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by German Lopez 12.01.2013 138 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

CAF USA Warns of Streetcar Cancellation Costs

Letter comes on eve of council vote on streetcar project

The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.

The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.

"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.

The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.

For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.

The letter was first posted on the Cincinnati Streetcar Facebook page. Its validity was confirmed in an email to CityBeat from former Mallory staffer Jason Barron.

On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.

Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.

City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.

Read the full letter below:

Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.01.2013 138 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Mayor at 01:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
washington park streetcar rally

Hundreds Walk Streetcar Line in Support of Project

Rally precedes City Council vote to pause and potentially cancel construction

Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.

The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.

On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.

Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.

But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.

Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.

Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.

But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.

Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.01.2013 138 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor at 11:57 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Cranley, New City Council Take Office

Swearing in sets path to contentious moves on streetcar project, parking plan

Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.

Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young  — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.

Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.

Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.

If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.

Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.

A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.

On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.

The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.

Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.

Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.

Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.

Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.

Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.

 
 
by Danny Cross 11.27.2013
 
 
streetcar

Morning News & Stuff

The Cincinnati Enquirer abruptly changed its tone about the streetcar project yesterday, writing in an editorial that the city should continue the project and leaving the newspaper on the opposite side of Mayor-elect John Cranley on the two main issues of the campaign it endorsed just weeks ago.

Fourteen months after publishing an editorial against the streetcar project, the three-member Enquirer editorial board yesterday spelled out why it now supports completing the project, suggesting that a main part of its opposition — and to Roxanne Qualls as mayor — was the current administration’s inability to “argue effectively for the project” that Cranley and other conservatives used to take office during an election that saw extremely low voter turnout.

CityBeat’s German Lopez noted on Twitter the irony of The Enquirer now supporting both the streetcar and parking plan while the candidate it endorsed attempts to unravel both — Cranley already stopped the parking plan. The comment drew a response from Enquirer Editor Carolyn Washburn, who is on the newspaper’s editorial board along with Publisher Margaret Buchanan and Editorial Page Editor David Holthaus.

The editorial includes the following paragraph: “In endorsing Cranley, we said he would ‘have to rein in his dictatorial tendencies and discipline himself to be diplomatic, respectful and collaborative.’ What we’ve seen so far is a matter for concern. Hurling insults at professionals like streetcar project manager John Deatrick isn’t what we need. Deatrick enjoys a good reputation as someone who has managed The Banks project and the rebuild of Fort Washington Way. He needs to stay on the streetcar project.”

The editorial was published the same day City Council put completing the project into law and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld announced his decision to support the project’s completion, which Lopez pointed out leaves Council short of the six votes required for an emergency clause that would immediately halt the project without leaving it open to referendum. Without the emergency clause, streetcar supporters could gather the required signatures to put a 5-4 cancellation vote to referendum, which would force the city to continue working on the project until voters decide on it in November.

Mayor-elect Cranley will hold a vote to stop the project on Monday. With Sittenfeld set to vote against halting the project, Cranley will need either newly elected David Mann or Kevin Flynn to vote in favor of stopping it. Both are on the record as being against the project but have left room to consider the financial realities before making their final decisions. 

Cranley announced this morning that he will name the new city manager at 2 p.m. today. Cranley removed former city manager Milton Dohoney last week.

A story by The Enquirer’s Mark Curnutte yesterday detailed life expectancy disparities among Cincinnati’s poor neighborhoods, finding a 20 year difference at times between citizens of predominantly black or urban Appalachian neighborhoods and people of wealthy white neighborhoods like Mount Lookout, Columbia Tusculum and Hyde Park. The Cincinnati Health Department will release more statistics Tuesday and a community discussion on the issue is set for Jan. 10. 

Pope Francis yesterday criticized the world’s growing wealth disparity, mentioning things like “idolatry of money” and “a new tyranny” in a 50,000-word statement that sharply criticized trickle-down economics.

The Pope via The Washington Post:

"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system. … Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

OTR restaurant Kaze will begin offering lunch hours starting on Black Friday.

Away from home and tired of “Friends-giving” gatherings? Here’s a bunch of restaurants serving good stuff on Thanksgiving day. 

Skip Black Friday craziness and use CityBeat’s Gift Guide to shop local this holiday season. There are also plenty of local retailers you can hit up online if you don't wait until the last minute!

