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by Andy Brownfield 12.14.2012
city hall

Council Passes Budget Reliant on Parking Lease

Council also approves 2014 property tax increase

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.

by Andy Brownfield 12.03.2012
milton dohoney

Budget Hearing Raises Questions About Parking Privatization

City Manager says without lease, 344 city workers would lose jobs

Cincinnati City Council members today focused a lot of attention on a contentious plan to lease city parking assets during a Monday committee presentation on the 2013 budget.

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 Grants.

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.

by Andy Brownfield 11.15.2012
milton dohoney

Council Approves Raise, Bonus for City Manager

Opponents argue unwise with looming deficit; Dohoney's last raise in 2007

City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.

Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.

Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.

Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.

Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.

To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”

The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.

Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.

Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.

“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”

Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.

Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.

Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.

Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.

"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”

by Andy Brownfield 11.05.2012

County Commission President Lays Out Budget Plan

"Austerity budget" rejects tax increases

The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.

Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said. 

He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.

Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000  or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.

Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.

Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.

Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.

Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.

“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.

The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.

He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.

“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.” 

Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.

Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.

“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”

by German Lopez 10.18.2012
Posted In: LGBT Issues, News, Police at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

City to Host LGBT Public Safety Forum

Event to explain CPD priorities, establish line with gay community

The city and gay rights organizations will host an LGBT public safety forum tonight. The partnership between the city of Cincinnati, Equality Cincinnati and the Human Rights Campaign of Greater Cincinnati (HRC) is meant to encourage and improve relations between the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and the gay community.

Lisa Davis, spokesperson for CPD, says the idea for the public forum came about when Andrew Winters, a diversity co-chair at HRC, ran into Police Chief James Craig at the Coffee Emporium coffee shop in Over-the-Rhine. Winters introduced himself to Craig, and Craig told Winters he was interested in addressing the LGBT community to open some dialogue and gather feedback.

One of the forum's purposes will be to explain CPD priorities. As an example, Davis explained why police might take an hour and a half to respond to a call at a gay club. She said that kind of delay is likely related to CPD's priority system. In the example of the gay club, perhaps someone was assaulted, but the suspect already left. If that happens, CPD would prioritize a case in which a suspect is still on the scene.

Davis hopes the explanations will ease concerns of police discrimination in the LGBT community. On the other side, she says the forum could help CPD gather feedback and learn about any overlooked problems.

CPD will also name Angela Vance as an LGBT liaison. Davis says Vance will be open to calls from anyone in the LGBT community to look into special events, collect information on crimes and review possible cases of police mistreatment. For these cases, Vance will help victims file complaints and provide guidance.

The public forum will take place at 6 p.m. tonight at the Mayerson Room in the School for Creative and Performing Arts, 108 West Central Parkway.

by German Lopez 10.02.2012
Posted In: News, Police at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Taser Study Finds Problematic Policies in Hamilton County

At least 16 county agencies deploy outdated Tasers

A study on Taser use in Hamilton County released Oct. 1 by a local law firm that has represented Taser victims in the past four years seeks to shed light on the problems behind Taser use in the county and nationwide.

The study, which looked at 39 law enforcement agencies around Hamilton County through public record requests, listed a few key findings:

  • Out of the 39 agencies, 33 use Tasers.
  • 94% of agencies’ materials do not adequately warn that Tasers can capture the heart rhythm of the subject, possibly leading to death.
  • 67% of policies permit upper chest shots despite the manufacturer’s warning moving the preferred target zone away from the upper chest.
  • 70% of policies do not instruct officers to consider the seriousness of the crime before deciding whether or not to use the Taser.
  • 33% policies do not specifically instruct officers to consider the risk of secondary impact of falling from an elevated surface subsequent to Taser use. 
  • 27% of policies do not restrict Taser use on vulnerable populations such as juveniles, elderly individuals, or the visibly pregnant despite the increased risk associated with those populations. 
  • 100% of policies fail to require that Tasers output be tested to ensure that the actual performance of the device is within manufacturer’s specifications. 
  • 73% of policies do not require an investigation that includes a data download from the Taser’s memory chip after use to independently verify the number and duration of shocks delivered to the subject. 
  • 15% of policies explicitly authorize officers to use their Taser on a fleeing subject, regardless of the crime or the threat to the public. 
  • At least 16 of the agencies deploy Tasers that are older than their estimated useful life. 
  • Two agencies that deploy Tasers maintain no Taser-specific policy.
  • One agency deploys Tasers even though the agency’s policy prohibits their use

The study also pointed out that the tension behind Taser use “does not exist only in the abstract,” referencing the more than 500 deaths involving Taser use in the United States.

Al Gerhardstein, the local attorney behind the study, hopes the findings will lead to a change in Taser policies around the county.

