In light of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, a City Council member wants metal detectors put back in City Hall.
Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas says he’s always been concerned about security, and he hopes recent bouts of gun violence will make it clear more protective steps are necessary.
Thomas argues City Hall should not be an exception to a practice that’s carried out in other government buildings. He points to federal and county buildings and other city halls around the nation, which tend to use metal detectors.
Thomas, who was a police officer until 2000, acknowledges metal detectors are a “little bit of an inconvenience” to visitors, but he adds, “These are times when a little bit more inconvenience can go a long way to possibly save a lot of lives.”
So City Hall could get more security, but what about the city as a whole? Earlier today, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls announced City Council will work on a resolution to encourage Congress to pass new gun regulations at a federal level. Beyond that, Thomas says not much is likely.
The problem is state law trumps local law when it comes to gun regulations, so City Council’s hands are tied on the issue. “I would like to see us be able to control our own destiny as it relates to gun laws, but, obviously, I have no control over that,” Thomas says.
Metal detectors were in place at City Hall until 2006, when Mayor Mark Mallory had them taken down to make City Hall more open to the public.
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.
The Ohio Turnpike will remain a public asset, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Many Ohioans have been worried Gov. John Kasich would attempt to privatize the Turnpike in order to pay for transportation projects; instead, the governor will try to generate revenue for state infrastructure projects elsewhere, perhaps by using the Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich will unveil his full plans Thursday and Friday.
The asbestos lawsuit bill is heading to Kasich to be signed. The bill attempts to curb duplicate lawsuits over on-the-job asbestos exposure. Supporters of the bill say it will prevent double-dipping by victims, but opponents say the bill will impede legitimate cases. Ohio has one of the largest backlogs of on-the-job asbestos exposure cases.
City Manager Milton Dohoney has released some of the potential bids for the city’s parking services, and one bidder is offering $100 to $150 million. Dohoney says the budget can only be balanced if parking services are privatized or the city lays off 344 employees. But Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is speaking out against the privatization of the city’s parking services. In a statement, Sittenfeld said, “Outsourcing our parking system robs the city of future revenue, and also will mean higher parking rates, longer hours of enforcement, and more parking tickets.”
LGBT rights are becoming “the new normal,” but not for Western & Southern or American Financial Group. In the 2012 Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign gave 252 companies a 100-percent score for LGBT rights. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble got a 90 percent, Macy’s got a 90 percent, Kroger got an 85 percent, Fifth Third Bank got an 85 percent, Omnicare got a 15 percent, American Financial Group got a 0 percent and Western & Southern got a 0 percent. The rankings, dubbed a “Buyer’s Guide,” can be found here.
The Sierra Club says Cincinnati has some of the best and worst transportation projects. In its annual report, the environmental group praised the Cincinnati streetcar, claiming the transportation project will attract residents and business owners. But the organization slammed the Eastern Corridor Highway project because of its negative impact on the Little Miami River and the small village of Newtown. The Sierra Club says the purpose of the report is to shed light on the more than $200 billion spent on transportation projects every year.
University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono is getting a 10-year contract.
The disease-carrying Walnut Twig Beetle has been discovered in southwest Ohio. The beetle is known for carrying Thousand Cankers Disease, which threatens the health of walnut trees. So far, no trees have been determined to be infected.
Ohio Gov. Kasich, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will meet today to discuss funding for the Brent Spence Bridge project. If the bridge project starts in 2014, northern Kentucky and Cincinnati could save $18 billion in fuel and congestion costs, according to the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition.
Following the defeat of Issue 2, the Ohio Senate is taking on redistricting reform, but opponents in the House say there isn’t enough time to tackle the issue. The current redistricting system is widely abused by politicians on both sides of the aisle in a process called “gerrymandering,” which involves politicians redrawing district lines in politically beneficial ways. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County, heavily diluting the impact of Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban vote.
Ohio employers are more aware of wellness than employers in other states, a new survey found. Wellness programs are one way employers can bring down health-care expenditures as cost shifting feels the pinch of diminishing returns.
However, Ohio ranked No. 35 in a nationwide health survey.
Ohio district didn't win federal Race to the Top education funds in the latest competition.
Internet cafe legislation is dead for the year. Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus announced the legislation, which essentially puts Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors out of business. State officials, including Attorney General Mike DeWine, have been pushing for regulations or a ban on the businesses because they see them as a breeding ground for criminal activity.
The final 2011-2012 school report cards will not be available until 2013. The report cards were originally delayed due to an investigation into fraudulent attendance reports.
