such misinformation, quite frankly,” Qualls responded.
On top of an estimated $92 million lump sum, the city projects that annual payments will start at $3 million a year but eventually grow much larger. Qualls claimed the yearly installments would reach $20 million by the end of the 30-year lease.
Qualls also took issue with Cranley’s assertion that the Port Authority is withholding contract documents for the private companies it will hire to operate Cincinnati’s parking assets. She reminded Cranley that Port board members explicitly told him at a public meeting that those documents will be made public two weeks before they’re signed.
The candidates also sparred on a number of issues typical of political campaigns: government transparency, negative campaign ads and rhetoric vs. facts.
But the debate also highlighted the large amount of agreement between Qualls and Cranley. Both agree the city shouldn’t increase the earnings tax. Both claim Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget and stop using one-time sources for budget fixes. Both echoed the need to leverage federal support for the Brent Spence Bridge project. Both criticized the state for refusing to grant tax credits to Pure Romance, a local company that is now considering moving to Covington, Ky., because of the state’s refusal.
Cranley and Qualls got the most votes in the Sept. 10 mayoral primary,
allowing both to advance to the general election. Cranley received 55.9
percent of the vote, while Qualls obtained 37.2 percent. Their opponents each failed to break 5 percent.
Voter turnout for the mayoral primary was only 5.68 percent. That was lower than the 15-percent turnout for the mayoral primary held on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the 21-percent turnout for the 2005 mayoral primary.
In the past two mayoral races with primaries, the primary winner went on to lose the general election.
Voters will get to decide between Qualls and Cranley, along with City Council candidates and other ballot issues, on Nov. 5.
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.