Tasers, which get their name off the company that manufactures them, are supposed to be nonlethal weapons. They work by firing two barbs into a subject. The barbs then penetrate the target's skin and deliver a shock of high voltage, causing temporary paralysis. The weapons are supposed to allow police officers to subdue a dangerous target without resorting to potentially lethal force. The most common Taser model is the X26.

On Sept. 18, the Cincinnati Police Department established new guidelines for Taser use, which the department now says are adequate for dealing with the problems found in Gerhardstein’s study. The new policy disallows the use of frontal shots except in situations involving self-defense and the defense of others, reinforces the fact officers need to make sure force is necessary and specifically points out people have been injured due to Taser use in the past.

by Andy Brownfield 09.11.2012
Posted In: Police, News at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
police crash copy

Investigation: Police Chase Violated Procedure

Pursuit of teenagers resulted in crash, injuries not in compliance with department policy

An internal police investigation determined that officers acted improperly in a July 10 car chase that ended up with one child seriously injured and four teenagers hurt.

The Professional Standards Section investigation, dated Sept. 4, determined that Specialist Diana Cloud violated department policy and procedure when she pursued a car full of the youths, who had allegedly stolen snacks from a Norwood United Dairy Farmers.

Two of the five girls allegedly took the snacks from the store and got into a car driven by a 16-year-old. Cloud, who investigated the alleged theft, saw the car drive near the UDF and pursued it in her cruiser. During the chase — in which Cloud reached 75 miles per hour in a 35-mph zone — the girls’ car crashed into a steel utility pole, sending one to the hospital with a fractured skull and bleeding brain.

The investigation found that Cloud’s pursuit was not in compliance with department procedure because of her failure to stop at an intersection, driving more than 20 mph over the speed limit and failure to turn on her digital voice recorder during the chase.

The report determined that the girls’ injuries were a result of the driver’s inability to control her car.

A May 2011 CityBeat look at a study of police car chases found that almost 40 percent of them result in accidents.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study examining deaths resulting from police pursuits found that more than 6,000 crashes and 7,500 deaths were caused by such chases. Almost 2,000 of those deaths — recorded nationally between 1982 and 2008 — were innocent bystanders.

The Cincinnati Police Department has a policy in place since the early 1990s dictating when to chase or not to chase, when to break off pursuit and how to conduct chases as safely as possible. 

According to the investigation into the July 10 pursuit, Specialist Cloud had decided to break off her pursuit due to the high speed just before the crash occurred, but could not report her decision due to high radio traffic.

by Danny Cross 07.12.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, News, Police, Technology, Science at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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Morning News and Stuff

A new survey by the Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati found that local teenage marijuana use is up slightly. Mary Haag, president and CEO of the coalition, says it’s the organization’s biggest concern — makes sense considering the organization is dedicated to creating a drug-free Cincinnati, but shouldn’t someone be concerned about this, too?

Cincinnati police will stop using a certain breathalyzer machine due to a recent court ruling that the machine must be cleared after each use. City Prosecutor Charlie Rubenstein says attorneys are consistently questioning in court the Intoxilyzer 8000’s use, causing a backload of cases.  

President Obama will visit Cincinnati on Monday, though no details have been released. 

Mitt Romney might not like running as a potential Bush third term, but he’ll take whatever money Dick Cheney can raise for him at an event in Wyoming. 

In response to heated negotiations over the price of Viacom networks such as Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central, DirecTV this week told its users where to find Viacom content online for free (Viacom's website). Viacom yesterday shut down the free streaming shows, replacing them with a video explaining how to complain to DirecTV that SpongeBob SquarePants isn’t available and your kids are pissed.

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh said a report released today that Penn State and Joe Paterno concealed critical facts about Jerry Sandusky and showed a total disregard for the safety of his victims. 

A new drug has been found to protect healthy people exposed to HIV, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time is considering approving a drug which could prevent individuals from acquiring the virus.

Hackers released 453,000 Yahoo! passwords, potentially helping many log into their accounts after forgetting their passwords years after switching to Gmail.

The Hubble telescope found a fifth moon orbiting Pluto, which is still not a planet anymore. 

by Danny Cross 05.18.2012

Morning News and Stuff

After 18 months in the courts, Democrat Tracie Hunter has won a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judgeship, but a GOP challenge to the court's acceptance of Hunter's challenge is likely to follow. Republican John Williams led hunter by 23 votes on election night 2010, but Hunter filed a lawsuit over provisional ballots cast at incorrect polling stations that weren't counted. After a recount of 286 provisional ballots, Hunter moved ahead by 74 votes. Republican board of election members reportedly plan to argue that the 286 should not have been recounted.

