After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.
Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Flynn was the final holdout in what some council members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a year after fares and sponsorships.
The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part
of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn
announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city
makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's
books, he said.
"That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added.
Flynn also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger responsibilities.
Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the
University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a
2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it.Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision.
"I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.
Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda.
Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.
Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate.
"I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project.
officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found
canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it.
The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.
Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.
Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.
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.
Steve Chabot’s self-righteous attempt to block federal
streetcar funding found new criticism yesterday, as The Enquirer spoke to
several credible sources who say his amendment is broad enough to affect
federal funding for transportation projects beyond the streetcar,
including bus lanes or ferries.
Mayor Mark Mallory and 3CDC representatives were scheduled to kick off a grand opening celebration of Washington Park at 10 a.m. this morning. The $48 million renovation includes an underground parking garage, concession building, dog park and concert space. A rally against the renovation and displacement of residents was scheduled for 10:30 a.m. CityBeat’s Mike Breen blogged away yesterday about the park’s scheduled weekly music series.
It’s going to be another sucky hot weekend in Cincinnati.
U.S. hiring is being weak again.
Walgreens is buying mass drug store chains, preparing to cash in on that ObamaCare money.
Brad Pitt’s mom wrote a pro-Mitt Romney, anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage letter to the editor of a Missouri newspaper. Brad, for the record, is pro-gay marriage and donated to the 2008 anti-Proposition 8 campaign in California.
I have given much thought to Richard Stoecker’s letter (“Vote for Mormon against beliefs,” June 15). I am also a Christian and differ with the Mormon religion.
But I think any Christian should spend much time in prayer before refusing to vote for a family man with high morals, business experience, who is against abortion, and shares Christian conviction concerning homosexuality just because he is a Mormon.
Any Christian who does not vote or writes in a name is casting a vote for Romney’s opponent, Barack Hussein Obama — a man who sat in Jeremiah Wright’s church for years, did not hold a public ceremony to mark the National Day of Prayer, and is a liberal who supports the killing of unborn babies and same-sex marriage.
I hope all Christians give their vote prayerful consideration because voting is a sacred privilege and a serious responsibility.
First they were telling us that the Higgs boson is the building block of the universe. How Professor Peter Higgs says he has no idea what the discovery will mean in practical terms. Come on, Higgs!
Apparently 250,000 people are going to wake up without the Internet on Monday.
Scientists believe they’ve created the most realistic robot legs ever.
In a replay of the Republican kerfuffle after President Obama’s State of the Nation address last year, there will be dueling GOP responses tonight to Mayor Mark Mallory’s State of the City address.
The Hamilton County Republican Party sent a press release this afternoon announcing that Amy Murray, an ex-Cincinnati City Council member, would provide the GOP’s formal response to Mallory’s speech.
A Democrat, Mallory will give his seventh State of the City address at 6:30 p.m. It will be presented in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, located at 650 Walnut St., downtown.
After the press release about Murray’s response arrived at 2:55 p.m., however, current City Councilman Charlie Winburn sent a notice from his council office at 3:39 p.m. In the notice, Winburn announced he “will be available to give the Republican response” immediately after the mayor’s speech.
Winburn’s release helpfully noted that he is “the only Republican on Cincinnati City Council,” in case anyone wasn’t sure.
The concurrent responses are similar to what occurred after Obama’s speech in January 2011. At that time, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was selected to give the GOP’s official response to the address. But U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), then a rising star in the Tea Party movement, decided to give her own response.
At the time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-West Chester) called the move "a little unusual."
Bachmann’s performance was widely lambasted, as she didn’t look directly at the camera but off to the side, and appeared disconnected and halting during her remarks. Bachmann later sought the GOP’s presidential nomination but dropped out of the race early after several disappointing primary finishes.
Murray is a former Procter & Gamble employee who now owns a consulting firm that tries to attract Japanese companies to Cincinnati. The party’s release stated she would give her response immediately following Mallory’s address in the Fifth Third Bank Theater’s lobby at the Aronoff Center.
