Cincinnati City Council on Friday approved a budget that relies on parking privatization as a means to plug a $34 million budget deficit while also raising property taxes in 2014.
Mayor Mark Mallory opened up the council meeting with a moment of silent prayer for the 27 students and adults killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.
“I want us all to take a moment and put into perspective what we’re doing today,” he said.
Council voted to increase the property tax by about 24 percent, from 4.6 mills (a mill is equal to one-tenth of a cent) to 5.71 mills. That means Cincinnatians would pay an additional $34 for every $100,000 of their home’s value.
The vote reverses a move made last year by conservatives on council, who reduced property taxes.
Council also passed a budget that relies on $21 million from a proposed lease of the city’s parking facilities — a deal that is expected to be voted on in March. Of the proposals submitted to the city so far, Cincinnati stands to gain $100 million to $150 million in an upfront payment and a share of the profits over the 30-year lease.
“My concern about balancing this budget with a onetime revenue source by selling our parking system seems to be ill advised,” said Independent Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We don’t know how council will vote in March … but we have tied not only the budget to this one time revenue source, but we have also tied reciprocity.”
Council nixed a plan to eliminate tax reciprocity for people who lived in Cincinnati but worked elsewhere and paid income tax in both cities.
Though the budget doesn’t mention parking privatization, council hasn’t mentioned other options to close the budget deficit.
If opponents of parking privatization want to keep facilities under city control, they would have to come up with $21 million in revenue elsewhere or make $21 million in cuts.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld suggested using casino revenue, cutting travel expenses, downsizing the ratio of managers to workers, sharing services with nearby jurisdictions and downsizing the city’s fleet as ways to cut down the budget.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, long an advocate of downsizing the police and fire departments, voted against the property tax increase in protest of what she said was bloated spending on departments that were outpacing population growth.
The budget also requires Cincinnati to accept police and fire recruit classes in 2014, regardless of whether the city gets a federal grant to fund the classes.
The budget also restores the Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol, which patrols downtown on horseback. The city will use $105,000 from off-duty detail fees from businesses that hire off-duty officers. Council also voted to start charging those businesses an extra $1.64 on top of the off-duty pay.
Council also voted to shift $50,000 for repairs and upgrades to the Contemporary Arts Center to pay for maintenance and beautification at Washington Park, which is operated by 3CDC.
In hopes of quashing rumors, City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit authority had voted Tuesday on an agreement with the city that contained a provision saying money from the $42 million transit fund that pays for bus operation can’t be used on the streetcar.
The agreement needs to be signed by the city as well in order to release millions of dollars in federal grants to help fund the streetcar. The city has pledged to match those grants with local funds. SORTA wants to make sure the transit fund isn’t used for that purpose, but the city wants to have the freedom to use that money on any transportation project.
At least one council member questioned the necessity of passing the resolution.
Chris Seelbach said that nobody on council or in the city administration had proposed or would propose using transit money on the streetcar.
“I don’t understand why we would need a provision in any contract that would make us not be able to, when nobody’s proposing that we do it,” he said.
The resolution has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar, but Qualls said she hoped it put citizens’ minds at rest regarding their intentions.
Mayor Mark Mallory on Monday published an editorial in The Enquirer promising that the transit money wouldn’t be used for the streetcar.
He went further on Wednesday and said during council’s meeting that he as mayor would never approve the use of transit money for the operation of the streetcar.
Council also passed a one-month budget for SORTA, requiring that they come back next month to pass another one.
Councilman Chris Smitherman accused Mallory of trying to flex political muscle in the budget to strong-arm SORTA into taking out the provision disallowing the use of transit funds for the streetcar. He questioned the timing of passing a SORTA budget the day after the transit authority voted to prevent transit funds being used for the streetcar.
Councilman Charlie Winburn — council's sole Republican — walked out of a Budget Committee meeting in advance of the vote.
