City Council on Wednesday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.
Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's sewer system. The city and county jointly manage MSD.
Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young voted to move the repeal ordinance back to committee. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted to keep the ordinance in front of council.
Hamilton County commissioners previously halted most
of the $3.2 billion, 15-year sewer revamp in protest of the city's
"responsible bidder" law. As long as the hold remains in place, the city and county risk violating a federal mandate to revamp Cincinnati's inadequate sewer system.
The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts.
Supporters of the law claim it will foster local jobs and local job training. Opponents claim the law favors unions and places a costly burden on MSD contractors.
city already gave various concessions to resolve its conflict with the county, including
exemptions for small businesses and contracts worth less than $400,000. But the county has so far refused to budge.
Smitherman, who opposes the law, argued the issue will end up in court and the city will lose.
"What was passed on May 1 is not constitutional," he said.
But the city's law department says the law is legal and could be defended in court.
Seelbach, who spearheaded the law, said he's in talks with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to bring both parties into mediation and resolve the conflict.
"I'm asking for some more time," he said.
Cincinnati would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it incurs tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG released Wednesday.
By showing the potentially high costs of cancellation, the numbers could throw a lifeline to the streetcar project just one day before City Council decides whether to restart construction or permanently halt the project.
But Mayor John Cranley appears undeterred in his commitment to cancel the streetcar project. By accounting for the annual costs to operate the streetcar, Cranley estimates the city will actually save $102 million if it cancels the project.
The city already spent roughly $34 million on the project, according to the audit. Cancellation would add $16.3-$46.1 million in close-out costs, bringing the total costs of cancellation and money spent so far to $50.3-$80.1 million.
Completing the project would add $68.9 million in costs, after deducting $40.9 million in remaining federal grants, the audit found.
But the completion estimate assumes the city will need to pay $15 million in utility work — a cost that is currently being debated in court. If the city wins its case against Duke Energy, the utility company would be required to pay the $15 million and bring down the total completion costs to $53.9 million.
The audit also put the costs of operating the streetcar at $3.13-$3.54 million a year, lower than the previous $3.4-$4.5 million estimate. After revenues from fares, sponsorships and other sources, the city would need to pay $1.88-$2.44 million to operate the streetcar, according to the audit.
The reduced estimate for operating costs could become particularly important in deciding the project's fate as private contributors attempt to get the cost off the city's operating budget.
Delaying the streetcar project while KPMG conducted its audit also added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to the audit. The city allocated another $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.
The audit did not account for the potential costs of litigation if contractors and investors along the planned streetcar line sue the city to recoup costs.
City Council paused the streetcar project on Dec. 4 to obtain the cost estimates of completion, cancellation and annual operations. The full body of council will decide whether to restart the project on Thursday, before a Friday deadline set by the Federal Transit Administration for federal grants.
Read the full audit:
This post was updated at 12:59 p.m. with more information and details.
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community provided more assurances.
Other streetcar news:
• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected tomorrow.
• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.”
• The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.
Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking taxes or cutting police and firefighters.
The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.
A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.
Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups and small businesses.
This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.
Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases, according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.
Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) offer to develop a private-public partnership to fund the streetcar’s operating costs, Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, told CityBeat on Tuesday.
If enough private contributors agree to finance the streetcar’s operating costs, they could address a major concern raised by streetcar opponents and provide the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office early this month.
The Haile Foundation already contributed $1 million to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar, but Avner cautions that his organization’s donation is only the beginning, given all the other entities interested in moving the streetcar forward.
Avner says 14 other business and philanthropic leaders supported the SORTA concept in person or through writing in time for SORTA’s board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Among other community leaders, Avner cites Otto Budig, Cathy Crain of Cincinnati State, William Portman of the University of Cincinnati, Jeannie Golliher of the Cincinnati Development Fund, Rick Greiwe of Greiwe Development and Jack and Peg Wyant of Grandin Properties.
In a letter to SORTA, the Haile Foundation offers to recruit and financially establish a commission of community leaders that will work with the agency to create an operating and revenue plan that will require no funds from the city of Cincinnati. The letter also promises to leverage the initial $1 million investment to secure additional contributors and build a fund that would pay for a full year of operating costs.
Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully
insufficient” in a press conference on Tuesday. Cranley said the city will need financial assurances far above the Haile
Foundation’s $1 million to cover $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar over 30 years.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes
on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment, but he said the proposal could become a viable option if the city receives more
assurances from SORTA and private entities that show the groups are serious in their offer.
SORTA already agreed to help operate the streetcar if the
project is completed, but its decision to take up the operating costs shows
an additional commitment to the project.
The agency claims bus services will not be impacted by its increased commitment to the streetcar.
City Council expects to vote on Thursday on whether to restart the streetcar project. Council paused the project on Dec. 4 while the city audits the project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs.
Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:
The announcement could provide an avenue for business and philanthropic leaders to help fund streetcar operations through SORTA in an attempt to meet demands from the mayor and some council members.
“SORTA’s willingness is based upon assurances from the Cincinnati business and philanthropic communities that they will work with SORTA in public-private partnership to secure the funds required to cover the short and long-term operating costs of the streetcar to the extent other sources of streetcar revenue, such as fares, advertising, sponsorships, etc., are inadequate,” the agency said in a press release.
But in a press conference following the announcement, Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient.” He argued SORTA’s assurances aren’t enough to pull streetcar operating costs completely off the city’s books.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment. But he cautioned the commitment could become a viable path forward for the streetcar project if SORTA provides more assurances in the next couple days, before a council vote on the streetcar.
SORTA’s commitment comes less than one week after Mayor John Cranley said he’d allow the $132.8 million streetcar project to move forward if private contributors agree to cover the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years. Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann, the two swing votes on City Council, approved of Cranley’s proposed compromise.
In support of the announcement, the Haile Foundation also announced a $1 million commitment in seed money to spur further contributions to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar.
“We are committed to seeing the streetcar through to completion and beyond. SORTA has stepped up and is more than qualified to serve in this role. This is another great example of community collaboration helping move to region forward,” said Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, in a statement.
Avner told CityBeat on Dec. 12 that private-sector leaders are working to meet the mayor’s demand with some financial assurances for the streetcar’s operating costs. SORTA’s announcement could act as that assurance.
If the streetcar project is completed, SORTA already agreed to help operate the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But the public-private partnership would increase the agency’s commitment to the streetcar.
SORTA cautioned that bus service will not be affected in any way by the commitment.
It’s unclear whether SORTA’s assurances will be enough to
sway Cranley, Mann and Flynn. If Cranley threatens to veto a
continuation of the streetcar project, both Mann and Flynn would likely
need to vote in favor of the streetcar to overcome a veto and restart the project.
The streetcar project is currently on “pause” while KPMG, an auditing firm, reviews completion, cancellation and operating costs. City officials expect to receive the audit late Tuesday or early Wednesday, with a council vote scheduled for Thursday.
Updated at 3:23 p.m. with details from Mayor John Cranley’s press conference.
Major events for Cincinnati’s streetcar project this week:
Today, supporters will turn in petitions to get the issue on the
ballot; late today or early tomorrow, KPMG will turn in audit of the
project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs; tomorrow,
council will take public comment on the project at 1:30 p.m.; and on
Thursday, council will debate and make the final decision on the streetcar.
Other streetcar news:
• Mayor John Cranley is asking streetcar opponents to speak up during the public comments section of Wednesday’s council meeting.
• Supporters collected more than 9,000 signatures to get the streetcar project on the ballot. Nearly 6,000 signatures need to be verified to allow a vote in the coming months.
City Council’s budget committee yesterday advanced funding for the $106 million uptown interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71. The capital funding set by council will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from reducing property taxes in the future as originally planned. Still, proponents of the project, including a unanimous body of council, say the project is worth the investment; the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center found in a May 2012 study that the interchange will generate 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, $133 million in economic development during construction and another $750 million once the interchange opens.
Congress appears ready to pass a bipartisan budget deal that will not extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2014, which could leave more than 36,000 unemployed Ohioans behind in December and 128,600 Ohioans without aid through 2014. The emergency benefits were originally adopted by Congress to provide a safety net for those worst affected by the Great Recession. Conservatives, touting the $25.2 billion annual cost, say the economy has improved enough to let the costly benefits expire, but liberals, pointing to the high numbers of long-term unemployed, say the benefits are still needed and would help keep the economy on a stable recovery.
