In the past few days, local media outlets have reported heavily on a supposed conflict between Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the city of Cincinnati. Essentially, SORTA wants the transit fund limited, while the city government says it doesn’t want to “undermine the city charter” with limitations.
At its heart, the argument is a political back-and-forth with little consequence. It’s two government agencies at a small divide over legalese in an intergovernmental agreement about how the streetcar will operate and how it will be funded.
The specific issue is SORTA, which runs the Metro bus
system and will operate the streetcar, wants to include phrasing in its
agreement with the city that makes it so the transit fund can’t be used
for the streetcar. In a 7-6 vote Tuesday, SORTA's board pushed its preferred wording along with an application for an $11 million federal grant that will help fund the streetcar.
But the city government claims the limitation would go against the spirit of the city charter, which says the transit fund can be used for “public transit purposes generally and without limitation.”
UPDATE: City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar, although it has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar.
Still, Mayor Mark Mallory’s office has insisted time and time again that funding for the streetcar’s construction and operation is already allocated, so taking any money from the transit fund will be unnecessary. Specifically, the city will tap into casino revenue to operate the streetcar, on top of the $11 million federal grant.
In an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday, Mallory said the real issue goes back to an ongoing lawsuit between SORTA and the city. In 2010, the city diverted money from the transit fund to pay for street lights. That prompted a lawsuit from SORTA, asking the courts to define the limits of the transit fund.
The mayor’s office sees the wording from SORTA as an attempt from the transit agency to score a minor victory in the legal battle. If the city government accepted the wording, it would be agreeing to a limited transit fund, which is essentially what SORTA wants.
SORTA’s wording also makes it so all transit fund money will continue going to the Metro bus system, which is the agency’s sole service today.
But even SORTA says the disagreement is getting blown out of proportion by media outlets and public officials. Sallie Hilvers, spokesperson for SORTA, says the wording in the approved agreement was the board’s attempt to ensure the transit fund isn’t used for the streetcar, but, for the most part, it’s “really just procedures.”
Hilvers insisted the disagreement over wording has plenty
of time to be worked out, and it will not hinder collaboration between
the city of Cincinnati and SORTA.
The agreement will need to be worked out before summer 2013 for the streetcar to stay on track.
Cincinnati’s Music Hall will be getting renovations, but the project will be much smaller than anticipated. Instead of the previously estimated $165 million, the project, which involves the city leasing the iconic building to the Music Hall Revitalization Company (MHRC) for 75 years, will only cover approximately $95 million.
At a joint press conference Wednesday, Mayor Mark Mallory and Otto Budig, president of MHRC, officially announced the plan, which City Council will take up early next year.
Not many details or a timeline were announced at the press conference, but some information did come to light. The renovations will include more comfortable seating, extra restroom capacity, heating, air conditioning, improved plumbing and new escalator models. During the renovations, Music Hall, home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera and Cincinnati Ballet, will be closed for an estimated 17 months.
“We will do this in a manner that carries with it the surety that the project will be complete,” Budig said. “The worst thing we could do is start this project without the natural resources and pledges available.”
On top of the leasing agreement, the city will also help fund the project through tax credits.
The lease continues the trend of public-private partnerships city government has used to revitalize Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati in recent years. From the Banks to Washington Park, the city of Cincinnati has pushed to be seen as a more attractive, business-friendly environment.
However, that has come with some push back. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and city have previously faced criticisms from homeless advocates for allegedly discriminatory rules at Washington Park, which were later voted down by the Cincinnati Park Board.
Some public officials have also raised concerns about the city giving away too many of its public assets. The 2013 budget currently relies on a proposal that will privatize Cincinnati’s parking assets, a plan that has faced heavy criticism from Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and mayoral candidate John Cranley. City Manager Milton Dohoney argues the privatization plan is necessary to avoid 344 layoffs.
The Ohio Senate will not take up the heartbeat bill and a bill to defund Planned Parenthood in the lame-duck session. The heartbeat bill was called the most radical anti-abortion legislation in the country when it was first proposed. It sought to ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy. However, there have been some rumblings of bringing a new version of the heartbeat bill to the Ohio legislature, and recent moves by Ohio Republicans show a clear anti-abortion agenda. In a statement, Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio cautioned the bills will come up again next year: “Make no mistake about it, the threat to women’s health may be delayed, but it remains. We fully expect anti-choice forces to reintroduce these dangerous attacks on women’s health when the legislature reconvenes in January.”