However Councilwoman Yvette Simpson said it made sense to pass the one-month budget because it forbid SORTA from using taxpayer money to sue the city.
City Solicitor John Curp said it was SORTA’s position in the lawsuit that it should be the one deciding how transit funds are used, not the city.
The Ohio Turnpike will remain a public asset, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Many Ohioans have been worried Gov. John Kasich would attempt to privatize the Turnpike in order to pay for transportation projects; instead, the governor will try to generate revenue for state infrastructure projects elsewhere, perhaps by using the Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich will unveil his full plans Thursday and Friday.
The asbestos lawsuit bill is heading to Kasich to be signed. The bill attempts to curb duplicate lawsuits over on-the-job asbestos exposure. Supporters of the bill say it will prevent double-dipping by victims, but opponents say the bill will impede legitimate cases. Ohio has one of the largest backlogs of on-the-job asbestos exposure cases.
City Manager Milton Dohoney has released some of the potential bids for the city’s parking services, and one bidder is offering $100 to $150 million. Dohoney says the budget can only be balanced if parking services are privatized or the city lays off 344 employees. But Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is speaking out against the privatization of the city’s parking services. In a statement, Sittenfeld said, “Outsourcing our parking system robs the city of future revenue, and also will mean higher parking rates, longer hours of enforcement, and more parking tickets.”
LGBT rights are becoming “the new normal,” but not for Western & Southern or American Financial Group. In the 2012 Corporate Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign gave 252 companies a 100-percent score for LGBT rights. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble got a 90 percent, Macy’s got a 90 percent, Kroger got an 85 percent, Fifth Third Bank got an 85 percent, Omnicare got a 15 percent, American Financial Group got a 0 percent and Western & Southern got a 0 percent. The rankings, dubbed a “Buyer’s Guide,” can be found here.
The Sierra Club says Cincinnati has some of the best and worst transportation projects. In its annual report, the environmental group praised the Cincinnati streetcar, claiming the transportation project will attract residents and business owners. But the organization slammed the Eastern Corridor Highway project because of its negative impact on the Little Miami River and the small village of Newtown. The Sierra Club says the purpose of the report is to shed light on the more than $200 billion spent on transportation projects every year.
University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono is getting a 10-year contract.
The disease-carrying Walnut Twig Beetle has been discovered in southwest Ohio. The beetle is known for carrying Thousand Cankers Disease, which threatens the health of walnut trees. So far, no trees have been determined to be infected.
Ohio Gov. Kasich, Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood will meet today to discuss funding for the Brent Spence Bridge project. If the bridge project starts in 2014, northern Kentucky and Cincinnati could save $18 billion in fuel and congestion costs, according to the Build Our New Bridge Now Coalition.
Following the defeat of Issue 2, the Ohio Senate is taking on redistricting reform, but opponents in the House say there isn’t enough time to tackle the issue. The current redistricting system is widely abused by politicians on both sides of the aisle in a process called “gerrymandering,” which involves politicians redrawing district lines in politically beneficial ways. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County, heavily diluting the impact of Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban vote.
Ohio employers are more aware of wellness than employers in other states, a new survey found. Wellness programs are one way employers can bring down health-care expenditures as cost shifting feels the pinch of diminishing returns.
However, Ohio ranked No. 35 in a nationwide health survey.
Ohio district didn't win federal Race to the Top education funds in the latest competition.
Internet cafe legislation is dead for the year. Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus announced the legislation, which essentially puts Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors out of business. State officials, including Attorney General Mike DeWine, have been pushing for regulations or a ban on the businesses because they see them as a breeding ground for criminal activity.
The final 2011-2012 school report cards will not be available until 2013. The report cards were originally delayed due to an investigation into fraudulent attendance reports.
Michigan may have approved its anti-union right-to-work law, but Ohio is not eager to follow. State Democrats are already preparing for a possible battle over the issue, but even Republican Gov. John Kasich says he’s not currently interested in a right-to-work law.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is loosening hazardous waste reporting requirements for companies. If the rules go into effect, regulated facilities will report on hazardous waste once every two years instead of once a year. The rule changes will get a public hearing on Dec. 19 in Columbus.