The Cincinnati area’s economy could overtake the Cleveland area in 2015.
Six men were taken into custody after a SWAT team responded to a home and engaged in a gun battle that left a three-year-old critically injured.
A Union Township trustee says he can’t believe Chris Finney would hurt his credibility for a $850-a-year tax break to open a law firm in Clermont County. As a member of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, Finney repeatedly spoke against tax breaks for businesses in the past.
Medicaid expansion supporters announced yesterday that they’re no longer pursuing a ballot initiative after actions from Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Controlling Board effectively enacted the expansion, which taps into federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
The Kasich administration expects to hand out education
grants from the “Straight A” fund on Wednesday in an attempt to reward
innovation at the state’s schools. The grants will go to more than 150
of Ohio’s 614 school districts, according to state officials.
The Mega Millions jackpot hit $586 million yesterday.
A new study finds “blind as a bat” isn’t blind at all.
Watch giraffes clash in a surprising, epic one-on-one:
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday unanimously agreed to allocate $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71.
The funding will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from lowering property taxes in the future as originally planned.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld argued the focus should be on the project’s economic potential, not its possible impact on property taxes.
“If the city stopped spending money and stopped investing in things, indeed people’s taxes would go down, but I don’t think it’s a very fair frame to think about making this very important investment,” he said.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach said the public should know the full effects of the project.
“Believe me, I support this, and I support this through the property tax, but I just don’t want us to be able to pass this without saying what it is,” he said.
Council members said they support the interchange project because of the positive economic impact it will have on the uptown area, which includes the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals.
According to a May 2012 study from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center, the project will produce 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs. The same study found the economic impact of the project will reach $133 million during construction and $750 million once the interchange opens, which would lead to higher tax revenues.
The city is carrying roughly one-fifth of the cost for the interchange project. The rest will be financed through the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
The Federal Transit Administration told Mayor John Cranley and streetcar supporters that it won’t extend its Dec. 20 deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the $132.8 million street project. Without the federal grants, the project would likely die because local officials say they are not willing to make up the loss with local funds. That means the city has until Friday to decide whether to continue the project — a decision that could come down to City Council’s swing votes, Kevin Flynn and David Mann, and whether private contributors agree to pay for the streetcar’s annual operating costs over the next three decades.
Meanwhile, streetcar supporters say they have enough
signatures to get the streetcar on the ballot. But without the federal
funds, a public vote might not be enough to save the project since the charter amendment only calls for using funds allocated as of Nov. 30, 2013.
Hamilton County’s shrinking government might sell off several downtown buildings to accommodate the size reduction. The buildings could be converted to condominiums or hotels to appease high demand for downtown residential space.
Despite previously criticizing tax breaks for Cincinnati
businesses, Chris Finney of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending
and Taxes (COAST) will receive tax credits to open his own law firm in
Clermont County on Jan. 1.
Addressing the so-called heroin epidemic is a top priority for Ky. officials in 2014. Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky have quadrupled since 1999, putting Kentucky’s numbers above every state except West Virginia and New Mexico, according to a study released in November.
Some Ohio wildlife officers wrongfully hunted deer while on the job, according to the state’s inspector general.
Ohio gas prices dropped in the last work week before Christmas.
The Mega Millions jackpot could break last year’s record $656 million prize.
A video game might help diabetics control their blood sugar by putting them through a genuine workout.
Although some members of City Council appear ready to rescind support for a supportive housing project in Avondale, a previous study commissioned by the group in charge of the Avondale project found supportive housing facilities cause no negative impact to neighborhoods in which they’re located.
The study, conducted by Arch City Development and the Urban Decision Group, was commissioned by National Church Residences (NCR) to gauge the neighborhood impact of five permanent supportive housing complexes in Columbus for the chronically homeless, disabled and poor.
The study found crime increases in most of the areas surrounding the facilities, but the increases were roughly the same as or less than demographically similar areas in Columbus.
After interviewing Columbus residents
located around the facilities, researchers also reported general
agreement that the facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the
Although three of the facilities are located near four Columbus City Schools, researchers wrote Anne Lenzotti, director of facilities for Columbus City Schools, "has received no complaints about any Central Ohio permanent supportive housing project at the district or individual school level."
