It may become more expensive for the city to issue debt after Moody’s downgraded the city’s bond rating. The credit rating agency pinned the blame on the city’s exposure to local and state retirement systems, as well as the city’s reliance since 2001 on one-time sources to balance the operating budget. Still, Moody’s does give the city some credit for its economically diverse population and recently stabilized earnings tax, despite docking the city for bad socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner is apologizing to the public and council members
following the exposure of an email that implied she was trying to keep a
critical parking memo away from public sight. Brunner says she was just trying
to buy time so she could directly show the memo to the Port Authority’s
board before it was reported by news outlets, but she acknowledges that
her email was ill-conceived and came off as an attempt to stifle
transparency. The memo suggests Cincinnati is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Port Authority and several private operators, but the Port Authority and city officials argue the memo is outdated and full of technical errors.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has a report detailing political contributions from oil and gas companies that may have helped bring down a state “fracking tax,” which was supposed to raise state revenue from Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas boom. Apparently, many of the Republican legislators who staunchly opposed the oil and gas severance tax also took in a lot of money from the same companies who would have to pay up. The tax proposal was effectively dead on arrival, even with the hyperbolic support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Fracking is an extraction technique that pumps millions of gallons of water underground to free up oil and gas. CityBeat covered its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
Water utility leaders are meeting in Cincinnati this week to discuss sustainable business models. In Cincinnati, water usage has dropped while expenses to treat water and waste water have escalated, causing the Metropolitan Sewer District to take in less money. The conference will discuss models that can adjust around this trend while keeping rates low for customers.
The owners of The Hanke Exchange, a collection of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, say occupancy is going up as a result of the promise of the Cincinnati streetcar. The property is now at 84 percent occupancy rate, up from 28 percent three years ago.
Dayton and Cincinnati will hold rallies Saturday showing support for Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman last year. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder by a jury last Saturday.
Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, was confirmed to direct the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the top agency that will regulate the financial institutions that played a role in causing the Great Recession.
The Hamilton County Young Democrats are hosting a free event today to meet Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner, who’s also running for secretary of state next year against Republican incumbent Jon Husted.
If the sun suddenly went out, humanity could take a few weeks to die out and perhaps live in Iceland.
The Ohio Supreme Court today rejected an appeal for a legal challenge that threatened Cincinnati’s parking plan and the city’s emergency powers.
The lawsuit, which was backed by the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), claimed the city could not bypass a referendum on its plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority by invoking an emergency clause.
City Council regularly uses emergency clauses on passed legislation to bypass a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws. The clauses also make legislation immune to a referendum.
COAST, which opposes the city’s parking lease, argued the City Charter doesn’t clearly define emergency clauses to deny a referendum.
Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler sided with COAST in the first round, but the ruling was appealed and the Hamilton County Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in favor of the city.
With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal, the appeal court’s ruling stands.
City Solicitor John Curp applauded the decision in an email to various media outlets.
“I believe that politics belong in the legislative branch of government and not in our courts. This decision reaffirms that politics should stay on the Council floor and short-term political interests not be dragged through the judiciary where the consequences can have a long-standing impact on the public safety and economic interests of the City,” Curp wrote. “Consistency in interpreting long-standing legal rules is important in promoting a vibrant business climate in the City. The Courts have reaffirmed that the City of Cincinnati is free to operate at the speed of business.”
COAST is now trying another legal challenge against the city’s parking lease. This time, the conservative group is claiming that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the lease without City Council approval.
Curp declined to take up the second legal challenge after concluding that the changes made to the lease were ministerial and a result of delays caused by COAST’s first legal challenge. But by having its proposed challenge denied, COAST gained the legal rights to sue the city over the issue.
Supporters of the parking lease argue the plan is necessary to leverage the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to finance development projects that will grow the city’s tax base.
Opponents claim the lease gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets and will hurt businesses by causing parking rates and enforcement hours to rise.
CityBeat covered the controversy surrounding the parking lease in further detail here.
The parking plan’s lump sum payment is being reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage, according an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney to council members and the mayor.
Dohoney wrote that the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, which is leasing Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages under the 30-plus-year deal, reduced its lump sum payment because of rising interest rates and its decision to reduce parking meter enforcement hours outside of Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District.
Under the reviewed deal, the Port Authority also handed the responsibility of building a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets to the city of Cincinnati. Dohoney recommends using the parking plan’s upfront payment to fund the garage, which will cost between $14 million and $15 million, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
If City Council approves the allocation, the upfront funds would be effectively left at $70 million to $71 million.
The city still estimates it will get at least $3 million in annual installments from the lease.
Supporters of the parking plan claim it’s necessary to fully leverage Cincinnati’s parking assets to fund development projects and help balance the operating budget.