Michigan may have approved its anti-union right-to-work law, but Ohio is not eager to follow. State Democrats are already preparing for a possible battle over the issue, but even Republican Gov. John Kasich says he’s not currently interested in a right-to-work law.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is loosening hazardous waste reporting requirements for companies. If the rules go into effect, regulated facilities will report on hazardous waste once every two years instead of once a year. The rule changes will get a public hearing on Dec. 19 in Columbus.
In a question-and-answer session Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” (Hint: The answer to both questions is yes.) The Supreme Court recently agreed to tackle the same-sex marriage issue. CityBeat wrote about same-sex marriage in Ohio here.
Tea party activists are working to gather the 380,000 signatures needed to get the Ohio Workplace Freedom Act on the ballot. They have until July 3.
The Michigan House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the first of two right-to-work bills, both of which were passed by the state Senate last week. Gov. Rick Snyder has told multiple media outlets that he could sign the bills as early as Wednesday.
Michigan would be the 24th right-to-work state in the nation and the second in the Midwest. Indiana passed a similar law earlier this year.
Members of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus wore red carnations — Ohio’s state flower and a symbol of the labor movement — at the Statehouse Tuesday to show support for Michigan workers.
“Put simply, so called ‘right to work’ is wrong. Statistics show states with this anti-working family legislation have lower wages and higher poverty rates,” Ohio state Rep. Connie Pillich, D-Montgomery, wrote in an emailed statement.
“We will continue to stand together and fight against these unfair attacks on workers in Ohio, Michigan and across the country.”
Despite the effort to put a right-to-work law on the ballot next year — a similar effort was unsuccessful in 2012 — it doesn’t seem like Ohio is in any rush to join Michigan and Indiana.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has higher priorities than passing a right-to-work law. The newspaper reports that Ohio added 127,000 jobs in the past two years and ranks fourth nationally and first in the Midwest in terms of job creation.
Kasich said the agenda for the last two years of his first term include tax cuts, an education overhaul and infrastructure improvement to keep the state competitive.
“I have an agenda that I think is going to benefit the state of Ohio,” Kasich told the newspaper. “We’re doing very well vis-a-vis the rest of the country now, and I think if we continue to pursue the agenda I have and the legislature has, I think we’ll continue to be successful.”
FUN FACT: Michigan's right-to-work bill will be signed into law in the Romney Building. George Romney, former Michigan governor and father of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was an opponent of right-to-work laws.
The Glenn is under construction in San Diego, where a keel-laying ceremony signifying the initial step in construction was held earlier this week. When it enters the fleet, which is expected in 2015, the vessel will be 837 feet long and displace 80,000 tons when loaded. Navy officials say they can use it for both warfighting and humanitarian missions. The ship was in the Pentagon budget before the current debate over the fiscal cliff and defense spending cuts got under way. Meanwhile, NASA is no longer able to put astronauts in orbit because funding for manned flights ended when the space shuttles were grounded.
John Glenn was a Marine pilot who became one of NASA’s seven original Mercury astronauts. He was friendly with John F. Kennedy, who recruited him to become a politician. During his years in the Senate, he was among Ohio’s most popular elected officials. Glenn ran for president in 1984 but didn’t make it out of the primaries. He was a flop as a national candidate.
Navy officials say they plan to build three ships similar to the USNS John Glenn, which are designed as giant sea-going supply and troop platforms. They can carry three hovercraft for amphibious operations. The Navy calls the ships Mobile Landing Platforms and says the design is based on the huge commercial supertankers that carry crude oil from Alaska.
Glenn is in his nineties and attended the keel-laying ceremony. He is active and campaigned last fall for President Barack Obama’s reelection.
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.
Activists gathered on Thursday outside of the West Chester office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, asking the House’s top official to look at reducing military spending when coming up with a budget.
The group of nearly two dozen — which included nuns, a veteran, a retiree advocate, a small businessman and progressive activists — held signs reading, “It is time for Nation Building in the United States. Cut Massive Pentagon Budget Now!” and “End Tax Breaks for Richest 2%.”
“We’re here today in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s West Chester office to drive home the fact that we believe that over 50 percent of the budget magically, this elephant in the House, has failed to be discussed as we discuss taking away services that provide human needs,” said David Little of Progress Ohio.
“Any discussion that fails to address excesses in that budget is failing the American people.”
Little added that it was possible to support the troops and veterans without spending billions on pointless wars.