The Enquirer's Mark Curnutte today offered an analysis of recently released census data that shows a steady growth of the regional Hispanic population and a growth of minority population in areas outside the city that were once largely white. Cincinnati's data suggests that the city and region are slightly different than the nation's overall trend, which in 2011 for the first time found a majority of the country's under 1-year-old population minority (50.4 percent), up from 49.5 percent in 2010.

Included in The Enquirer's story, which included a profile of a Mexican-American Florence family that moved to Northern Kentucky eight years ago from Los Angeles:

A decrease of 1.3 percentage points in Hamilton County’s black population under 5 was countered by increases in the black population under 5 in each of the region’s six other core counties: Butler, Clermont and Warren in Ohio and Boone, Campbell and Kenton in Kentucky.

Overall, the regional population of Hispanic children under 5 years rose from 7,583 in 2010 to 8,032 in 2011, a proportional increase of 0.4 percentage points to 6.1 percent.

The family of a teenager fatally shot by a Cincinnati police officer on Fountain Square last summer has filed a federal lawsuit alleging police used excessive force and violated 16-year-old Davon Mullins' constitutional rights. Police say Mullins pulled a handgun, but the lawsuit says he had been disarmed before officer Oscar Cyranek shot him multiple times.

Cincinnati's Bike Month revelers and Over-the-Rhine residents received some good news this week when Reser Bicycle Outfitters announced the opening of an OTR location. The store could open by June 1 in the 1400 block of Vine Street.

Legislation regulating ownership and breeding of exotic animals has been approved by the Ohio House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, 17-4. Senate Bill 310 could get through the full House and Senate next week and be signed by Gov. John Kasich soon afterward. The ban on the acquisition, sale and breeding of certain species would take affect 90 days later.

Europe is preparing for Greece to completely duck out of the Eurozone. The world markets are feeling the pressure.

Mitt Romney has released his first general election TV ad. And he's giving cookies to the media.

Former Senator John Edwards will learn his fate today, as a jury was set to deliberate this morning on charges that Edwards used campaign funds to conceal an affair during his run for president.

More than 200 pages of documents, photos and audio recordings were released yesterday offering further details about what happened the night George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

The documents include an FBI audio analysis of the 911 call placed by a resident that captured yells and screams. Two FBI examiners said they could not determine whether it was Martin or Zimmerman yelling because of the poor quality of the recording and the "extreme emotional state" of screamer.

The AP is live-blogging Facebook's stock market debut. Why does Bono have so much Facebook?

Cell phone maker Nokia has accused Apple of programming bias into its interactive Siri voice search by making it answer the question “What is the best smartphone ever?” by stating “"Wait... there are other phones?" The answer had apparently previously been “Nokia's Lumia 900.” Apple won't say whether or not it changed Siri's answer after finding the glitch.

A new study suggests that nighttime fasting can go a long way toward keeping you slim even if you eat bad stuff during the day.

Scientists have found a car-sized turtle shell.

The private space launch is scheduled for 4:55 a.m. Saturday, and there will be alcohol involved.

by Danny Cross 05.10.2012

Morning News and Stuff

In news you've likely already heard from your favorite website, social network, radio station, print publication, TV or the guy in your neighborhood who likes to talk about current events, President Barack Obama yesterday announced his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the first-ever sitting president to do so. The news has spawned analysis from across the land, ranging from “risky but inevitable” to “matters less than you think.” The Enquirer says the decision is going to “echo in Ohio” (whatever that means).

One thing we know for sure: Hollywood celebs are preparing to pack George Clooney's house tonight and fill up Obama's briefcase with money.

The “No. 2 official at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office” says the jail being next to the casino will be bad for business, according to an Enquirer story detailing worries over jail overcrowding leading to accused criminals to go into the casino to “get warm, panhandle customers or just give visitors a bad impression of Cincinnati.”

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday cancelled a new truck order for Paul Brown Stadium, instead giving the vehicles to Parking Operations. Parking Operations was supposed to get the stadium's used trucks after the stadium received new ones, but Portune said the stadium doesn't need brand new stuff all the time.

Up north, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman says his city wants an NBA basketball team now that the public has purchased the arena the Columbus Blue Jackets play in.

Poll watch: Portman on GOP ticket doesn't change Ohio race

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped again last week, nearing a four-year low.

Facebook will soon launch an App Center, because it's so annoying to have to leave Facebook to get cool new apps.

Famous hairdresser Vidal Sassoon died yesterday after a bout with leukemia. He apparently played a large role in creating “wash and go” hairstyling and later revolutionizing the hair-care industry. Here's a Philadelphia Inquirer obit. And five ways Vidal Sassoon changed people's hair. Sassoon, according to the book Insider's Guide to Cincinnati, had a home in Mount Adams (his wife was a Greater Cincinnati native).