In a 4-3 ruling, the Ohio Supreme court upheld the state’s redistricting map. Democrats claimed the Ohio House and Senate districts were unconstitutional, while Republicans insisted the map was fine. The Republican-controlled government redrew the districts in a way that favors Republican candidates for public office. The Ohio Supreme Court is skewed heavily in favor of Republicans; six justices are Republicans, while only one is a Democrat.
Ohio high schools have a bit of work to do, according to federal data. Apparently, the state has worse graduation rates for blacks than all but five other states and the District of Columbia. Ohio did manage to improve its graduation rates by more than 2 percent over four years, as required by the federal program Race to the Top.
To avoid an estimated $18 billion in fuel and congestion costs, a coalition wants to speed up the Brent Spence Bridge project. If the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition is successful, the project will begin in 2014 — four years ahead of schedule. But the organization is pushing a public-private relationship that would likely involve tolls, and Kentucky lawmakers oppose that idea.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County were picked to participate in a program that puts the long-term unemployed back to work. The program was originally started in southwest Connecticut in 2011 by WorkPlace with some success. It placed 70 percent of participants in jobs, with 90 percent moving to full-time employment.
Tourism is boosting Greater Cincinnati’s economy. An impact study from the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network found tourism is responsible for one in 10 local jobs. Visitors to Cincinnati spent $4.1 billion in the area last year.
Another good sign for the economy: Personal income went up in Greater Cincinnati and nationwide. In Cincinnati, personal income went up by 4.6 percent in 2011, lower than the nationwide rise of 5.2 percent.
Unfortunately, Greater Cincinnati still has a lot of vacant homes. On Numbers ranked the area No. 31 out of 109 in terms of vacant homes.
The Cincinnati Police Department is encouraging fitness through intra-department competition.
The University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning is one of the five best design schools in the world.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was re-elected to the presidency of the local chapter of the NAACP.
Seven AIDS activists protested nude in U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s office yesterday. The protesters were part of ACT-UP, and they were protesting federal budget cuts to HIV programs that are set to kick in next year.
The bill regulating puppy mills passed the Ohio Senate. Animal advocates claim lax regulations and oversight have made Ohio a breeding ground for poor practices. CityBeat previously covered puppy mills and how they lead to Ohio’s dog auctions.
The Ohio inspector general released a report criticizing the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) for mismanaging stimulus funds going to southwest Ohio. The findings echoed a lot of what was found in previous reports for other regions of the state.
The Earth’s core may have clues about our planet’s birth.
The biggest deficit plug will come from privatizing parking services, which the city manager’s office says will bring in $40 million in one-time revenue and additional revenue over 30 years as part of a long-term contract. About $21 million of the initial lump-sum payment will be used to close the 2013 budget deficit.
In the past, Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld voiced concerns about privatizing parking: “I’ll await more details, but it seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to forgo a steady revenue stream for a lump-sum payment. Cincinnati needs a structurally balanced budget and can’t keep relying on one-time sources. Places like Chicago and Indianapolis have seen their parking rates more than double following privatization — that’s a bad deal for citizens, and something we don’t need while we’re experiencing an urban renaissance.”
Another concern is whether the city’s current parking employees will be laid off if parking services are sold. Dohoney said the deal for privatization will require the winning bidder to interview all American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) workers. Full-time workers who do not join the winning bidder will be hired in other parts of the city government. “No AFSCME employee will be placed on the street if they are full-time as a result of this effort,” Dohoney claimed.
The rest of the deficit plug will come in cuts, cost shifting, savings, revenue, embedded growth and one-time sources. Among these, notable items include the elimination of the Mounted Patrol for the Cincinnati Police Department (CPD) and a $610,770 reduction in Human Services Funding. A few departments and programs, including the CPD, will face further minor cuts.