The study, with its generally positive findings, calls into question many of the complaints voiced by opponents of the Avondale project.
Two members of a City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to advance a resolution that would rescind support for state tax credits going to the 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale.
But since the project already received state tax credits in June, it’s unclear whether council’s vote would have any effect on the project’s fate.
Opponents of the facility argue it will worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty, alter the look of the area and damage revitalization efforts. They also complain that NCR failed to conduct thorough community engagement prior to proceeding with the project.
Proponents claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing projects prior to their completion. They say more community engagement, beyond what’s already occurred with Avondale Community Council, will begin deeper into the planning process and shape the project’s parameters.
The full body of City Council could take up the resolution rescinding support for the Avondale project on Dec. 18.
Read the full study below:
This article went through some technical difficulties and temporarily disappeared as a result.
The streetcar project’s chances of survival grew on Thursday after Mayor John Cranley announced he’s willing to allow the $132.8 million project move forward if the annual operating costs for the streetcar are underwritten by private contributors.
But streetcar supporters might have as little as one week to provide assurances to Cranley that the operating costs can be underwritten by the private sector, given the federal government’s Dec. 20 deadline for up to $44.9 million in grants financing roughly one-third of the project.
Still, a representative of the Haile Foundation, a major private contributor to city projects, said private-sector leaders are already working on meeting Cranley’s offer and solving the issue.
The concern for Cranley — and even some streetcar supporters — is that annual operating expenses for the streetcar would hit the city’s already-strained operating budget, especially if the annual operating expenses are higher than the previous estimate of $3.4-$4.5 million.
Although the city wouldn’t need to pay for the full operating costs until the streetcar opens for service in 2016, Cranley and some council members are concerned finishing the project now would force the city to make payments it won't be able to afford in the future.
“We know the streetcar is a very expensive project,” Cranley said. “This community cannot afford a new, ongoing liability that goes on forever.”
Streetcar supporters argue Cranley’s view misses the streetcar’s potential for economic development, which could bring in more city revenues as more people move and work in the city.
The streetcar project would produce a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of the two potential swing votes on council, said Cranley’s offer could provide “a way forward.” He previously told CityBeat that the operating costs remain a prominent concern for him because they could translate to cuts in the city’s budget, particularly to police and firefighters.
Eric Avner, vice president and senior program manager of community development at the Haile Foundation, called the deal “an olive branch” to streetcar supporters. He said he’s “very, very confident” the private sector will be able to find a solution.
“I don’t think we can solve it in a week. What I heard is he needs assurances,” Avner said.
Cranley said he doesn’t expect someone to come to city leaders next Wednesday with a check paying for 30 years of operating costs, but he said the commitment has to be serious and long lasting for the city to move forward with the streetcar.
Avner discussed bringing together a commission of private-sector leaders with some long-term assurances.
In what he described as an “organic” movement, Avner said he’s heard from various private-sector leaders that they want to keep the project going, but he claimed most of them don’t want to engage in a public “food fight” that could hurt their relations with the mayor and other city officials.
For Avner, it’s a matter of sticking to a project that’s already well into development and construction.
“We don’t have the luxury to waste that kind of money in this town,” he said.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 told council members that canceling the streetcar project could save only $7.5-$24.5 million in capital costs after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be lost if the project were stopped.
After Cranley’s announcement, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson questioned Cranley’s motives and said the solicitation might be very difficult to meet in just one week.
Cranley said he’ll reach out to the Federal Transit Administration to try to get an extension, perhaps until the end of the year, on the deadline for federal grants.
“It’s obviously a huge, huge hurdle to try to pull this together in seven days,” Cranley said.
Cranley cautioned he wouldn’t be upset if his offer fell through. Flanked by union representatives for police, firefighters and other city workers, Cranley reiterated that his priorities still lie in basic city services.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld previously proposed setting up a special improvement district to pay for the operating costs. But Cranley called the approach unworkable because it would require property owners to opt in — an effort that would presumably take much longer than one week.
Cranley’s announcement came as streetcar supporters move to place a city charter amendment in support of the streetcar project on the ballot. The campaign vowed to gather 12,000 signatures by the end of the week.