Butler County attorney and Navy veteran Bruce Carter said the military can be more efficient in what he called the changing mission.
“When you refuse to have a discussion on over half of the budget, that’s like trying to tell the Bengals to win a game without going over the 50 yard line,” he said.
The group had a letter to deliver to Boehner, which contained what they called a statement of principles.
“We believe in a holistic approach to the budget crisis, and in order to protect the middle-class, cuts to the Pentagon need to be at the forefront,” the letter states. “We understand that Pentagon cuts are a controversial issue, however, Pentagon cuts in the sequester do not threaten our national security.”
The letter suggests that some of the money currently being spent on the Defense Department goes to providing services for veterans.
The military accounted for about 52 percent — or $600 billion — of discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.
In contrast, education, training and social services collectively made up 9 percent of the budget.
The group of four activists weren’t allowed into Boehner’s office, but a young staffer met them outside. He said that the speaker thought everything should be on the table when it came to budget cuts.
The resolution expresses council’s dissatisfaction with the Ohio Legislature for granting “special privileges to the oil and natural gas industry” and asks it to repeal any laws that pre-empt local control over drilling.
The resolution targets the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which uses chemically-laced water to free up natural gas trapped in shale formations underneath Ohio.
Fracking opponents worry that the chemicals used in the fluid — which companies aren’t required to disclose — can be toxic to people and animals.
Prior to the council vote, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan held a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
“I believe local officials should have a say on all matters related to potentially hazardous activities such as fracking,” Quinlivan said in an emailed statement. “I urge my colleagues to send a strong message to the Ohio Governor, the Ohio Legislature, and Cincinnati residents by passing this resolution.”
A 2004 state law puts regulation of oil and gas drilling
under the state’s purview, preventing municipalities from regulating
drilling on their land.
Copies of the resolution will be sent to Gov. John Kasich and members of the Ohio General Assembly elected from the Cincinnati area. The resolution comes after Ohio recently lifted a moratorium on new injection wells, which shoot wastewater deep underground for storage.
There had been a temporary ban on new wells almost a year ago after seismologists said an injection was to blame for 11 earthquakes around the Youngstown area.
City council in August passed an ordinance to band injection wells within city limits. Because the injection well ban doesn’t mention drilling, council hoped it wouldn’t clash with the state law preventing local regulation of oil and gas drilling.
The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every $100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.
The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.
“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same thing we are doing today,” Portune said.
Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to 6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10 years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the first five.
Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.
Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund stable in years to come.
Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow the tax increase to expire.
Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.
Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with either choice.
“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.
Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for the rollback reduction.
Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change, a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make to help out with the stadium funding burden.
The partnership will aid small businesses and startups through crowd funding, which connects multiple potential lenders so no single investor, including the city government, is carrying the a bulk of the burden. Since crowd funding gets more investors involved, it can also raise more money for promising startups and small businesses.
Businesses will be picked through SoMoLend’s typical application process, which emphasizes startups and small businesses. Successful applicants usually have 15 or fewer employees, meet a few standards regarding business and personal finances and prove they actually need a commercial loan. In the past, businesses have raised as much as $1 million in loans with SoMoLend.
Applicants will also have to go through the city’s application process. The city government will look at how many jobs are created, what’s the capital investment involved, how much the city will give relative to private lenders and other similar metrics.
Even as the economy recovers, small businesses and startups are having a tough time getting loans in comparison to bigger businesses. So the focus on small businesses and startups is in part to bring beneficial fairness to the system, says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson. “Access to capital at all levels has to happen. And the city government feels like small businesses are key to growth in our local economy.”
The partnership’s focus on startups is economically sound. Governments and politicians love to herald small businesses as the drivers of economic growth, but studies suggest startups are more deserving of the praise. A paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that young small businesses, or startups, are the key drivers to economic and job growth.
As for why SoMoLend was picked over other platforms, Olberding says location and history played a role: “It’s a local small business, so it’s … demonstrating what we’re talking about. It’s also a demonstrated success in terms of bringing viable businesses to the market.”
The partnership is part of an ongoing effort to spur small businesses and startups in Cincinnati. SBAC was created in 2012 to pave a clearer, better path that encourages such businesses in the city. SBAC reviewed, gave feedback and approved the new partnership earlier today.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, head of SBAC, praised the partnership in a statement: “I am excited that the SBAC approved the city’s new partnership with SoMoLend today. By making city lending more efficient and expanding the network of small businesses receiving city assistance, this new partnership fits well into the SBAC’s goal of making Cincinnati a better place for small business.”