Cincinnati’s Music Hall will be getting renovations, but the project will be much smaller than anticipated. Instead of the previously estimated $165 million, the project, which involves the city leasing the iconic building to the Music Hall Revitalization Company (MHRC) for 75 years, will only cover approximately $95 million.
At a joint press conference Wednesday, Mayor Mark Mallory and Otto Budig, president of MHRC, officially announced the plan, which City Council will take up early next year.
Not many details or a timeline were announced at the press conference, but some information did come to light. The renovations will include more comfortable seating, extra restroom capacity, heating, air conditioning, improved plumbing and new escalator models. During the renovations, Music Hall, home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet, will be closed for an estimated 17 months.
“We will do this in a manner that carries with it the surety that the project will be complete,” Budig said. “The worst thing we could do is start this project without the natural resources and pledges available.”
On top of the leasing agreement, the city will also help fund the project through tax credits.
The lease continues the trend of public-private partnerships city government has used to revitalize Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati in recent years. From the Banks to Washington Park, the city of Cincinnati has pushed to be seen as a more attractive, business-friendly environment.
However, that has come with some push back. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and city have previously faced criticisms from homeless advocates for allegedly discriminatory rules at Washington Park, which were later voted down by the Cincinnati Park Board.
Some public officials have also raised concerns about the city giving away too many of its public assets. The 2013 budget currently relies on a proposal that will privatize Cincinnati’s parking assets, a plan that has faced heavy criticism from Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and mayoral candidate John Cranley. City Manager Milton Dohoney argues the privatization plan is necessary to avoid 344 layoffs.
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.
Former Democratic city council member John Cranley is kicking off his 2013 mayoral campaign by getting involved in budget talks. In a public hearing at City Hall last week, Cranley tried to provide an alternative to privatizing the city’s parking assets, which City Manager Milton Dohoney has suggested to pay for $21 million of the city’s $34 million deficit.
“It’s not the citizen’s job to balance the budget, but let me make it very easy for you,” Cranley said. “You have $12 million in casino money that can be used but is currently being used on pet projects, like street sculptures. The parking meters themselves produce $7 million a year. That’s $19 million. And $5 million for garbage cans. That’s $24 million. You only need ($21 million) to cancel the parking privatization plan, so I got you $3 extra million to spare.”
In short, Cranley's alternative to parking privatization is using $12 million from casino revenue, $7 million from keeping parking meters under city ownership and $5 million saved from not purchasing trash carts.
So how viable are Cranley’s ideas? In a memo, Dohoney’s
office responded. The memo points out that casino revenue is currently
estimated at $7.2 million, not $12 million, and $1.3 million is already
included in the budget for Focus 52, a neighborhood redevelopment project. That leaves casino revenues $6.1 million short of what Cranley proposed.
Regarding parking meters, Dohoney’s office says revenue
from parking meters is restricted to fund “operations and maintenance in
the right-of-way.” The memo says City Council could authorize using the money to plug the deficit, but it would then have to find
alternatives for funding operations and maintenance.
Even the trash cart proposal doesn’t work. Not buying trash carts would only save $4.7 million, not $5 million. And the plan, which is part of the city’s effort to semi-automate trash collection, is in the general capital budget, not the general fund operating budget that’s being debated. The memo concludes, “If the trash carts are not purchased, the funds would not be available to close the gap because this is a capital budget expenditure and resources supporting the capital budget cannot be used in the operating budget.”
In other words, Cranley’s “very easy” budget plan isn’t just difficult; it’s a mix of inadequate and impossible. If CityBeat was PolitiFact, Cranley’s suggestions would probably get him a “Pants on Fire” label.
The Ohio Turnpike will remain a public asset, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Many Ohioans have been worried Gov. John Kasich would attempt to privatize the Turnpike in order to pay for transportation projects; instead, the governor will try to generate revenue for state infrastructure projects elsewhere, perhaps by using the Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich will unveil his full plans Thursday and Friday.
The asbestos lawsuit bill is heading to Kasich to be signed. The bill attempts to curb duplicate lawsuits over on-the-job asbestos exposure. Supporters of the bill say it will prevent double-dipping by victims, but opponents say the bill will impede legitimate cases. Ohio has one of the largest backlogs of on-the-job asbestos exposure cases.