The plan also requires private operators, which will be hired by the Port Authority, to upgrade Cincinnati’s parking assets. The upgrades should allow parking meters to accept remote payments through smartphones, among other new features.
Critics claim the plan gives up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. They say the city and Port Authority could easily be pressured by private operators to hike parking rates far beyond the 3-percent-a-year increase currently called for under the plan.
The plan has also been mired in controversy, notably because the city administration withheld a consultant’s memo from the public and council members that claimed the plan is a bad deal for the city. The city administration says the memo was based on outdated information, but opponents still criticized the lack of transparency behind the deal.
Dohoney wrote in the Oct. 9 memo that the Port Authority’s board plans to meet on Oct. 19 to finalize contracts with private operators. If all goes as planned, the Port Authority estimates the new parking system will be in place by April 2014.
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo, but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016. The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
For many neighborhoods, the lack of access to fresh, healthy fruits, vegetables and foods is a big problem, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is helping address the problem, at least in the short term, through mobile produce zones that will be placed in eight neighborhoods generally considered “food deserts.” Quinlivan acknowledges the solution is a stopgap, but Michael Widener, assistant professor in University of Cincinnati’s Geography Department, says it’s a start that could help many local residents as a better solution is worked on.
In a 2-1 ruling yesterday, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward. Parking opponents are appealing the decision and pushing for a stay. For the city, the parking plan will potentially unlock millions of dollars over 30 years, including a $92 million upfront payment. But opponents argue the terms of the deal, which include increased parking meter rates and operation hours, will hurt downtown business. The ruling also returned the city’s emergency clause powers, which the city says allow it to bypass a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.
City Council unanimously approved a development deal for Fourth and Race streets downtown to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage to replace Pogue’s Garage. With council approval, construction could begin late this year, with developers hoping to finish in 2015. The deal will be headed by Indianapolis-based development company Flaherty and Collins. The city’s share of the $80 million deal will be $12 million, paid for with a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for downtown capital projects.
Commentary: “‘Jobs’ Budget Attacks Women’s Health Options”
The first mayoral candidate forum is tonight at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital MERC Auditorium at 620 Oak Street from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Candidates Roxanne Qualls, John Cranley, Jim Berns and Stacy Smith are scheduled to participate.
After nearly six years of no pay increases for non-union workers, Hamilton County commissioners approved raises for some county employees yesterday. The raises will be merit-based, but they will not exceed 3 percent of what the county pays in wages each year.
Few owners actually register their exotic animals. The state began requiring exotic animal registration after a man in Zanesville, Ohio, released 56 exotic animals and committed suicide.
Pending approval from the board of trustees, the University of Cincinnati is hiring Beverly Davenport Sypher as senior vice president for academic affairs. Previously, Davenport Sypher was the vice provost for faculty affairs at Purdue University.
An ongoing study found women who are denied abortions have poorer health and are more likely to live in poverty two years on.
In Japan, cyclists can now store their bikes in underground robot caverns.
Updated at 11:10 a.m.: Added information about first mayoral candidate forum.
It’s been three days since City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an agreement to lease Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, and the Port Authority still hasn’t signed the agreement.
Port Authority spokesperson Gail Paul told CityBeat she had no definitive information on when or whether the Port Authority will sign the lease, but she said she would contact CityBeat when she learned more.
The lease would produce a $92 million lump sum for the city, followed by at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. But it would hand over majority control of Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port Authority, which will operate and upgrade the meters, lots and garages through four private companies from around the nation.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the Port Authority has yet to sign the lease because it first wants a financial guarantee that the city will not threaten to cut future funding. In May, City Council considered pulling $100,000 out of $700,000 in annual funding from the Port Authority as part of a broader cut to outside agencies. The threat apparently made Port Authority officials concerned about future funding.
The city originally claimed the parking plan will keep local control of the city’s parking assets through the Port Authority. But the delay has raised doubts about local control, given that the Port Authority is going against the will and assumptions of the city government.
When asked whether the delay on signing the lease raises question about local control, Paul responded, “That’s an interesting take on it.” She says the Port Authority isn’t refusing to sign the lease, but the agency’s board is getting “reacquainted” with the plan and has a few lingering questions.
Paul added the Port Authority understands there’s a lot of public interest in the plan. She said the organization is paying attention to feedback and criticisms.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding said
she’s confident the Port Authority will sign the lease.
Olberding responded to questions about local control by pointing out the Port Authority “has been at the table since the beginning.” She added, “The local control is not only through the Port, but also through the advisory board. The board members are citizens as well. So that local control will still be there.”
The advisory board will be made up of five members: four appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager.