The city manager’s office claims the changes in the budget are necessary mostly due to changes at the state level. Specifically, the state government cut the Local Government Fund by 50 percent and eliminated the tangible personal property tax reimbursement and estate tax; altogether, losing these sources of revenue cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in the 2013 budget.
Facing the large deficit, Dohoney said he wanted to avoid across-the-board cuts and other major cuts to growth and investment programs: “You’re not competitive if that’s your approach.”
The budget also includes some spending increases. The Focus 52 Program will focus on redevelopment projects in Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. If it’s successful, the new program will “grow the city’s revenue base, create new jobs and/or increase the population of the city,” according to the city manager’s office.
In other budget news, the city manager will also send out the Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which sets the millage rate for the operating property tax. That proposal seeks to raise the millage rate from 5.9 mills to 6.1 mills, which will provide an estimated $31 million in revenue, up from $23.5 million. For a $100,000 residential property, that means a tax hike of $46.
Screw Cyber Monday; it’s budget day! The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners is set to vote on its 2013 budget today. The initial vote was delayed when commissioners couldn’t all agree on the full details. In City Council, a memo revealed the budget should be unveiled today. One part of the Cincinnati proposal has already been hinted at by a previous memo from the city manager: privatized parking.
On Wednesday, City Council approved Plan Cincinnati. The master plan, which is the first the city has undertaken in 32 years, creates short-, medium- and long-term goals. Built largely on public feedback, the plan emphasizes Cincinnati’s urban core with new transportation programs, community health initiatives, new housing options and more. CityBeat previously covered the plan in-depth here.
In Hamilton County, 81 people voted twice. The votes, which involved provisional ballots, only reflects about 0.2 percent of the county’s vote, but it shows some of the confusion and inefficiencies of modern elections. One particular problem is some elderly voters cast absentee ballots before the election and then filed provisional ballots on Election Day.
A California firm is using Alaskan pension dollars to buy hundreds of homes in Greater Cincinnati. The real estate will be used to provide corporate rentals.
Some education advocates are worried state education agencies won't have the proper time and resources to implement HB 555. A few provisions will have to be ready by mid-2013, which some advocates see as too little time; but the president of the Ohio Board of Education remains confident. HB 555 will radically reform the state’s school report card system, which evaluates and grades schools. Some state officials are worried the new standards, which will be measured in part by new standardized tests, will be too tough. An early simulation of the new report cards in May showed Cincinnati Public Schools dropping from the second-best rating of “Effective” under the current system to a D-, with 23 schools flunking and Walnut Hills High School retaining its top mark with an A.
State Medicaid costs are rising, but more slowly. The slowdown may be partially attributed to Gov. John Kasich’s reforms of the program, which is one of the most prominent costs in state budgets around the country.
Gas prices in Ohio have gone up in the last week. The prices were higher than they were in 2011, and some experts say instability in the Middle East is to blame.
Ohio is looking good for a revival of the pharmaceutical industry. That’s good news since the industry could be on the cusp of a “golden era of renewed productivity and prosperity,” according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Unfortunately for the pharmaceutical industry, the next generation of water pollution could be flushed drugs.
Here is the pope made out of condoms.
Science has been hard at work in 2012. Here is a list of the seven greatest engineering innovations of the year. The list includes the world’s largest semi-submersible vessel, which can be used as an offshore dock, and a carbon-neutral office building, which is arguably the most sustainable workplace ever.
The greatest public service announcement ever made:
Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved the first comprehensive plan in the last 32 years to direct future city growth and development.
All eight present members of council voted in favor of the plan, after a 10-minute “love-fest,” as Councilwoman Yvette Simpson put it, praising one another and the team that created the plan. The nine-member team worked on the comprehensive plan for the last three years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was not present for the vote.
“I can’t use the term that Joe Biden, our vice president used, but this is a big deal,” said Mayor Mark Mallory, referencing an infamous gaffe where Biden uttered an expletive into a hot microphone.
The 228-page plan emphasizes urban development over suburban, citing population movement back into city centers.
The plan focuses on key areas and offers proposals for the near-, middle- and long-terms.
These include proposals to stabilize residential and business areas, improve quality of life, improve housing choices and affordability and offer alternative means of transportation to automobiles, including the controversial streetcar.