City Manager Milton Dohoney has released some of the potential bids for the city’s parking services, and one bidder is offering $100 to $150 million. Dohoney says the budget can only be balanced if parking services are privatized or the city lays off 344 employees. But Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is speaking out against the privatization of the city’s parking services. In a statement, Sittenfeld said, “Outsourcing our parking system robs the city of future revenue, and also will mean higher parking rates, longer hours of enforcement, and more parking tickets.”
LGBT rights are becoming “the new normal,” but not for Western & Southern or American Financial Group. In the 2012 Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign gave 252 companies a 100-percent score for LGBT rights. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble got a 90 percent, Macy’s got a 90 percent, Kroger got an 85 percent, Fifth Third Bank got an 85 percent, Omnicare got a 15 percent, American Financial Group got a 0 percent and Western & Southern got a 0 percent. The rankings, dubbed a “Buyer’s Guide,” can be found here.
The Sierra Club says Cincinnati has some of the best and worst transportation projects. In its annual report, the environmental group praised the Cincinnati streetcar, claiming the transportation project will attract residents and business owners. But the organization slammed the Eastern Corridor Highway project because of its negative impact on the Little Miami River and the small village of Newtown. The Sierra Club says the purpose of the report is to shed light on the more than $200 billion spent on transportation projects every year.
University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono is getting a 10-year contract.
The disease-carrying Walnut Twig Beetle has been discovered in southwest Ohio. The beetle is known for carrying Thousand Cankers Disease, which threatens the health of walnut trees. So far, no trees have been determined to be infected.
Ohio Gov. Kasich, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will meet today to discuss funding for the Brent Spence Bridge project. If the bridge project starts in 2014, northern Kentucky and Cincinnati could save $18 billion in fuel and congestion costs, according to the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition.
Following the defeat of Issue 2, the Ohio Senate is taking on redistricting reform, but opponents in the House say there isn’t enough time to tackle the issue. The current redistricting system is widely abused by politicians on both sides of the aisle in a process called “gerrymandering,” which involves politicians redrawing district lines in politically beneficial ways. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County, heavily diluting the impact of Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban vote.
Ohio employers are more aware of wellness than employers in other states, a new survey found. Wellness programs are one way employers can bring down health-care expenditures as cost shifting feels the pinch of diminishing returns.
However, Ohio ranked No. 35 in a nationwide health survey.
Ohio district didn't win federal Race to the Top education funds in the latest competition.
Internet cafe legislation is dead for the year. Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus announced the legislation, which essentially puts Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors out of business. State officials, including Attorney General Mike DeWine, have been pushing for regulations or a ban on the businesses because they see them as a breeding ground for criminal activity.
The final 2011-2012 school report cards will not be available until 2013. The report cards were originally delayed due to an investigation into fraudulent attendance reports.
Michigan may have approved its anti-union right-to-work law, but Ohio is not eager to follow. State Democrats are already preparing for a possible battle over the issue, but even Republican Gov. John Kasich says he’s not currently interested in a right-to-work law.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is loosening hazardous waste reporting requirements for companies. If the rules go into effect, regulated facilities will report on hazardous waste once every two years instead of once a year. The rule changes will get a public hearing on Dec. 19 in Columbus.
In a question-and-answer session Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” (Hint: The answer to both questions is yes.) The Supreme Court recently agreed to tackle the same-sex marriage issue. CityBeat wrote about same-sex marriage in Ohio here.
For the first time since inauguration, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a positive approval rating, but a plurality of registered voters say Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term. The Quinnipac University poll attributed the increase in Kasich’s approval rating to “high levels of satisfaction among Ohio voters with life in the Buckeye State.” About 42 percent of respondents approved of Kasich, while 35 percent disapproved. About 42 percent said Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term, while 36 percent said he does. The poll surveyed 1,165 registered voters with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
Last night, Cincinnati held its final public hearing on City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposed budget. About 40 people spoke during the meeting, with many voicing concern about Media Bridges funding, which CityBeat recently covered here. The budget has also come under scrutiny due to its privatization of parking services, but Dohoney says the choice is privatization or 344 layoffs.
Cincinnati plans to bolster its green building incentives. City officials are trying to amend the city’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to encourage higher levels of investment in green projects. Since LEED standards were first approved in 2009, they have been criticized for only offering strong incentives for lower levels of certification. The amendment seeks to make the higher levels of certification more appealing.
University Hospital is being renamed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
An “anti-immigrant bill” proposed by Cincinnati’s Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz is not being received well by Innovation Ohio. S.B. 323 seeks to limit workers’ compensation to illegal immigrants, but the Ohio policy research group is not sure that’s a legitimate problem. The organization is also worried the bill will impose a regulatory burden on the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Ohio’s workers without providing extra funds and training to carry out the regulations.