The board would be able to make changes to various aspects of the parking plan, including parking meter rates. Under the original agreement, rates downtown will go up by 25 cents every three years, and rates in neighborhoods will go up by 25 cents every six years. The advisory board will be able to approve a hike or reduction in those rates, but those changes would also require approval from the city manager and Port Authority’s board.
City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an agreement Monday to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the mayor and City Council may still make changes to the controversial parking plan before it’s implemented. In the past week, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling, made the parking plan insusceptible to a referendum and refused to delay enforcement on the ruling, which allowed the city manager to sign the lease within days. Still, the city won’t spend the $92 million lump sum from the lease until there is legal certainty, meaning until appeals from opponents are exhausted. (Correction: The city signed the lease Monday, not Tuesday as originally reported in the story. The city made the announcement Tuesday, which caused confusion and miscommunication.)
City Council is discussing whether it needs to set funds for the I-71/MLK Interchange project. The state is asking the city to contribute $20 million, but some council members are questioning whether the state would pursue the project without city support. The city administration says the state is insisting on the city’s participation. City Council originally planned to use funds from the parking lease to pick up the city’s share of the tab for the project, which officials estimate will produce thousands of jobs in the region.
After introducing two competing Medicaid bills in the Ohio House, leaders said they’re unlikely to vote on the bipartisan measures before the General Assembly’s summer recess. One of the bills would create a Medicaid oversight committee and instruct the state Medicaid director to find cost savings without cutting benefits. The other bill would take up the federally funded Medicaid expansion while taking measures to diminish access to narcotics through the health care system and encourage cost sharing and private sector plans among Medicaid recipients. Gov. John Kasich is still pushing the General Assembly to pass the Medicaid expansion, whether it’s through the budget, these bills or other means.
Ohio will end the current budget year with an unused surplus of $397 million, according to the state budget director. Kasich says the money should go toward tax cuts. The Ohio House and Senate are currently discussing merging their tax plans in the 2014-2015 budget, which could mean taking up smaller versions of the House’s 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut and the Senate’s 50-percent income tax reduction for business owners worth up to $375,000 of annual income.
Sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, will cost Ohio $284 million in fiscal year 2013, according to a Policy Matters Ohio report. For the state, that means slower economic growth, furloughed defense workers, cuts to county funds for social services, public health service reductions and further downsizing of the Head Start program, which supports preschool. CityBeat covered the early impact of sequestration in Ohio here.
The American Medical Association will soon decide if obesity is a disease.
The U.S. House passed an anti-abortion bill that would restrict almost all abortions to the first 20 weeks since conception. The bill is unlikely to move past the House.
Landlords are less likely to respond to rental inquiries from gay couples.
The Congressional Budget Office says immigration reform would save money and boost economic growth.
Researchers have apparently mastered the art of the bat and can now “hear” the size of a room.
Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Submit your questions here and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or know anyone willing to participate, email email@example.com.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of Fasting today and put off lunch to help support the Freestore Foodbank. Sittenfeld’s office said in a press release that the event will allow participants to “experience a small measure of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives.” There will be a ceremony for the event at noon in Fountain Square, where participants will be able to donate to the Freestore Foodbank.
March was another decent month for jobs in Cincinnati, with the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropping to 7.5 percent, down from a revised 7.9 percent in February and 8 percent in March 2012. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, says most of the job growth is attributable to Cincinnati’s growing health care services, but manufacturing has also provided a local boon.
An anonymously posted video questions the legitimacy of some parking plan referendum petitions, but so far no formal challenges have been filed against the referendum effort. Even if somebody were to file a challenge, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke says it would required a lot — nearly 4,000 signatures — to halt a referendum: “Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond those five or six sights shown in the video.”
There is now a local effort to embrace the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a private-public partnership that would get more local children in preschool. The current goal is to get 25 to 50 children in preschool in a pilot program this fall. Studies show preschool is one of the best investments that can be made for the economy in the long term. Local preschool services were recently cut as a consequence of federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1.
UC President Santa Ono is recommending the school freeze in-state tuition for the next school year — a measure the UC Board of Trustees will consider in June. Ono also said he will not take a salary increase or bonus for the next two years, and he is asking the school to sell the presidential condo and use the money to pay for scholarships.
While testifying to legislators reviewing his two-year budget request, State Treasurer Josh Mandel said his office has been targeted by cyberattacks, and the technology currently available to his department is not good enough to hold off the attacks.
Humana will hire 60 people for its customer service center in downtown.
Brain cells will control the power plants of the future.
In a press release, Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed today Zips’ Cafe Day because the restaurant is finally adding bacon to its cheeseburger lineup.
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.