If you’re traveling to some stuck-up East Coast city for Thanksgiving, charge the iPad or whatever because there are going to be some storms.

And high winds might cause the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to take all the air out of the Snoopy balloons so no one flies up into the air like in movies.

The NSA reportedly considered revealing the “porn-browsing history” of certain people considered to have ties to terrorist activity in order to discredit them.   

Great, now America’s durable goods orders are down. Thanks a lot, government shutdown!

At least the country’s jobless claims are back to pre-recession levels. Thanks, Obama?

The University of Cincinnati Bearcats beat UMass Lowell in basketball last night and senior forward Justin Jackson jammed one in the hoop hard.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.26.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 11:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
pg sittenfeld

Sittenfeld to Support Continuing Streetcar Project

Opponents might not have enough votes to prevent referendum if project is canceled

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.26.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Health, Mayor, Streetcar at 07:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Federal funds tied to streetcar project, Mann named vice mayor, local life expectancy varies

For the third time, a representative from the federal government yesterday reiterated to Cincinnati officials that if the $132.8 million streetcar project is canceled, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left to the discretion of the state government, which could allocate the money anywhere in Ohio. The repeated reminders are necessary as Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council prepare to delay or potentially terminate the project once they take office in December. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said even a mere delay could lead to the federal government restricting or outright terminating the federal grant deals. But Cranley, a long-time opponent of the streetcar project, appeared unfazed by the news at a press conference following Carter's thorough explanation. "If we have to, we’ll give the money back," he said.

Cranley yesterday announced his intent to appoint Councilman-elect David Mann as his vice mayor. Cranley said Mann passed the "bus test," an unfortunate hypothetical scenario in which the mayor dies after being hit by a bus. Cranley also cited Mann's numerous accomplishments, ranging from achievements at Harvard University to previous stints as mayor when top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position. Mann promised to work with Cranley to make his administration a success and respectfully disagree but move on when the two men differ.

A Cincinnati Health Department report found life expectancy can vary by 20 years from one part of Cincinnati to another. Black men in particular can expect to live nearly 10 years less than white men. The Health Department said in a press release that it wants to find out why there's such a disparity.

A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. John Kasich still ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a 44 to 37 percent match-up, but FitzGerald is gaining ground. About 71 percent of Ohioans in the poll said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him, so FitzGerald still has time to build positive name recognition while Kasich has an opportunity to paint his opponent in a negative light before the November 2014 election.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters might be investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for improperly voting.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cancel an automatic recount of the Nov. 5 vote, which Quinlivan was entitled to after she placed 10th place in the City Council race by only 859 votes.

The grand jury for the Steubenville, Ohio, rape investigation indicted four people, including a school superintendent.

Four Ohio corrections officers were fired over the escape of an inmate serving a life sentence for rape, officials announced Monday.

The University of Cincinnati is aiming for an attendance record when it hosts Louisville for a Dec. 5 game at Nippert Stadium.

The deadline to select Medicare coverage is Dec. 7 at midnight.

Scientists could be on the verge of learning how to erase and rewrite memories.

Morning News and Stuff will most likely be out of service until Monday, Dec. 2 as CityBeat staff celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
• Main: @CityBeatCincy
• News: @CityBeat_News
• Music: @CityBeatMusic

• German Lopez: @germanrlopez

 
 
by German Lopez 11.25.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council at 02:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Cranley Appoints Mann as Vice Mayor

Both mayor-elect and councilman-elect take office on Sunday

Mayor-elect John Cranley on Monday announced he will appoint Councilman-elect David Mann to act as vice mayor.

“Quite simply, he passes the bus test,” Cranley said at a press conference, suggesting that Mann is capable of doing his job if the mayor were to die after getting hit by a bus. “He’s the one guy who can serve as mayor and preserve the city’s heritage.”

Cranley cited Mann’s numerous accomplishments, including his time with the prestigious Harvard Law Review journal and previous stints as mayor when the top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position.

Mann and Cranley promised to work together, even if they don’t agree on every issue.

“Your success will be the city’s success,” Mann said to Cranley. “When we disagree, we’ll disagree with respect and go forward.”