A Hyde Park resident, Murray ran unsuccessfully for Cincinnati City Council in 2009, finishing in 12th place out of 19 candidates. She then was appointed by party leaders in January 2011 to fill the remainder of Councilman Chris Monzel’s term, but lost election in her own right the following November. In that election, Murray again finished 12th, this time out of 22 candidates.
Mayor Mark Mallory will join fellow streetcar supporters Thursday to discuss how the project is coming along and where it’s headed.
The event is the monthly streetcar social, hosted by Cincinnatians for Progress. Organizers expect to pull in nearly 100 people from around the city to discuss topics and issues surrounding the project. It will take place on Thursday, July 18, between 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Rhinegeist Brewery, 1910 Elm St., Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202. For more information, check out the event’s Facebook page.
Mallory, who’s term-limited from running for reelection this year, has spearheaded efforts to build a streetcar in Cincinnati. He’s been joined by a steady Democratic majority in City Council, which most recently approved $17.4 million more in funding for the project alongside several accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update council and the public on the project’s progress.
CityBeat’s cover story for the week of July 10 debunked the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the Cincinnati streetcar project.
Streetcar supporters argue the project will foster economic growth and development in Cincinnati, particularly downtown — a claim backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati.
Opponents claim the project, which now stands at $133 million after recent cost overruns were fixed, is too expensive. They doubt it will succeed in spurring growth and development.
Mallory puts the issue in perspective on the proposal's page on The Huffington Post: "In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate."
Mallory's proposal would create an Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which, according to a press release sent out by Mallory's office, has already been launched via a pilot version with significant success. Here's how it works: When a woman finds out she's pregnant, she's enrolled in First Steps, a care program that maintains a secure database of new mothers and monitors pregnancies.
The competition garnered applications from 305 cities, and Cincinnati was one of 20 finalists selected. If recognized, Cincinnati could win a $5 million prize or one of four $1 million prizes to help implement and sustain the Infant Mortality Network.
"City after city deals with this issue, but in Cincinnati, we are dealing with an infant mortality rate that is twice the national average. And half of those deaths occur in just five zip codes. So we know exactly where the problem is, we know exactly what community is having the issue. ... We're really trying to create a program in Cincinnati that can be replicated all across the country. So that in city after city, they can see the same type of success that we are seeing — continuing to drive that infant mortality rate down so that we are saving babies' lives," Mallory says in the Mayors Challenge finalist video below.
According to data from 2007-09 from the Cincinnati Health Department, the five zip codes experiencing the highest infant mortality rates are: 45219 (30.4), 45202 (24.2), 45246 (20.7), 45203 (20.1) and 45214 (19.2). For more detailed information from the Cincinnati Health Department, click here.
Watch the full finalist video:
For both the candidates, the issues are about where they want to see the city going. Cranley says the city government lacks transparency and openness as it prioritizes controversial ideas to support downtown over Cincinnati’s neighborhoods. Qualls says the investments are continuing Cincinnati’s nationally recognized momentum and bringing growth to both downtown and the neighborhoods.
Whether the subject was the Metro bus system or bringing more flights to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Cranley repeatedly referenced his opposition to the streetcar project and his belief that it is siphoning city funds away from more important projects and forcing the city to raise property taxes to pay for debt.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees,” Cranley said. “We have to re-prioritize.”
Qualls argued the streetcar project will produce economic growth and grow the city’s tax base, which the city could then leverage for more development projects. That claim has been backed by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which put the streetcar’s return on investment at three-to-one.
Cranley argued Hop On Cincinnati,
a trackless trolley system, is a better option. He said the project would cost considerably less
and come with more flexibility since it wouldn’t run on set tracks.
But in a 2007 letter citing swathes of data from cities around the nation, Charlie Hales, now mayor of Portland, Ore., found trackless trolleys consistently underperformed rail projects in terms of economic development and ridership.
At this point, cancelling the streetcar project would also carry its own costs. As of May, city officials estimated they had already spent $20 million on the project and cancelling it would cost another $45 million in federal funding and $14 million in close-out costs.
But expanding the streetcar project into a second phase, as Qualls advocated, would also carry its own set of unknown costs.
On other issues, Qualls touted the city’s plans to lease its parking assets to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority as a potential avenue for economic development.