CityBeat previously covered the plan in depth.
Plan Cincinnati is expected to be approved by City Council Wednesday, according to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. The plan was unanimously approved by the Livable Communities committee last night. Plan Cincinnati, which is Cincinnati’s first comprehensive plan in 30 years, emphasizes the city’s urban center through new infrastructure, transportation options and goals to make downtown residents stay in the area. CityBeat previously covered the plan in greater detail here.
At the request of the sole Democrat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, a vote on the 2013 budget is being delayed by one week. Commissioner Todd Portune asked Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, for the vote delay to address funding to juvenile courts and plans for future financial stability. Hartmann agreed to the delay, noting consensus is important for budget issues. The budget won’t raise taxes, but it could put 150 Hamilton County employees out of jobs.
Wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of fluids used during the fracking process, will soon be popping up around Ohio again. The wells are the first to get state approval since earthquakes around Youngstown in December were blamed on nearby wastewater injection wells. It’s clear little — not even earthquakes — will stop Ohio’s fracking boom, but at what cost? It is generally accepted switching from coal to natural gas would bring down pollution that causes global warming, but some findings from Australia suggest problems still lay ahead. One study found an abnormal amount of greenhouse gases around an Australian fracking site. Methane leakage in particular is a problem at natural gas sites because over 100 years methane is 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cincinnati home sales shot up in October, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The report paints a great picture for the city’s housing economy. Housing was one of the biggest sectors hit by the financial crisis of 2007-2008, so a recovery in housing is a sign the economic downturn could soon be a thing of the past.
University of Cincinnati researchers want to know if testing emergency-room patients for HIV makes sense. ER doctors worry about longer wait times, disrupted operations and possible interference with emergency services, but the health benefits could outweigh the negatives.
FirstGroup America is looking into moving from its Cincinnati headquarters. The company originally got a million-dollar tax incentive from the city for moving to downtown.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich hopes his rejection of Obamacare’s health exchanges will ignite some re-election fundraising. Kasich is up for re-election in 2014. Exchanges are subsidized, heavily regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace. With Kasich’s rejection, the federal government will manage Ohio’s exchange.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted finally had a good day in court on Saturday. In a reversal from the lower court’s ruling, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said ballots without proper identification should not be counted. It’s estimated that, at most, the ruling will affect about 2,000 votes.
A Dayton man allegedly robbed the same bank twice.
Behold, the greatest thing the internet has ever created: The Spice Kittens livestream.
With a nose cell transplant, paralyzed dogs are walking again.
City Council’s Livable Communities committee is expected to hear about and likely vote tonight on the city’s first master plan in more than 30 years. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered, seeks a renewed emphasis on Cincinnati’s urban core through new infrastructure and transportation options. It was put together largely based on public feedback.
The “fiscal cliff,” which is really more of a self-induced austerity crisis from the federal government, could seriously hurt Ohio schools. Educators around the state, including Cincinnati schools, are expecting a cut of about 8 percent in federal funding. A Cincinnati Public Schools levy was recently renewed after a decade of cuts and problems at the school district.
Gov. John Kasich has finally made a decision for Obamacare: The state will not run the health exchanges that are a big part of the plan. With the governor’s decision, managing the health exchanges now falls to the federal government. Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, defended the governor’s decision by pointing out that even if the state managed the exchanges, the federal government would always have the final say, creating an arrangement “just doesn’t make sense for the state.” Exchanges are subsidized, heavily regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace.
Cincinnati’s economy is being carried largely by manufacturing, and that looks likely to continue.
Business schools at the University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Xavier University and Northern Kentucky University were found to be among the nation’s best, according to the Princeton Review. Still, none of the schools made the top 10 rankings for the review’s 11 categories.
City Council is holding a public hearing today to find out what the city should do with casino revenue. Some of the council members already have plans, but City Council wants public feedback to shape the final decision.
In other council news, the Human Services Advisory committee recommended funding for 56 out of 58 programs. The two programs left out are the Over-The-Rhine Kitchen and a social education program offered by the Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati’s Metro bus service will be getting a revamp in the next few years. The company released a comprehensive plan with short-term and long-term goals that focus on increasing travel speed and reach.