Speaking on priorities he shares with Cranley, Mann outlined his intentions to structurally balance the budget, cancel the parking plan, investigate whether the city can afford to terminate the streetcar project, tackle the city’s high poverty rates and refocus city funding to benefit all local neighborhoods.

Cranley and Mann will officially take office on Sunday, along with the rest of the new City Council.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.25.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, Streetcar at 02:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
streetcar

FTA: City to Lose Federal Funds If Streetcar Is Canceled

Clarification necessary as mayor-elect discusses canceling project

Although it has already been explicitly stated in two letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the $132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money to any project in Ohio.

The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not going to happen.

Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government would react to such circumstances.

According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would break the city’s agreement with the federal government and lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds, ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the deal altogether.

Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.

“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”

But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were canceled.

President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.

At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.

“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.

Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.21.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar at 04:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

City: Canceling Streetcar Could Nearly Reach Cost of Completion

Only $7.5-$24.5 million left after fully shutting down project, paying back feds

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Thursday revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project.

That means the city could potentially spend more than 94 percent of the project’s total costs before it manages to fully close down the streetcar project, which is currently undergoing construction and tied up to various federal grants and business contracts.

The presentation was given in advance of Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council taking office in December. Cranley is an ardent opponent of the streetcar project, and a majority of the City Council says it wants to pause the project and consider cancellation.

Cranley’s proposed alternative to the streetcar — a trolley bus system — would cost $10-$15 million in capital funds, according to supporters of the rubber-tire trolley alternative. If streetcar cancellation costs were to reach the high end of the city’s estimate and the trolley bus is paid for, the city could end up spending $140.3 million to cancel the streetcar project and build a considerably less ambitious trolley bus line about $7.5 million more than it would cost to simply complete the streetcar project.

If it’s completed, Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen says operating the streetcar would cost between $3.4-$4.5 million each year, which city officials say could come from various potential sources, including a special improvement district that would raise property taxes within three blocks of the streetcar route.

But the operating budget cost would be a wash if Cranley pursues the trolley bus system, which, according to advocates, will cost slightly more to operate than the streetcar. Cranley says the operating cost for the trolley bus is concerning if it holds true.

Following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley held a press conference in which he flatly denied the current city administration’s estimates. He says he will tap new experts to run over the numbers while the project is put on pause.

We’re going to bring in new, objective leadership, not the current leadership that is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters, which was clearly expressed a couple weeks ago in this election,” Cranley says.

Deatrick’s cancellation projections account for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, which include construction to close the project — such as repaving torn-up roads — and orders on vehicles and other supplies that are already placed but not officially billed.

The federal government has also allocated $44.9 million in federal grants to the streetcar project. In a letter released by the city administration on Nov. 14, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) explicitly stated that $40.9 million would be taken back if the project didn’t adequately progress; the remaining $4 million would be left under the supervision of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of the state.

But Deatrick’s estimates don’t consider the unknown cost of litigation, which would need to come out of a city operating budget that is already structurally imbalanced, according to Meg Olberding, the city’s spokesperson.

The estimates also don’t consider that the city could potentially forgo spending $7.4 million in contingency funds on the project if it goes through completion and remains within budget, which would lower the project’s effective cost to $125.4 million.

If the city cancels the project, Deatrick says it’s also more likely that the city would lose in its legal battle against Duke Energy, which could add up to $15 million in costs. That money is tentatively allocated from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport as the city and Duke argue in court as to who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar tracks.

Those are the potential financial costs, but city officials also warn that canceling the project could have a detrimental impact on the city’s image.

“That’s what the city would be known for forever,” says Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan. “To throw this away would be unconscionable.”

City officials also warn that canceling would be pulling back on a light rail project that President Barack Obama’s administration has clearly prioritized.

“The city-federal relationship is excellent right now,” Deatrick says. “There would be immediate damage to that.”

The 200-plus workers currently involved the project would also be displaced. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson points out pausing or canceling the project in December would leave those workers jobless for the holiday season.

Another concern is the impact of cancellation on the relationship between the federal government and Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates the Metro bus system and will operate the streetcar if it’s completed. If the city is unable to pay back the grants to the federal government within 30 days, Deatrick says the FTA could cut SORTA grants for bus service and potentially halt some local bus services.

