City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a
plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote on March 6.
Council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young voted for the plan, and council members Chris Seelbach, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against it. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was absent, and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan abstained, although she said she could vote yes if she sees more details about how the city will curb its long-term budget problems.
The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Before the vote, several City Council members said the parking plan would not solve Cincinnati’s structural deficit problems, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan would help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.
“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate
growth right now, not later,” he said. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to
have further negative ramifications to deal with.”
Still, Dohoney admitted the plan would not solve all the city’s budget woes — just like he has repeatedly said in the past. Even with the parking plan, the city projects a $10 million deficit in 2014, $15.5 million deficit in 2015 and $20 million deficit in 2016.
The council members insisted there are alternatives to the parking plan and Dohoney’s Plan B, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes.
On March 1, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would not lease the city’s parking assets to balance the budget and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
On the same day as the hearings, Winburn, the sole Republican on City Council, proposed Plan C, which would reduce city employees’ salaries across the board — with exemptions for police, ﬁre, health, garbage, recreation, parks and road paving — and use casino and parking revenue to clear the deficit.
At the City Council hearings, Quinlivan listed a few other
possibilities, including sharing public safety services with other
local communities. She also advised the city to put together a long-term deficit reduction plan. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road any more,” she said.
Thomas suggested putting an earnings tax hike of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent on the ballot. He said, “It would solve this (deficit) problem once and for all.”
Some council members also raised concerns about the release of bond documents, which will further detail the framework of the parking agreement. Dohoney and Laura Brunner, president of the Port Authority, said the bond documents have not been crafted because a lease agreement has to be approved by City Council first, but the documents will be made public once they are put together.
Before the final committee vote, Smitherman successfully
motioned to separate part of the parking plan from the budget, which opens the plan to referendum. The motion was in response to City Solicitor
John Curp, who said appropriation ordinances, or ordinances that are essentially budgets, aren’t subject to
referendum, according to state law.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to stop the sale of 748 housing units to a New York company — potentially preventing a repeat of a similar sale back to 2007 that led to dropping property values in the area.
In a press release Tuesday, Qualls argued that locals should be given the opportunity to purchase the project-based Section 8 housing in Walnut Hills, Avondale and Millvale. Currently, HUD is bypassing local communities with plans to sell the housing to a corporation controlled by the Puretz family of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Cincinnati’s residents are still recovering from the massive disinvestment that was allowed to occur with an eerily similar situation in 2010,” Qualls said in the release, referring to a similar sale that culminated in a huge drop in property values between 2007 and 2010.
In 2007, HUD sold 618 subsidized housing units to NY Group
OH 1 LLC, a company with no previous housing experience in Cincinnati,
according to Qualls’ release. As the 2008 financial crisis and Great
Recession pulled down the global economy, property values dropped all
around the nation, but things went particularly south in NY Group’s
Cincinnati buildings. The owner eventually defaulted on the housing
units, and Fannie Mae foreclosed in 2010.
Property values went from $21.5 million to $7 million between 2007 and 2010, when the units were sold in a sheriff’s sale. In that time period, the buildings blighted, with residents complaining about deteriorating structures, broken lighting, bed bugs, cockroaches and mold. In one case, an apartment’s restroom ceiling reportedly collapsed.
Qualls is focused on preventing more blighted buildings: “Preservation of the housing in good condition is vital to the improvement of our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods cannot afford to have more blight brought on by an absentee owner. Because these properties are supported by government funding, it is vitally important that HUD get public input from the City of Cincinnati and Avondale, Walnut Hills and Millvale residents and stakeholders about this proposed new transfer of HUD funded properties before making any further decisions.”
Qualls has invited the local HUD field office director to the Feb. 26 Livable Communities Committee meeting to discuss the sale. She has also written to other HUD officials, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Steve Chabot to prevent the sale.
Strategies to End Homelessness on Wednesday released its first annual progress report detailing how the organization intends to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County by half from 2012 to 2017. That means reducing the county’s homeless population of more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 in five years.
The plan doesn’t focus on providing shelter services to the needy; instead, Strategies to End Homelessness is advocating tactics that prevent homelessness entirely and attempt to permanently address the issue.
The main strategies, according to the report: prevention,
rapid rehousing that lasts six to 12 months, transitional housing for up
to 24 months and permanent supportive housing that targets the
chronically homeless and disabled.