Charter schools are where a large amount of Ohio kids are getting their education. This is despite the fact that, in general, traditional public schools perform better than charter schools, according to state standards.
Food stamps for Ohio families are getting reduced by about $25 a month. The good news is the cut is lower than expected.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction released a “re-inspection report” for the Lake Erie prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America. According to the new report, CCA has come a long way and corrected many of the violations the state originally found in the private prison. The last report found the prison, which CCA bought in 2011, was riddled with problems. CityBeat looked at private prisons, their problems and the shady connections between state officials and CCA in an in-depth report.
A report found more Ohioans are taking advantage of a national settlement that lets households refinance their mortgages. In total, more than 4,500 Ohioans have refinanced for $165 million in consumer relief. Still, many eligible Ohioans are not taking advantage of the opportunity.
Here are pictures of a tiny octopus, fighting female robots and an orange-powered battery.
The Anna Louise Inn today won another case in front of the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals. The ruling upheld a Historic Conservation Board decision that gave Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the inn, a conditional use permit that will allow the social service agency to carry on with a planned $13 million renovation. Western & Southern in a statement given to reporters following the decision vowed to appeal the ruling.
At the hearing, Western & Southern attorney Francis Barrett, who is
the brother of Western & Southern CEO John Barrett, continued his
argument that the Anna Louise Inn is a “high-crime area.” The accusation
is meant to disqualify the Inn for the conditional use permit, which
requires that the building’s use will not be detrimental to public
health and safety or negatively affect property values in the
neighborhood. During an Aug. 27 hearing, the Historic Conservation Board found no direct evidence connecting residents of the Anna Louise Inn to
criminal activity in the neighborhood.
Barrett also emphasized Western & Southern’s stance that continuing on the current path set by the Historic Conservation Board is a waste of taxpayer money because the Inn is receiving public funds. Barrett labeled the funds “excessive expenditures.” However, that argument has little bearing on whether the Inn deserves a conditional use permit, because it’s not relevant to zoning laws and rules.
Tim Burke, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s attorney, began his defense of the Anna Louise Inn by calling the ongoing case one of the most “frustrating” of his career. He suggested Western & Southern is just continuing its attempts to delay the Inn’s renovations as much as possible.
Regarding the charge that the Anna Louise Inn has adverse effects on public health and safety, Burke told the Zoning Board of Appeals that the only adverse effect is on Western & Southern because “they want the property and can’t get it.” He claimed there is no proof that the Anna Louise Inn perpetuates crime in the area, and testimony and evidence presented in the case has proven as much.
The case is only one of many in the ongoing conflict between Cincinnati Union Bethel and Western & Southern, which CityBeat previously covered in-depth (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers,” issue of Aug. 15). Cincinnati Union Bethel wants to renovate the Anna Louise Inn in part with $10 million in tax credit financing from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and a $2.6 million loan funded by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was awarded by the city. Western & Southern says it wants to use the Lytle Park area, where the Inn is located, for private economic development.
The series of cases began when Judge Norbert Nadel ruled on May 27 that the Anna Louise Inn classifies as a “special assistance shelter,” which requires a different kind of zoning permit than the previous classification of “transitional housing.” That ruling was appealed by Cincinnati Union Bethel to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals, which held hearings on Oct. 30 and is expected to give a ruling soon.
A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand elsewhere.
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development deals.
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is treated equal,” Young said.
General Electric is officially moving 1,800 employees to The Banks, the entertainment and retail complex on Cincinnati's riverfront. But it took some deal-sweetening by the city to make it happen. City Council and Hamilton County Commissioners on Monday approved a landmark deal that incentivizes the company to consolidate some administrative and finance jobs at the site, which will be 10 stories tall and cost about $90 million to build.
The city's bid beat out Norwood and other locations, though the city and county had to offer one of the most generous deals in the region's history. The company will receive a 75-percent property tax abatement for the next 15 years, with the other 25 percent of those taxes going to Cincinnati Public Schools. Eighty-five percent of employees' city earnings taxes will also flow back to the company over that period of time.