One concern raised by Councilman Chris Seelbach and Councilman-elect Kevin Flynn, one of the three potential swing votes in the incoming council of nine, is whether the project’s estimated return on investment is still 2.7-to-1 over 35 years. That number is derived from a 2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was later evaluated and affirmed by the University of Cincinnati.

Deatrick points out the numbers were re-evaluated by HDR in 2011, and they still seem to hold true. He says there are still plenty of vacant buildings along the 3.6-mile streetcar line that could use the encouraged investment, despite some of the revitalization seen in the Over-the-Rhine and downtown areas that the streetcar route would cover.

The 2.7-to-1 return on investment is also “a very, very conservative estimate,” says Deatrick. He claims HDR could have relied on numbers from other cities, such as Portland, Ore., that saw considerably better returns on their streetcar systems.

Still, Flynn and Councilman-elect David Mann, another potential swing vote, say they want to scrutinize the cancellation estimates before making a final decision on the project.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a long-time streetcar supporter who lost to Cranley in her mayoral bid, encourages a re-examination of the numbers. But she cautions, “If what has been presented today stands up to scrutiny, there’s absolutely no reason to cancel the project.”

Flynn won’t say whether he would reconsider his past opposition to the project if the numbers hold up. But Mann says, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”

Both Flynn and Mann also say that they would be willing to pause the project while clearer estimates are crunched.

But that could present a short time window. If the project doesn’t adequately progress, the federal government could take back its grant money. Based on city officials’ estimates, that provides a 30-day window to re-calculate cancellation costs and the potential return on investment.

Pausing the project would also impose its own set of costs as some workers and equipment are retained.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who’s also seen as a swing vote, could not be reached for comment. He’s currently in Washington, D.C., to meet with White House officials for an issue unrelated to the streetcar.

Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.

Updated with Mayor-elect John Cranley’s comments and clearer, corrected numbers.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.15.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Homelessness at 03:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
Drop Inn Center

City Council Seeks $30,000 for Winter Shelter

Money would put shelter closer to $75,000 minimum goal

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday called for the city administration to locate $30,000 to help fund the winter shelter, which would push the shelter closer to the $75,000 it needs to remain open from mid-to-late December through February.

The shelter currently estimates it’s at approximately $32,000 in contributions, according to Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

The city administration now needs to locate the money and turn the transaction into an ordinance, which will officially allocate the funds. Spring says that should go in front of the Budget and Finance Committee in the next couple weeks.

Although the $75,000 is often cited as the shelter’s goal, Spring emphasizes that it’s only the minimum. If early March turns out to be a particularly cold, the shelter would prefer to stay open for some extra time, which would require money above the $75,000 minimum.

But without the city’s contribution, the shelter won’t have enough money to stay open beyond even 30 days.

Spring says the program is necessary to keep Cincinnati’s homeless population from freezing to death. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld echoed the sentiment at Thursday’s committee meeting, saying it would be shameful if the city allowed people to die due to winter conditions.

The winter shelter aims to house 91 people each night and kept roughly 600 people from the cold throughout the 2012-2013 season, according to Spring.

“It’s a relatively cheap program to run,” Spring previously told CityBeat. “To serve about 600 people with $75,000 is pretty good.”

Still, Spring says money has been more difficult to collect this year. He attributes that to reduced enthusiasm as the concept becomes more commonplace.

“When we started doing this three years ago, it was sort of a new thing,” Spring explained. “It’s not so new anymore, which makes bringing in dollars more difficult. But the need hasn’t changed.”

The shelter is put together by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Drop Inn Center, Strategies to End Homelessness, Society of St. Vincent De Paul and Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. It’s supported largely by private contributions.

Anyone can donate to the winter shelter — and Drop Inn Center — at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”

 
 

 

 

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by German Lopez 03.06.2014 43 days ago
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Downtown project gets path forward, feds to pay for firefighters, health board defies mayor

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.

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by German Lopez 03.05.2014 44 days ago
 
 
greenpeace P&G

Morning News and Stuff

Anti-P&G protesters face court, 3CDC to resolve project, mayor denies politics in board pick

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.”