For the organization, the goal is to reduce homelessness by using supportive services to get to the root of the issue, whether it’s joblessness, mental health problems or other causes, and ensure shelter services aren’t necessary in the first place.
“Of the various types of programs within our homeless services system, households served in prevention were least likely to become homeless within the next 24 months,” the report reads. “Among supportive housing programs, Rapid Rehousing programs cost less, serve households for significantly shorter periods of time, and have increased long-term success compared to other supportive housing program types.”
The cost savings get to the major argument repeatedly raised by homeless advocates: If society helps transition its homeless population to jobs and permanent housing, governments will see savings and new revenue as less money is put toward social services and the homeless become productive economic actors who pay taxes.
Prevention in particular had particularly strong financial results, according to the Strategies to End Homelessness report: “In 2012, the estimated average cost per person served in homelessness prevention was $787, which is 60 (percent) less than the estimated cost of $1,322 per person served in an emergency shelter.”
Meanwhile, permanent supportive housing topped the list of costs, coming in at an average of $6,049 per person.
Despite the ambitious goals and promising results, the group’s prevention program has run into some problems. The federal government never renewed temporary federal stimulus funding that was financing a bulk of the prevention program, which cut off a major source of money starting in July 2012. Strategies to End Homelessness managed to pick up funding later in the year through the federal Emergency Solutions Grant, but the financial support is much more modest, according to the report.
Still, Strategies to End Homelessness appears undeterred. The report claims 78 percent of shelter residents transitioned to housing in 2012. The organization intends to continue prioritizing its resources to achieve similar sustainable outcomes in the next few years.
Strategies to End Homelessness is a collaborative that pools local homeless agencies, including the Drop Inn Center, Lighthouse Youth Services and the Talbert House, to tackle homelessness with a less redundant, more unified strategy.
In 2009, City Council and Hamilton County commissioners approved the organization’s Homeless to Homes Plan to “ensure that homeless people receive high-quality emergency shelter with comprehensive services to assist them out of homelessness.”
But the plan has run into some recent problems. The permanent supportive housing facility proposed for Alaska Avenue in Avondale has been met with community resistance, which convinced City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday to place a two-week hold on the project while an independent mediator helps the two sides reach a compromise.
In Cincinnati, homelessness-reduction efforts have also obtained less local support in the past decade as City Council consistently fails to uphold its human services funding goal.
Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Greater Cincinnati experienced dramatic drops in the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate between January and February, according to new data released by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).
In Cincinnati, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent in February, down from 8.6 percent in January. The civilian labor force, which measures the amount of people working and seeking jobs, also dropped from 139,400 to 138,900, which means less people were looking for work. The amount of people employed rose from 127,400 to 128,600 and the amount of people unemployed dropped from 12,000 to 10,300.
At the county level, the civilian labor force remained steady, while the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped from 7.9 percent in January to 7.1 percent in February. Across all of Greater Cincinnati, the unemployment rate dropped from 8 percent to 7.4 percent, even as the civilian labor force grew by 1,300 — a sign that more people in the region are looking for work.Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, says the report was encouraging and consistent with the past few years’ trends: “We’ve seen a lot of activity in the Cincinnati area. We know a few companies have been actively growing their businesses.”
The gains were also improvements in a year-over-year comparison. In February 2012,
Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 8.4 percent,
Hamilton County’s rate was 7.8 percent and Greater Cincinnati’s rate was
8.2 percent. The civilian labor force was also larger in
Cincinnati, Hamilton County and Greater Cincinnati in February 2012, but less people were employed across-the-board.
Jones says looking at employment numbers is a much better way to gauge economic health than looking at the size of the civilian labor force. While employment purely measures job growth, the civilian labor force can be driven by demographic changes — including an aging, retiring population — and people going back to school full-time, according to Jones.
In February, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, and the U.S. seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was 8.1 percent.
Jones says Cincinnati and Ohio are poised to continue strong growth: “We have a strong health care sector. As health care continues to be an important component of our economy, … Cincinnati is very well positioned to capture that growth.”
State and federal numbers are typically adjusted to account for seasonal employment patterns, while local numbers are not.
Unemployment numbers are calculated through a household survey. The unemployment rate gauges the amount of unemployed people looking for work in contrast to the total civilian labor force. Since the numbers are derived from surveys, they are often revised in later months.
Update (3:54 p.m.): This story was updated with comments from Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center.