Qualls and the current city administration originally supported leveraging the city’s parking meters, lots and garages through the lease to pay for budget gaps and economic development projects. But as the city managed to balance its budget without the lease, the focus has moved toward using the lump-sum and annual payments from the lease to only pay for more development projects.
Cranley claimed, as he long has, that the deal will have a negative impact on a generation by shifting control of the city’s parking assets from the local government to the unelected Port Authority and private companies. He also criticized Qualls and the city administration for withholding a memo that criticized the lease’s financial details and hastily pursuing the lease with limited public input.
Cranley also implied that the deal will actually lower long-term revenues by capping the city’s parking revenues at $3 million a year.
“It’s almost hard to respond to such misinformation, quite frankly,” Qualls responded.
On top of an estimated $92 million lump sum, the city projects that annual payments will start at $3 million a year but eventually grow much larger. Qualls claimed the yearly installments would reach $20 million by the end of the 30-year lease.
Qualls also took issue with Cranley’s assertion that the Port Authority is withholding contract documents for the private companies it will hire to operate Cincinnati’s parking assets. She reminded Cranley that Port board members explicitly told him at a public meeting that those documents will be made public two weeks before they’re signed.
The candidates also sparred on a number of issues typical of political campaigns: government transparency, negative campaign ads and rhetoric vs. facts.
But the debate also highlighted the large amount of agreement between Qualls and Cranley. Both agree the city shouldn’t increase the earnings tax. Both claim Cincinnati needs to structurally balance its budget and stop using one-time sources for budget fixes. Both echoed the need to leverage federal support for the Brent Spence Bridge project. Both criticized the state for refusing to grant tax credits to Pure Romance, a local company that is now considering moving to Covington, Ky., because of the state’s refusal.
Cranley and Qualls got the most votes in the Sept. 10 mayoral primary,
allowing both to advance to the general election. Cranley received 55.9
percent of the vote, while Qualls obtained 37.2 percent. Their opponents each failed to break 5 percent.
Voter turnout for the mayoral primary was only 5.68 percent. That was lower than the 15-percent turnout for the mayoral primary held on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the 21-percent turnout for the 2005 mayoral primary.
In the past two mayoral races with primaries, the primary winner went on to lose the general election.
Voters will get to decide between Qualls and Cranley, along with City Council candidates and other ballot issues, on Nov. 5.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is forced to progress for nearly a year.
Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly elected officials take office on Sunday.
The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor, and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently ongoing construction.
But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.
If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a referendum.
Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”
“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous effort and expense.”
To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point, including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city pulls the plug now.
Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.
There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5 million a year.
Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.
A special improvement district would require a petitioning process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.
If the special improvement district doesn’t come to fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more difficult to support going forward.
Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.
The mayor, Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and The Strive Partnership announced today a new joint initiative that won a $40,000 grant. The grant, which is funded by Target through the Cities of Service and Service Nation, will help tutors teach kids how to read by the third grade.
Mayor Mark Mallory made the announcement in a joint press statement with CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan and The Strive Partnership Executive Director Greg Landsman.
With the money, 50 tutors will help 100 students in first, second and third grade in five schools to meet the state’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires third-grade students to be proficient in reading in state tests before advancing to the fourth grade.
“It all starts with reading,” Mallory said in a statement. “And there is no better way to help our kids learn to read than with one-on-one tutors who they can get to know and trust. A committed adult can make learning to read fun. This grant is going to have a huge impact on the lives of a lot of kids.”
The tutors will focus on five CPS schools: Roberts Paideia Academy in East Price Hill, Rockdale Academy in Avondale, Mt. Airy School, Pleasant Hill Academy in College Hill and Pleasant Ridge Montessori School.
Cincinnati was one of eight cities to win the grant. The other winners are Atlanta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Charleston, S.C.; Chula Vista, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; Orlando, Fla.; and Vicksburg, Miss.
The new state reading requirement, which was pushed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, has received criticism from some Democrats and education experts. Research shows holding kids back hurts more
than helps. After reviewing decades of research, the National Association of
School Psychologists found grade retention has “deleterious long-term
effects,” both academically and socially.
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.