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by German Lopez 03.04.2014 45 days ago
Posted In: News, Development, Budget, City Council, Mayor at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Morning News and Stuff

Mayor blocks downtown development, city leaders push for Google Fiber, budget gap grows

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 reports.

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by German Lopez 02.27.2014 50 days ago
Posted In: News, Parking, History, Mayor, City Council, city manager at 09:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news parking

Morning News and Stuff

Council backs parking plan, strong mayor gains support, museum keeps Dr. Seuss cartoons

City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s operating budget and pension system.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring, would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the plan to voters this November.

Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”

The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.

Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.

Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.

The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.

More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.

Robot suits could make mixed martial arts blood-free.

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by German Lopez 02.25.2014 52 days ago
Posted In: News, LGBT, City Council, Mayor at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

City Pursues Domestic Partner Registry for Same-Sex Couples

Seelbach touts measure to boost Cincinnati’s LGBT inclusion score

The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.

If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.

Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries, including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.

Seelbachs office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a will and other unspecified requirements.

“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.

If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city. Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic partner registries valued at 12 points.

Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014 64 days ago
 
 
news1_headwatersgatewaydistrict_provided

What Is Responsible Bidder?

City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.

The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.

For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.

Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.

What is responsible bidder?

It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.

Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.

The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.

The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.

What about local hire and local preference?

Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.

What’s the conflict about?

The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.

The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.

So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?

No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.

Why are these projects so important?

By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.

If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.

Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?

Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.

Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”

Does responsible bidder benefit workers?

Some research suggests it would.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.

“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”

Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.

Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?

In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.

On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.

Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?

Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.

But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.

Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.

What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?

By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.

Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.

Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.

More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.

For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.

Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.

Why don’t the city and county just compromise?

They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.

The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.

In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.

Which side would win the court battle?

It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.

So what’s next?

At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.

This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.12.2014 65 days ago
Posted In: News, Parking, City Council, Mayor at 04:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

What Is Cranley’s Parking Plan?

Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates

Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.

The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.

Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.

What is Cranley’s parking plan?

It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a “framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.

Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.

• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)

• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.

• Sundays and holidays remain free.

Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.

Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?

No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the future.

Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.

The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.

OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?

Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:

• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage, but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.

• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.

Otherwise, things remain the same as today.

In other words, the city would be on the hook for parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.

But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.

Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.

The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.

But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says its up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.

What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?

Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a better job collecting what its owed. But he says that’s something City Council will have to deal with in the future.

So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?

Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.

The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings. They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city manager.

Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.

Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.

Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial arrangement.

Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of $85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.

In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.)

Cranley characterizes the lump sum as “borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.

Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.

Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary?

It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.

The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)

Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.

Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?

Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.

Politics are also involved. After the contentious streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.

When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?

City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline after that.

This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.10.2014 67 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor, 2014 election, Abortion at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
john cranley

Morning News and Stuff

City plans to add firefighters, abortion clinics under threat, Kasich gets union supporters

Mayor John Cranley yesterday announced a plan to add another recruit class to the Cincinnati Fire Department and effectively eliminate brownouts, but it remains unclear how the class will be paid for in the long-term. The Fire Department applied for a federal grant that would cover the costs for two years, but the city would need to pay for the new firefighters salaries after that. To some City Council members, the proposal, along with other plans to add more police recruits and fund a jobs program for the long-term unemployed, raises questions about what will get cut in the budget to pay for the new costs.

Gov. John Kasich’s administration has led an aggressive effort to shut down abortion clinics around the state, and a clinic in Sharonville, Ohio, could be the next to close after the administration denied a request that would have allowed the clinic to stay open without an emergency patient transfer agreement. The process has apparently involved high-ranking officials in the Ohio Department of Health, which one regulator says is unusual. The threat to the Sharonville clinic follows the passage of several new anti-abortion regulations through the latest state budget, but state officials say the new regulations were unnecessary to deny the Sharonville clinic’s request to stay open.

Unions broadly support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s campaign, but at least one union-funded group, Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT) Ohio, seems to be throwing its weight behind Kasich, a Republican. The surprising revelation shows not every union group has kept a grudge against Kasich and other Republicans after they tried to limit public employees’ collective bargaining rights through Senate Bill 5 in 2011. ACT Ohio says its support for Kasich is related to jobs, particularly Kasich’s support for infrastructure projects. The jobs market actually stagnated after Kasich took office, which some political scientists say could cost Kasich his re-election bid even though economists say the governor isn’t to blame.