GE said the incentives are needed because moving to The Banks will be about 15 percent more expensive than other bids it considered. The city hopes the deal will lead to a long-term payoff. County officials tout studies showing big benefits. The Economics Center for Education and Research at UC ran the numbers on the deal and suggest that the project could bring in $1 billion in overall economic activity. The site should reach full capacity by 2018.
The estimated average salary of an employee at the site will be about $79,000, company officials say.
Despite some questions about how quickly the deal came together, both council and county commissioners passed it unanimously during an unusual joint meeting at Great American Ball Park. Council member P.G. Sittenfeld praised the project but noted the city will need to remember to balance fairness and overall impact in the future. Council member Chris Seelbach used the occasion to tout the streetcar, tweeting that it was a big factor in GE's choice to move to The Banks.
Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”
With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.
A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.
Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.
To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.
Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.
Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat.
After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new
journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat
Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and
my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read
my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.
Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.
But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.
Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more
firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response
(SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the
city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits
of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick
up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently
sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the
Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.
The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by
unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide
preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky
Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies
with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.
Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.
Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.
Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.
Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.
Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.
The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.
A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.
Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.email@example.com.
A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.
Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.
Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.
Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”
The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.
Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.
Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.
Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”
Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.
Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”
Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.
Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.
Kathy Wilson: “Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.
At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Headline: “Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”
“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times email@example.com.
About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program. While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.
With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels, Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau established the organization to reach out to national journalists and continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years. “Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work for companies based here.”
The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and chemicals alone. . The rest of the costs come through increased snow plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy salt when it’s cheap.
Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati neighborhoods.
Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.
The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.
Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.
Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.
There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls firstname.lastname@example.org.
City leaders will break ground Thursday for the Anna Louise Inn’s new location at Mount Auburn.
The start of construction begins the next phase for the Anna Louise Inn and owner Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) after a failed legal battle against financial giant Western & Southern forced the Inn to move.
CUB sought to keep the Inn at the Lytle Park location that has housed struggling women since 1909. Western & Southern demanded the property so it could round out its development vision for the Lytle Park neighborhood. (CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.)
After nearly two years of litigation held up CUB’s renovations at the Lytle Park location, both sides abruptly reached a settlement and announced the Anna Louise Inn would move. Many supporters of the Anna Louise Inn saw the settlement and decision to move as a huge loss.
The $14 million project comes through the collaboration of various organizations, according to the city. It’s expected construction will finish in the spring of 2015.
The facility will consist of four stories with 85 studio apartments, the Off-the-Streets program’s residential dormitory-style units, community space and CUB’s office.
The city’s attendee list for the groundbreaking includes CUB, Mayor John Cranley, City Council, Mount Auburn Community Council, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing, U.S. Bank, Model Group and various other officials and organizations from the city and state.
But there is one notable omission: Western & Southern.
An anti-gentrification organization says development in southern Over-the-Rhine and downtown is leaving out low- and middle-income residents. The People’s Coalition for Equality and Justice (TPCEJ) cautions it’s not against development, but it supports policies that would seek to help more people take advantage of the revitalization of Over-the-Rhine and downtown, such as more affordable housing, protections for renters’ rights, rent control and the formation of tenants’ unions. The agency behind much of the development in Over-the-Rhine and downtown, 3CDC (Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation), says “people tend to over-romanticize what this neighborhood was” and points to some examples of 3CDC-developed affordable housing as evidence the agency is trying to keep the neighborhood mixed-income.Related: Some studies found gentrification could benefit longtime residents.
A two-hour streetcar pass could cost $1.75, and a 24-hour pass could cost $3.50, according to a new model unveiled yesterday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager. The same model set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight. Under the model, city officials expect 3,000 daily boardings, but Grether cautioned that’s a very conservative estimate and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games.But the City Council-enforced streetcar delay could cost more than expected after the steel company originally contracted for the $132.8 million project took another job while council members decided the fate of the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick told council the company’s decision could push construction of a maintenance facility by two months if the city doesn’t hire a steel supplier from outside the region.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald yesterday clarified he supports the death penalty, which aligns him with his Republican opponent, incumbent John Kasich, on the issue. FitzGerald’s remark comes after the debate over the death penalty re-ignited in Ohio following the execution of convicted killer and rapist Dennis McGuire, who took 26 minutes to die after state officials used a new cocktail of drugs never tried before in the United States. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction told CityBeat it’s reviewing McGuire’s death, as it does following every execution.