On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Saturday approved bond sales and contract agreements for the controversial parking plan. The approval is the final major step necessary for the Port Authority and its private partners to take over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages after the city leased the assets to the nonprofit development agency earlier in the year. The deal is supposed to raise $85 million in upfront funds and at least $3 million in annual payments for the city, which the city administration previously planned to use for development projects and operating budget gaps. But opponents of the deal say the city is giving up far too much control over its parking assets, which they argue could cause parking rates to skyrocket as private operators attempt to maximize profits.
Ohio’s Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, is expected to decide today whether it will use federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid program to more low-income Ohioans. Gov. John Kasich opted to bypass the legislature and put the decision to the Controlling Board after months of failing to convince his fellow Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate to take up the expansion. But critics of the expansion have threatened to sue the Kasich administration if it bypasses the legislature. Under Obamacare, the federal government will pay for the full expansion for the two years being considered; if Ohio ends up accepting the expansion beyond that, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through 2016 then phase down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent of the expansion’s cost. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
Hamilton County commissioners could consider today whether to use excess tourist tax revenues
on more funding for tourism-related infrastructure projects. The tourist tax was previously
used to help build the Cincinnati and Sharonville convention centers and fund the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but the county administrator intends to lay out more options in his meeting with commissioners.
In the mayoral race between Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley, black voters could make the big decision.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Friday warned about so-called sweetheart scams in which a con artist develops a relationship with a victim, typically through the Internet, before asking for money. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section has received about 70 complaints involving the scams since October 2011, resulting in an average loss of more than $14,000 with the highest reported loss coming in at $210,000, according to the attorney general.
Ohio’s school chief ordered two Columbus charter schools to shut down for health and safety reasons and inadequate staffing.
Findlay Market is tapping into crowdsourcing to decide three new storefronts.
Ohio gas prices increased for the second week in a row.
A thermal wristband promises to keep the user’s body at the perfect temperature.
Mayor-elect John Cranley, the newly elected City Council and the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Tuesday agreed to eliminate the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority once newly elected officials take office in December.
But it remains unclear how much it will cost to terminate the plan, default on the lease agreement with the Port Authority and allow the Port to break its contracts with private companies that would have operated the assets under the deal.
The announcement follows the Nov. 5 election of Cranley and a City Council supermajority opposed to the parking plan.
“It is a tremendously positive announcement for the city and its citizens that the current parking deal is now dead,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “I was glad to help sound the alarm on this deal from the beginning, but this victory ultimately belongs to the public, who were instrumental in providing sustained public pressure. This has shown us that the public values its public assets and wants long-term solutions to our financial challenges, not short-term fixes.”
Cranley and Sittenfeld were joined by
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, incoming council members Amy Murray
and David Mann and Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner for the
announcement. They discussed continuing the city’s partnership with the Port Authority, including the possibility of establishing a development fund for the agency.
Cranley also reiterated his intention to
pursue some of the development projects originally tied to the deal,
particularly the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King
Drive. He also said the city will try to find other ways to leverage the city’s parking assets, including the possibility of stricter enforcement and better technologies.
From the start, opponents of the parking plan claimed it gave up too much local control over the city’s parking assets. The plan would have leased the assets to the Port Authority — a local, city- and county-funded development agency — but the Port planned to sign off operations to private companies from around the country.
The plan grew particularly controversial in July, after a previously concealed memo critical of the plan was leaked to media outlets and council members.
The city administration originally claimed the parking plan — and the lump-sum payment it would produce — was necessary to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops and firefighters.
But when the plan was held up in court following the current City Council’s approval on March 6, council managed to balance the operating budget without layoffs by making cuts elsewhere, including council members’ salaries, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues.
City Council also managed to use alternative funding sources to finance the development of a downtown grocery store and luxury apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, which city administration officials originally touted as a major selling point of the parking plan.
Still, city administration officials claimed the plan was necessary to
fund other development projects around the city, help balance the budget for the next two years and modernize the city’s parking assets so, for example, all parking meters would have the ability to accept credit card payments.
City Manager Milton Dohoney, a proponent of the parking plan, also proposed using the lump-sum payment to pay for a parking garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets. Under the original parking plan, the Port Authority was supposed to pay for the garage; after the Port Authority completed its review of the deal on Oct. 9, it backed down from the commitment.
The Port Authority’s review also reduced the lump-sum payment to $85 million from $92 million. Cranley and other critics said the reduction and the new $14-$15 million cost brought on by the parking garage effectively reduced the upfront payment to $70-$71 million.
Without the parking plan, the planned projects will require new sources of funding if they are to proceed. But to critics, the plan’s dissolution is an intangible victory that has been months in the making.
Updated with more details.