In a question-and-answer session Monday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia asked, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” (Hint: The answer to both questions is yes.) The Supreme Court recently agreed to tackle the same-sex marriage issue. CityBeat wrote about same-sex marriage in Ohio here.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is proposing training school staff and teachers to be first responders in the case of an attack. The news comes in the wake of the massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which caused the deaths of 20 children and six adults. CityBeat proposed its own solution in this week’s commentary: Make this time different by focusing on mental health services and gun control.
Cincinnati will lease Music Hall for 75 years to the Music Hall Revitalization Company (MHRC). The lease is part of a plan to renovate the iconic building to include more comfortable seating, extra restroom capacity, heating, air conditioning, improved plumbing and new escalator models. During the renovations, Music Hall will be closed for 17 months.
City Council passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money for the streetcar. The supposed conflict between the city of Cincinnati and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) is being drummed up by the media, but it’s really much ado about nothing.
Metropolitan Sewer District rates will go up by 5 percent in early 2013.
The Cincinnati Health Department is pushing
recommendations from a lead hazard study. The recommendations would
prohibit lead-based paint hazards and require all properties to be free
of lead-based paint, dust and soil. City Council is asking the health
department to carry out the regulations, and it expects from a plan and
timetable from regulators within 60 days. One study found getting rid of lead would do wonders for school performance
A Brookings Institute ranking placed Greater Cincinnati among the worst areas in the country due to falling home prices.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank agreed to a $16 million settlement in a securities fraud case. The four-year-old lawsuit was brought in the onset of 2008’s financial crisis, when the bank’s stock plummeted as it took several large writedowns.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino still needs to fill 450 positions in food and beverage, marketing, finance, security and more. A Washington Post analysis found casinos tend to bring jobs, but they also bring crime, bankruptcy and even suicide.
As expected, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is helping Ohio’s economy. The state has 39,000 jobs attached to oil and gas this year, and the number is expected to triple by the end of the decade. To take advantage of the boom, Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he will push his oil-and-gas severance tax in 2013. But the plan faces opposition from liberals and conservatives.
If Ohio Republicans tried to push “right-to-work” legislation, it would lead to a very nasty public fight, The Plain Dealer reports. Kasich and Republican lawmakers didn’t rule out using ballot initiatives to push conservative ideas like right-to-work in a press conference yesterday, but he did say he’s like a horse with blinders on, focusing on job creation.
The animal and robot takeover have been merged in the BigDog robot. It can now obey voice commands, follow and roll over.
For the first time since inauguration, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a positive approval rating, but a plurality of registered voters say Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term. The Quinnipac University poll attributed the increase in Kasich’s approval rating to “high levels of satisfaction among Ohio voters with life in the Buckeye State.” About 42 percent of respondents approved of Kasich, while 35 percent disapproved. About 42 percent said Kasich doesn’t deserve a second term, while 36 percent said he does. The poll surveyed 1,165 registered voters with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.
Last night, Cincinnati held its final public hearing on City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposed budget. About 40 people spoke during the meeting, with many voicing concern about Media Bridges funding, which CityBeat recently covered here. The budget has also come under scrutiny due to its privatization of parking services, but Dohoney says the choice is privatization or 344 layoffs.
Cincinnati plans to bolster its green building incentives. City officials are trying to amend the city’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards to encourage higher levels of investment in green projects. Since LEED standards were first approved in 2009, they have been criticized for only offering strong incentives for lower levels of certification. The amendment seeks to make the higher levels of certification more appealing.
University Hospital is being renamed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
An “anti-immigrant bill” proposed by Cincinnati’s Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz is not being received well by Innovation Ohio. S.B. 323 seeks to limit workers’ compensation to illegal immigrants, but the Ohio policy research group is not sure that’s a legitimate problem. The organization is also worried the bill will impose a regulatory burden on the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and Ohio’s workers without providing extra funds and training to carry out the regulations.