Ohio State Board of Education President Debe Terhar posted an image of Adolf Hitler on Facebook that said, “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.” But the Cincinnati Republican, who was referencing President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals, now insists she was not comparing Obama to Hitler. It’s pretty obvious she was, though.
Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December, down from 6.9 percent in November. The drop is largely attributed to a decrease in the civilian labor force, which could imply less people are looking for work or seasonal changes are having an impact. Whatever the case, the amount of people who are employed and unemployed both dropped. Hamilton County’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in December, down from 6.4 percent in November, but that drop was also attributed to a declining labor force or seasonal factors. Greater Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was unchanged from 6.4 percent, despite 2,600 less people working. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted rate was 6.6 percent in December, up from 6.5 percent in November, and the U.S. rate was 7.6 percent, up from 7.4 percent.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, suggested the Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act. The plan requires debt ceiling increases to be matched by an equal amount of spending cuts. Increasing the debt ceiling is essentially Congress agreeing to pay its bills. During the budget process and while passing other legislation, Congress agrees to a certain amount of spending. Increasing the debt ceiling just makes it possible for the president to pay those bills, even if it means surpassing a set debt level. If the debt ceiling isn't raised by May 18, the United States will default on its debts, plunging the country into depression. But the threat of destroying the U.S. economy has not stopped Republicans from using the debt ceiling as a negotiation tool to get the spending cuts they so badly want.
Public employees are avoiding changes to Ohio’s public pension system by retiring before the changes kick in. The changes make it so any teacher who retires before July 1 will get a 2 percent cost of living increase to their pensions in 2015. Anyone who retires after July 1 will not get the increase until 2018. After that, retirees will get a pension increase every five years. Experts are also expecting a rush of retirees in 2015, when age and years-of-service requirements for full benefits are set to gradually rise.
A new report found Ohio’s graduation rate is still improving. The U.S. Department of Education report found the state’s graduation rate was 81.4 percent in the 2009-10 school year, higher than the nation’s rate of 78.2 percent, and an increase from 78.7 percent rate in the 2006-2007 school year.
A study found a link between hourly workers at Hamilton County’s Fernald Feed Materials Production Center and intestinal cancer.
As Ohio cuts back its solar program, Canada is shutting down the rest of its coal-fired power plants by the end of 2013.
The Cincinnati Reds may get to host the 2015 All-Stars Game.
Scientists are rushing to build robots that save lives in disaster zones. Will John Connor please stand up?
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.
City Council on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a measure that will offer benefits to domestic partners of city employees. The measure was introduced by Councilman Chris Seelbach and passed 8-1, the lone “no” vote coming from Charlie Winburn. Seelbach told The Enquirer that domestic partner benefits not only affect same-sex couples, but are also applicable to non-married partners, which is an added attraction to lure talented employees to the city. Covington officials passed a similar measure Tuesday.
If you owe the city of Cincinnati any parking fines, now would be a good time to pay them. Cincinnati police are going to start hearing descriptions of vehicles with multiple outstanding tickets during roll call and then head out to find them during patrols.
Eric Deters wants to be a real lawyer again. The attorney/radio personality/cage fighter says his current predicament — Kentucky law license suspension — is mostly because someone making the rulings “hates him” and is not due to the “ethical lapses” that caused his original 61-day suspension. If Deters can't get the Kentucky Supreme Court to help him out he'll have to go in front of a Character and Fitness Committee and explain all the crazy stuff he's done.
Gov. John Kasich is making changes to the state's Medicaid program, which he and its officials say will save money, though it will cause disruptions in the form of some recipients needing to find new providers, many of which have less access to medical advice and financial help. A similar program implemented in Kentucky last year resulted in complaints that patients couldn't get services authorized and providers didn't get paid on time, according to The Enquirer.
New Osama bin Laden documents published
online by the U.S. Government show concern over Muslim distrust of
his organization before he was killed last May, and much of which was due to the high numbers of civilians it was responsible for killing.
It's not very fun to be John Edwards these days. Already charged with using $1 million in campaign money to hide a pregnant mistress, testimony in his case for violating campaign finance laws has revealed that his mistress had a better idea in response to the National Enquirer's report on the affair: She wanted to say she was abducted by aliens.
Target is done selling Kindles, and although it didn't give a reason analysts suspect it is in response to Amazon's attempts to get retailers who see the products in a store to then purchase them online. Amazone last holiday season indroduced a Price Check app that offered in-store price comparisons and up to a $15 discount online.