Talk of tolls continues threatening the $2.65 billion Brent Spence Bridge project as opposition from Northern Kentuckians remains strong. Ohio and Kentucky officials insist tolls are necessary to replace the supposedly dangerous bridge because the federal government doesn’t seem willing to pick up the tab.

Ohio gas prices keep rising.

A Dayton University student froze to death after falling asleep outside, with alcohol a possible factor.

Airplane pilots often head to the wrong airport, according to new reports.

Watch people tightrope walk between hot air balloons.

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by German Lopez 02.06.2014 71 days ago
Posted In: News, City Council, CPS at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cps offices

City, Schools Join Forces in New Collaborative

ACES promises to address common policy goals shared by both bodies

Cincinnati officials and Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) leaders on Thursday promised to work in greater collaboration through the Alliance for Community and Educational Success (ACES), a new joint operation that will attempt to align the city and school district's shared policy goals.

ACES plans to focus on five areas: population growth, workforce development, safe and livable neighborhoods, wellness and access to technology.

As a few examples, the city could help CPS establish better Internet access at low-income schools, align marketing to attract more residents, sustain school resource officers that help keep schools safe and set up internships within the city's workforce.

"While the city and school system are separate entities, we all know that our schools are the most powerful tool for growth that we've got," said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.

City and school leaders cautioned that the collaborative alone shouldn't affect their budgets, although future initiatives could require new funding.

To enforce the collaborative, City Council's Education and Entrepreneurship Committee and the Cincinnati Board of Education members will meet on a monthly basis. Sittenfeld said he will regularly call on city department directors to make sure city services are being delivered in cooperation with the local school system.

The collaborative will also try to bring in outside education groups, such as the Strive Partnership as it works on providing a universal preschool program in Cincinnati.

School officials praised the announcement.

"Without good schools, we don't have good cities. Without good cities, we don't have good schools," said Alecia Smith, principal of Rothenberg Academy, where city and school leaders gathered for the announcement.

Cincinnati Board of Education President Eve Bolton argued the announcement should make voters more confident when supporting property tax levies for the schools, which voters might be asked to do again in 2015.

"I think it will increase the confidence by the voters and by the taxpayers that what resources exist are being best leveraged together," she said. "There's no infighting or turf wars being waged and wasting their dollars."

City and school leaders previously worked together for CPS' $1 billion school facilities master plan, which officials credit with effectively rebuilding major aspects of the school district.

ACES could also help bring in another major player — the city — into community learning centers, a CPS-led initiative that brings in various outside resources, including health clinics and college preparation programs, to turn schools into service hubs.

Community learning centers have been recognized around the country for their success in lifting low-income schools. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to adopt the model in the city that just elected him last November.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.22.2014 86 days ago
Posted In: City Council, News, Streetcar at 02:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Two-Hour Streetcar Pass Could Cost $1.75

City officials project 3,000 daily boardings

Riding the streetcar will cost $1.75 for two hours and $3.50 for 24 hours, according to a model unveiled Wednesday by Paul Grether, Metro’s rail manager.

The model also set streetcar operating hours at Sunday-Thursday 6 a.m.-10 p.m. and Friday-Saturday 6 a.m.-midnight.

Under the model, the streetcar should sustain 3,000 daily boardings, Grether said. But that estimate is very conservative and excludes special events, such as Reds and Bengals games, he cautioned.

Grether presented the projections during a presentation at City Council’s Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick also released numbers that show the project remains on budget and time.

But Deatrick warned council members of one potential hurdle: The originally contracted steel supplier took another job after City Council delayed the streetcar project for three weeks, which could force the city to delay construction of a maintenance facility for two months or hire a steel supplier outside the region.

City officials also said they are looking at potential funding avenues for the next phase of the streetcar project, which would establish a rail line from Findlay Market up the Vine Street hill. The goal, they said, is to clear up any misconceptions about what the next phase of the project would cost.

The latest federal budget allocated $600 million in TIGER grants and $2 billion in Federal Transit Administration New/Small Starts grants that could go to a future phase of the streetcar project.

City Council would need to approve the next phase of the streetcar project before it could move forward.

 
 
 
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