Ohio is improving in its battle against human trafficking. The state earned a “C” and it was labeled “most improved” in a new report from the Polaris Project. But one state legislator wants to go further by placing tougher standards on “johns” participating in the sex trade. CityBeat previously wrote about the human trafficking problem in Ohio here.
The Ohio Tax Credit Authority approved enough credits to help create about 500 jobs in Greater Cincinnati.
Michigan may have recently passed its anti-union “right-to-work” law, but Gov. Kasich does not share a similar interest.
Kasich will announce his changes to the Ohio Turnpike Thursday and Friday. The governor says his proposed changes will unlock “greater wealth,” but critics are worried Kasich is about to sell off a major public asset.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted is still defending his decisions during the lead-up the election. Husted has now become infamous nationwide due to his pre-election record, which CityBeat wrote about here.Even Jesus would be jealous. Science can now turn human urine into brain cells.
Happy new year! Yes, planet Earth made it through another year. Welcome to an “extra saucy” Morning News and Stuff.
U.S. Congress managed to narrowly avert the “fiscal cliff,” a series of tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in at the beginning of 2013. If the fiscal cliff had not been prevented, economists and the Congressional Budget Office warned the United States would have plunged back into recession. The final deal keeps tax hikes for those making more than $450,000 a year, and most Americans will see their taxes increase as the payroll tax break passed with President Barack Obama’s stimulus package expires. It’s important to remember that the passing of a deal is not some show of bipartisan heroism; instead, it’s Congress barely preventing an entirely self-inflicted problem.But the deal did not come smoothly. Not only did Congress wait until the very last moment, but U.S. Speaker John Boehner used a naughty word. At a White House meeting, the Ohio politician shot at unfavorable comments from Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s by telling Reid, “Go f— yourself.” In fact, Boehner actually used the naughty word twice! Reid replied, “What are you talking about?” Boehner once again said, “Go f— yourself.” Who knew U.S. Congress would turn out to be so much like high school?
When Corrections Corporation of America’s (CCA) Lake Erie prison received an unfavorable audit, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction reacted by cutting payments to CCA by $573,000. CityBeat covered the audit and its troubling findings here. CityBeat also covered private prisons in-depth here.
On the bright side, Ohio’s minimum wage went up, like it’s required to do so every year. Policy Matters Ohio says the increase will bring in $340 per year for 215,000 low-wage workers around the state.
Cincinnati-based Kroger is looking mighty tempting this year. Stock-wise, anyway. I don’t think many people like grocery shopping.
A court ruled Ohio overcharged 270,000 businesses for workers’ compensation premiums and must repay them. The ruling could cost the state millions of dollars.
In case anyone was worried, the national standards Ohio adopted for schools do not ban The Catcher in the Rye. Book cliff averted.
Allstate is hiring in Ohio. I’m not sure why this is news, but it’s on multiple newspapers today, so there it is.
Intel could be looking to revolutionize the cable industry by allowing people to subscribe to individual TV channels.
That’s not a medieval weapon; it’s a space rover! The new rovers planned by top universities and NASA could visit Mars’ moon Phobos or an asteroid. It’s, like, whatever.
City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton Dohoney unveiled Plan B to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.
Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.
On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools. Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only to traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.
The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.
U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.
Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”
If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.
County Commissioner Todd Portune is proposing a 0.25 percent sales tax hike to stabilize the stadium fund and preserve the property tax rebate promised to voters in 1996. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will have to approve the hike before it becomes law. It would raise the county sales tax from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent.
Portune, the lone Democrat on the three-man board, says the county got to this point after years of problems with the stadium fund’s solvency culminated into one of two options: either the sales tax goes up or the property tax rebate is rolled back. He claims the two options are the only way to keep the stadium fund stable.