Commentary: “Death Penalty Brings More Costs than Benefits.”
After receiving support from family planning services and abortion provider Planned Parenthood, Democrats running for Ohio’s executive offices re-emphasized their support for abortion rights.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce
today whether he’ll challenge FitzGerald’s gubernatorial campaign in a
Democratic primary. (Update: Despite previously telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made up his mind, Portune canceled his announcement and said he has no final decision yet, according to Carl Weiser, politics editor at The Enquirer.)
Hamilton County commissioners showed openness to keeping some early voting downtown even if the county moves its Board of Elections to a Mount Airy facility. Moving the board along with the county’s crime lab would allow commissioners to consolidate government services.Cincinnati’s economy should grow faster than previously expected, one economist says.
Ten major projects worth more than $1.4 billion are in the planning stages or underway in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.
Ohio meets voting standards set by President Barack Obama’s bipartisan election commission, with the one exception of online voter registration, according to Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday announced the creation of a statewide taskforce to combat heroin abuse.
Virtual reality could help people see what gender swaps would be like.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
At first glance, it might seem like a rail line between downtown Cincinnati and the city of Milford would earn support from the same people who back the $132.8 million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters, including advocacy group Cincinnatians for Progress, say they oppose the idea and its execution.
Critics of the overall project, called the Eastern Corridor, recently pointed to a November study from HDR. Despite flowery language promising a maximized investment, HDR found seven of 10 stations on the $230-$322 million Oasis rail line would result in low economic development, five of 10 stations would provide low access to buses and bikes, and the intercity line would achieve only 3,440 daily riders by 2030.
HDR’s findings for the Oasis line stand in sharp contrast to its study of Cincinnati’s streetcar project. The firm found the streetcar line in Over-the-Rhine and downtown would generate major economic development and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Given the poor results for the Oasis line, streetcar
supporters say local officials should ditch the Oasis concept and
instead pursue the 2002 MetroMoves plan and an expansion of the
streetcar system through a piecemeal approach that would create a central transit spine through the region.
“To have (the Oasis line) be our first commuter rail piece in Cincinnati … just doesn’t make sense to me,” says Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress.
MetroMoves spans across the entire city and region, with the rail line along I-71 from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to downtown Cincinnati to King’s Island fostering particularly high interest.
Voters rejected the MetroMoves plan and the sales tax hike it involved in 2002, but streetcar supporters say public opinion will shift once the streetcar becomes reality in Cincinnati.
“That’s been proven in other cities, especially ones that have not historically been transit-oriented,” Bauman says, pointing to Houston and Miami as examples of cities that built spines that are now being expanded.
Opposition to the Oasis line is also more deeply rooted in a general movement against the Eastern Corridor project. The unfunded billion-dollar project involves a few parts: relocating Ohio 32 through the East Side, the Oasis rail line and several road improvements from Cincinnati to Milford.
Supporters of the Eastern Corridor claim it would ease congestion, at least in the short term, and provide a cohesiveness in transportation options that’s severely lacking in the East Side.
Opponents argue the few benefits, some of which both sides agree are rooted in legitimate concerns, just aren’t worth the high costs and various risks tied to the project.
“When it comes to widening roads and highways, it’s kind of like loosening your belt at Thanksgiving. Somehow traffic always fills to fit,” Bauman says. “Highway expansion, especially in urban areas, is not the future. It’s not even the present in some areas.”
The big concern is that the relocation of Ohio 32 might do to the East Side and eastern Hamilton County what I-75 did to the West Side, which was partly obliterated and divided by the massive freeway.
“It hurts the cohesiveness of our communities when you create these big divides,” Bauman argues. “You would see that repeat itself.”
Officials are taking feedback for the Eastern Corridor and Oasis rail line at EasternCorridor.org.
This article was updated to use more up-to-date figures for the cost of the Oasis rail line.