Retired NFL linebacker Junior Seau was found dead at his home yesterday in an apparent suicide. Seau, who played in the NFL for parts of 20 seasons, was found shot to death. He was 43.
A local music teacher says Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy offered him a job and then rescinded the offer after asking him if he is gay. Jonathan Zeng says he went through the school's extensive interview process, was offered a position and then called back in for a discussion about religious questions in his application, during which he was asked directly if he is gay. Zeng says he asked why such information was pertinent, and an administrator said it was school policy not to employ teachers who are gay because they work with children and something about the sanctity of marriage. When contacted by local media CHCA released the following statement:
CHCA keeps confidential all matters discussed within a candidate's interview. We're looking into this matter, although the initial information we have seen contains inaccuracies. We will not be discussing individual hiring decisions or interviews.Cincinnati's deficit isn't going to get better any time soon, according to a new report.
Senate Republicans yesterday blocked a Democratic bill calling for equal pay in the workplace, and the Dems are going to stick it in their faces during this year's campaigns. From the AP:
As expected, the pay equity bill failed along party lines, 52-47, short of the required 60-vote threshold. But for majority Democrats, passage wasn't the only point. The debate itself was aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive on yet another women's issue, this one overtly economic after a government report showing slower-than-expected job growth.
"It is incredibly disappointing that in this make-or-break moment for the middle class, Senate Republicans put partisan politics ahead of American women and their families," Obama said in a statement after the vote.
"Even Mitt Romney has refused to publicly oppose this legislation," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "He should show some leadership."
The Washington Post wonders whether Mitt Romney can use Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's template for surviving a recall election to try to win the presidency. It involves “big money, powerful organization and enormous enthusiasm among his base.” Exit polls in the state suggest Obama is ahead, however.
China wants foreign embassies to stop releasing reports and Tweeting about its poor air quality.
Gonorrhea growing resistant to antibiotics? Rut roh.
Dinosaurs apparently weighed less than scientists previously thought. Adjust paper-mache Brontosaurus as necessary.
Facebook is considering letting kids younger than 13 use the site.
The Boston Celtics took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat on Tuesday and could send Bron Bron and Co. back home on Thursday.
Despite Gov. John Kasich’s claims to the contrary, the only miracle in Ohio’s economy might be how bad the state is doing compared to the rest of the nation.
The proof: Ohio’s economy was among just two states in the
nation that actually worsened during September through November compared to August through October, according
to the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Beyond Ohio’s borders, Alaska also worsened, two states remained stable and the rest of the nation moved in a generally positive direction.
In other words, while 46 states’ economies moved in a generally positive direction, Ohio actually got worse.
The measures come from the State Coincident Index issued by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia every month. The index combines several economic indicators to gauge the condition of each state’s economy. The research department then gauges whether the index improved or worsened after the latest month’s data is taken into account.
With the gubernatorial election now less than one year away, the sorry state of Ohio’s economy could prove a bad sign for Gov. Kasich’s re-election.
Kasich, a Republican, came into office as Ohio’s economy began dashing out of the Great Recession stronger than most of the nation — a trend Kasich took to calling the “Ohio miracle.”
Ed FitzGerald, Kasich’s likely Democratic challenger, has criticized the claim in the past few months as Ohio’s economy showed more signs of worsening despite Kasich’s promises that his policies would keep the state in the right direction.
One of those policies was privatizing Ohio’s development agency and effectively turning it into JobsOhio. In less than three years, the agency has been riddled in multiple scandals following accusations from Democrats that the JobsOhio board hosts various conflicts of interests and lacks transparency when recommending who should get state tax credits.
Kasich also pushed and approved an across-the-board income tax cut earlier in 2013 through the two-year state budget. But because the income tax cut came with a sales tax hike, left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s tax cut heavily favors the wealthy, which calls into question whether the tax cut will actually help Ohio’s middle class or economy.
For FitzGerald and other Democrats, the challenge is advocating a progressive agenda that stands in contrast to Kasich’s policies. Although they have plenty of criticisms, it remains unclear what Democrats could do if — as looks almost certain — Republicans continue to hold Ohio’s legislative chambers.
Then there’s the question of whether state policies matter much, if at all. Economists generally agree that state officials tend to dramatize the economic impact of their policies when much bigger factors are at play, particularly as globalization reshapes the national and global economies.
For now, one thing is clear: Kasich’s policies haven’t been enough to turn around Ohio’s sinking economy throughout the past three months.