Portune says the 0.25-percent increase on the sales tax will hurt low-income families less than rolling back the property tax rebate. He reasoned the impact of the property tax rollback would focus on Hamilton County residents, including low-income families, while any hike in the sales tax is spread out on anyone who spends money in Hamilton County, including visitors from around the Tristate area. He also pointed out that essentials like food and medicine are exempt from the sales tax, which gives some relief to anyone trying to make ends meet.
On support from other commissioners, Portune says Board President Greg Hartmann agreed either the rebate has to go or the sales tax has to go up, but Hartmann could not be reached by CityBeat for further comment. This story will be updated if comments become available.
Update (Nov. 29, 4:25 p.m.): Hartmann called CityBeat after this story was published. He says he has not made a final decision, but he echoed Portune's comments by saying the
“reality of the situation” demands choosing between a sales tax hike or property tax rollback. If the commissioners take the latter option, Hartmann says only a partial rollback will be necessary to draw enough funds. He also cautioned that any one-time sales and spending cuts will not be enough to stabilize the stadium fund in the long term.
Commissioner Chris Monzel says he would rather keep the stadium fund balanced for one year with short-term cuts, including a cut on further investments in The Banks development before raising taxes. After the year is up, Monzel says commissioners could see if revenue from the new Horseshoe Casino and a possible deal involving the University of Cincinnati using Paul Brown Stadium would be enough to sustain the stadium fund in the long term.
The property tax rebate and sales taxes are both generally
considered regressive, meaning they favor the wealthy more than the
poor. In simple terms, as income goes down, spending on goods and
services take bigger bites out of a person’s income. A sales tax makes
that disproportionate burden even larger.
One analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer found the wealthy actually made more money from the property tax rebate than they were taxed by the half-cent sales tax raise that was initially meant to support the stadium fund.
For a previous story covering the stadium fund, Neil DeMause told CityBeat the stadium fund’s problems stem from the county government making a “terrible deal” with the Reds and Bengals. DeMause is a journalist who has chronicled his 15-year investigation of stadium deals in his book “Field of Schemes.”
In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and
accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an
operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.
During discussions for
the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than
the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.
Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if the project was to continue.
With the construction bids taken care of, the only known funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The issue is currently being decided in court.
Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.
Policy Matters Ohio released a report Monday that gives a hint of how federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts that kicked in March 1, will affect Ohio. The impact of sequestration is already being felt in various areas, including education, housing and the environment.
In Cincinnati, the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency plans to carry out $1 million in cuts by dropping 200 kids from the Head Start program, which helps low-income families get their children into preschool and other early education programs.
Cuts will be spread out all around the state, leading to cuts in tax incentives for renewable energy and energy efficiency, reduced research programs at major universities and the elimination of military jet flyovers at certain events.
Wendy Patton, a senior project director at Policy Matters, says the cuts are only the beginning.
“We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg now,” Patton says, citing cuts in Chillicothe that will force the Chillicothe Metropolitan Housing Authority to serve 47 less families through the housing voucher program. “We will see this kind of information come out across Ohio’s 88 counties as the months roll by.”
In February, the White House outlined how sequestration cuts will affect Ohio in its efforts to convince Congress to stop the cuts. The White House estimated about 26,000 civilian defense department employees would have to be furloughed, nearly $6.9 million in funding to clean air and water would have to be cut and 350 teacher and aide jobs would be put at risk, among other cuts.
Even the unemployed will be hurt through cuts to unemployment insurance benefits — bad news in an already weak economy. In Ohio, about $5.3 million in federal grant money going toward unemployment insurance will be cut in a way that particularly affects the long-term unemployed, according to Pew Charitable Trusts.
“We already have a problem with the long-term unemployed,” says Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters. “This just makes it worse for these folks.”
An analysis from The Washington Post found employers often discriminate against anyone who has been unemployed for a considerable time during the hiring process.