Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls on Thursday unveiled “The Qualls Plan to Grow Cincinnati,” an outline of her platforms and what she would do during her first 100 days as mayor if she’s selected by voters on Nov. 5.
The plan proposes three major changes that Qualls would pursue within 100 days of taking office: She would reinstitute the Shared Services Commission to see which city services can be managed in conjunction with Hamilton County or other political jurisdictions; she would propose a job tax credit for businesses that create jobs that pay a living wage and provide benefits; and she would “renew business districts” by making unused city property available at a “nominal fee” to local startups and small businesses.
Qualls also outlines seven other proposals for the first 100 days, including a review of city services to find efficiencies and cost savings and a “Mayor’s Night In” event that would be held monthly to directly hear residents’ concerns.
The rest of the plan promises more city-provided opportunities for businesses, expanded transportation options, investments in public safety and neighborhoods, employment and apprenticeship programs for struggling youth, new education programs and government reforms. It also includes plans to combat human trafficking, increase the city’s use of renewable energy sources and make Cincinnati more inclusive for women, minorities, the LGBT community and immigrants.
Many of the changes would be made through partnerships and regulatory changes, which means they could come at no cost.
But some of the proposals would involve tax breaks, new city agencies and more spending directed at certain projects. The extra costs could be tricky for a city that has been mired in budget problems for years, especially since Qualls has proposed structurally balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget for the first time since 2000.
Still, Qualls’ proposals are made with the understanding
that economic growth can expand the city’s tax base and increase
revenues. Cincinnati’s shrinking population since the 1960s is often cited by city officials as a cause for the city’s budget problems.
Qualls is running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley. The biggest issues dividing the two Democratic candidates are the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The two issues took up most of the discussion during the first post-primary mayoral debate.
Read Qualls’ full plan here:
City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.
Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.
Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.
Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.
Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.
“To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”
The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.
Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.
Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.
“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”
Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.
Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.
Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.
Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.
"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125 million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project, everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank check.’”
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through “intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher costs.
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory will deliver his annual State of the City address next week.
The address, which will be Mallory’s seventh since taking office, will be given 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be held in the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, located at 650 Walnut St., downtown.
When CityBeat asked what the theme would be for this year’s address, a spokeswoman for Mallory declined comment.
“Our office won’t be previewing or giving information out about the speech this year,” said Julianna Rice, a policy aide to the mayor.
Generally, because seating is limited, anyone wishing to attend must receive a ticket through the mayor’s office. For more information, call 513-352-3250.
Mallory, a Democrat, was sworn in as the 68th mayor of Cincinnati on Dec. 1, 2005 and was reelected in 2009. He cannot run again in 2013 due to term limits.
Mallory’s election marked a new era for City Hall as the first two-term mayor under the city's new “stronger-mayor” system, as well as Cincinnati’s first directly-elected black mayor, and the first mayor in more than 70 years who didn’t first serve on City Council.
Mallory celebrated his 50th birthday on Monday.
After nearly two months of ups and downs, city leaders on Thursday announced Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all.
Speaking prior to a council vote, Mayor John Cranley and Councilman Kevin Flynn announced City Council has the six votes to overcome the mayor's veto and restart construction on the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Flynn was the final holdout in what some council members now call the "streetcar six." He was asking for a commitment from private contributors to cover the annual operating costs for the streetcar, which consulting firm KPMG estimated at $1.88-$2.44 million a year after fares and sponsorships.
The philanthropic Haile Foundation lived up to part
of the commitment by signing onto $900,000 a year for 10 years, Flynn
announced. That was enough of a commitment to move forward as the city
makes a broader effort to get all the operating costs off the city's
books, he said.
"That is a huge commitment, folks," Flynn added.
Flynn also acknowledged that the streetcar could foster new revenues in the city's operating budget and actually allow the city to take on bigger responsibilities.