Ohio is improving in its battle against human trafficking. The state earned a “C” and it was labeled “most improved” in a new report from the Polaris Project. But one state legislator wants to go further by placing tougher standards on “johns” participating in the sex trade. CityBeat previously wrote about the human trafficking problem in Ohio here.
The Ohio Tax Credit Authority approved enough credits to help create about 500 jobs in Greater Cincinnati.
Michigan may have recently passed its anti-union “right-to-work” law, but Gov. Kasich does not share a similar interest.
Kasich will announce his changes to the Ohio Turnpike Thursday and Friday. The governor says his proposed changes will unlock “greater wealth,” but critics are worried Kasich is about to sell off a major public asset.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is still defending his decisions during the lead-up the election. Husted has now become infamous nationwide due to his pre-election record, which CityBeat wrote about here.Even Jesus would be jealous. Science can now turn human urine into brain cells.
The city of Cincinnati and its largest city employees union have reached a deal regarding the privatization of the city’s parking assets. Under the deal’s terms, the city will give raises and not lay off anyone for three years, but only if the city’s parking assets are privatized. However, the head of a Clifton community group is still not happy with the privatization plan. He says the plan is bad for business because it limits the amount of affordable parking in the area. But would laying off 344 city employees be better for business?
The identity of the Miami University student who put up
the infamous “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flier may soon be revealed. The Ohio Supreme Court
will decide by Dec. 14 whether the case should be unsealed and open to public view. Robert Lyons, the Butler County part-time judge who sealed the case, has faced scrutiny in the past few months for conflicts of interest regarding drinking-and-driving cases.
Revenue from casinos in Toledo and Cleveland is dropping. The numbers paint a bad picture for Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials expecting budget problems to be solved by casino revenue.
A proposal mandating drug testing for welfare recipients in Ohio resurfaced last week. Republican legislators claim the requirement will save the state money, but a similar proposal in Florida added to budget woes as the state was forced to pay for drug tests.
Ohio’s ultra-wealthy population is growing. About 1,330 Ohioans are worth $30 million or more, an increase of 2 percent since 2011, according to a report from Wealth-X. The news could shape Gov. John Kasich’s plan to cut the income tax using revenue from a higher oil-and-gas severance tax, perhaps encouraging state officials to make the cut more progressive.
Gov. Kasich is ending the practice of giving so many tax credits to keep businesses in Ohio. The move could potentially cost the state jobs as businesses move to other areas with bigger, better incentives, but state officials and the business community don’t seem too worried for now.
If the Ohio government agencies were forced to cut their budgets by 10 percent, the results would not be pretty. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would have to close prisons, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would have a tougher time enforcing new regulations on fracking.
Ohio’s exotic animal law is facing a challenge in federal court today. Exotic animal owners claim the law violates their First Amendment and property rights by forcing them to join private associations and give up their animals without compensation. They also do not like the provision that requires microchips be implanted into the animals. The Humane Society of the United States is defending the law, which was passed after a man released 56 exotic animals and killed himself in 2011.
An Ohio court said a business tax on fuel sales must be used on road projects.
Ohio gas prices are still dropping.
The cure for leukemia could be a modified version of the AIDS virus.
One of Cincinnati’s largest neighborhoods and business districts is adamantly against a proposed plan to lease the city’s parking systems.
A Dec. 7 letter to the mayor from Clifton Town Meeting President Peter Schneider calls the plan “baffling,” “short sighted” and “counter-intuitive.”
The city administration wants to lease all Cincinnati parking meters, garages and surface lots for 30 years in exchange for an upfront payment of at least $40 million and a share of the profits.
The city wants to use $21 million of the upfront payment to help close a $34 million hole in the upcoming budget.
Schneider writes that the proposal is bad for business, making it harder for customers to find cheap or free parking near retail areas like Clifton’s Ludlow Avenue corridor.
He also worried that a private operator would ratchet up the price for parking, making the facilities “unidirectional ATM’s (sic) benefiting a third party that provides minimal or no value to the citizens.”
Schneider also complains that Cincinnatians have not been given details of the deal or the opportunity to weigh in on it.
“It is unconscionable that the City administration would allow a similar plan (to the citizen-defeated red-light cameras) affecting parking meters and services be railroaded through City Hall without the appropriate sunshine and input of the populace,” he wrote.
He also compares the proposal to Hamilton County’s mishandling of the stadium deals, claiming that a similar long-term lease is unwise.
Schneider ends the letter by admitting that there are some aspects of outsourcing that could be beneficial, such as private management of surface lots or garages or maintenance, but the idea of privatizing everything goes too far.
There’s a catch — municipal employees only get the raises and job security if the city’s parking meters, garages and surface lots are leased to a private company for 30 years.
City Manager Milton Dohoney wants to lease the facilities for at least $40 million upfront and a share of parking profits for the next 30 years. He’d use $21 million of the upfront payment to patch a $34 million deficit in the city’s budget.
During recent budget hearings before City Council, Dohoney said extra revenue was needed to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
In a memo to the mayor and city council members, Dohoney outlined the agreement between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
Any municipal employees who will lose their jobs because of the deal would be placed in other city jobs with no loss of wages. No city employees covered by the union would be laid off between 2013 and 2016. City employees will receive a 1.5 percent cost of living raise for the 2013-2014 contract year and another 1 percent raise for the next contract year. AFSCME members will continue city vehicle maintenance work from 2013-2016.
However, if City Council doesn’t approve of the plan to privatize parking, city employees get nothing.
Public employees in Cincinnati have not been given raises in almost four years. Meanwhile, council voted last month to give Dohoney a 10 percent raise and a $35,000 bonus. Dohoney had not received a merit raise since 2007, but had collected cost of living adjustments and bonuses over the years.
Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.
With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.
Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.
The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.
Cincinnati State is looking to expand.
One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.
The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.
Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.
A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.
It was the first opportunity council members had to publicly question the budget’s architects. The proposed budget would cover the first half of 2013. The city is switching over to a fiscal year starting in July.
Many council members expressed concern over the plan to use $21 million from a proposed 30-year lease of the city’s parking meters, garages and lots to help close a $34 million budget deficit.
“It seems like … the city budget wins, but the citizens are losing,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said the parking facilities net Cincinnati about $7 million a year. That would equal out to about $210 million over 30 years.
Sittenfeld called into question the wisdom of leasing the facilities for an estimated $50 million and taking half of the profit, for an earnings of about $150 million over 30 years.
Other council members expressed concern that whoever leased the parking would hike rates, something Councilman Cecil Thomas dismissed.
“The market would dictate the rates that are charged,” he said.
Dohoney said a combination of cuts, savings, revenue, projected growth and one-time funding sources helped eliminate the $34 million deficit. He said a budget containing only cuts would result in the layoff of 344 city workers.
A slide show provided by the city showed that 802 positions had been cut since 2000.
Dohoney advocated eliminating the property tax rollback promised as part of the deal to build two new sports stadiums in 1996. He said it would bring in about $9 million a year. However council has had little appetite to allow any increase in taxes as the city recovers from the Great Recession. Property taxes make up about 6 percent of the budget fund used to pay most of the city's operating expenses.
The cuts proposed in the 2013 budget include eliminating
support for public access company Media Bridges, the Downtown and
Neighborhood Gateways Program, Juvenile Firesetter Program and Arts
It would also eliminate the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, which covers downtown on horseback. Dohoney said that would allow Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to redeploy those nine officers elsewhere. Dohoney said Craig had asked for a new recruit class of 50, but Dohoney requested 30. He said the additional nine from the horse patrol would bring that closer to 40.
Dohoney said he was also allowing 10 additional recruits to cover patrols of University Hospital, which is no longer going to use University of Cincinnati police starting Jan. 1.
He said the police department would also look for ways to save money by increasing the involvement of civilian members who could do things like take reports of non-injury car accidents.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked if the budgeteers had considered restructuring the police force to save money. She has long been a proponent of “right-sizing” the police and fire forces, saying staffing levels remain at a high while the city’s population is shrinking.
The proposed budget also includes investments in business groups that promote economic development, like the Port Authority, Greater Cincinnati Partnership, Film Commission and African American Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Chris Seelbach praised Dohoney and his budget team, saying he saw Cincinnati as being better off than it had been six years ago. But he also said he’d like to see the administration focus on people who are barely getting by instead of businesses and developers.
“There is a focus on helping people make more money that are already making a lot of money,” Seelbach said. “Helping people that aren’t paying a lot of taxes still pay very little.”
Cincinnatians can weigh in on the budget in a public hearing Thursday evening at 6 p.m.