Previous studies from consulting firm HDR and the
University of Cincinnati found the streetcar project will generate a
2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Flynn, a Charterite, joined Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young in support of restarting the project. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted against it.Still, Cranley said he will continue opposing the streetcar project. He repeatedly stated council is making the wrong decision.
"I'm disappointed in the outcome," said Cranley, who ran in opposition to the streetcar.
Flynn reiterated his respect for Cranley, despite effectively dealing a major blow to Cranley's agenda.
Cranley "helped me get elected to this position, and I take that trust seriously," Flynn said.
Others were glad the city can now take on different issues without getting mired down in a contentious streetcar debate.
"I am so glad that this issue is done and over with," said Vice Mayor Mann, who voted in favor of the project.
officially changed his stance on the project after KPMG's audit found
canceling the project could cost nearly as much as completing it.
The final decision came at a cost to Cincinnati: The two-week pause of the project, which allowed KPMG to conduct its review, added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to KPMG's audit. The city also allocated $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.
Once it's completed, the streetcar line will run as a 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.
Updated with results of City Council's vote and additional information.
Mayor Mark Mallory announced a trade deal between the small Greater Cincinnati-based Solutions Plus, Inc. and the giant Saudi Arabia-based Diversified Lines Petroleum Company. The deal will produce $20 million in business in the next two to five years, said Solutions Plus President Charlie Weaver. The deal is largely due to a trade mission to Saudi Arabia Mallory led in January.
The Cincinnati streetcar project is moving forward. On Wednesday, City Council will be voting on a routine ordinance to transfer $3 million to the streetcar project.
Cincinnati is studying the feasibility of a bike share program. If enacted, the program would begin next summer in Over-the-Rhine and Uptown.
Kings Island is taking down the Son of Beast. The attraction, which was originally advertised as the only wooden roller coaster with a loop, has been closed since 2009 due to a series of problems.
Gov. John Kasich announced the approval of 25 new economic projects by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. The approval should pave the way to 2,003 new jobs and $212 million in investment in Ohio, according to the announcement. Three of the projects will be in the city of Cincinnati: Integra LifeSciences Corporation, Southern Air Incorporated and Corbus, LLC.
Kasich wants answers. Yesterday, the governor gave his opinion on the ongoing investigation into the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio schools for fraudulent data reporting. Kasich said both schools and the Ohio Department of Education should be held accountable if necessary.
Democrats are setting the groundwork to endorse same-sex marriage in the official party platform for the 2012 election. The news would echo President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage earlier this year.
Medical marijuana is heading to court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will be hearing whether or not the federal government is right to classify marijuana as having no medical value.
James Holmes was charged with 24 counts of murder in the case for the Colorado theater massacre.
Mitt Romney praised Israel’s health-care system, which does a lot of what he’s opposing in Obamacare.
Japanese developers have built a real-life mech robot. The robot can be piloted, and it can shoot 6,000 BBs in a minute.
Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”
With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.
A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.
Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.
Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.
To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.
Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.
Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat.
After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new
journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat
Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and
my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read
my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.
Cincinnati would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it incurs tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG released Wednesday.
By showing the potentially high costs of cancellation, the numbers could throw a lifeline to the streetcar project just one day before City Council decides whether to restart construction or permanently halt the project.
But Mayor John Cranley appears undeterred in his commitment to cancel the streetcar project. By accounting for the annual costs to operate the streetcar, Cranley estimates the city will actually save $102 million if it cancels the project.
The city already spent roughly $34 million on the project, according to the audit. Cancellation would add $16.3-$46.1 million in close-out costs, bringing the total costs of cancellation and money spent so far to $50.3-$80.1 million.
Completing the project would add $68.9 million in costs, after deducting $40.9 million in remaining federal grants, the audit found.
But the completion estimate assumes the city will need to pay $15 million in utility work — a cost that is currently being debated in court. If the city wins its case against Duke Energy, the utility company would be required to pay the $15 million and bring down the total completion costs to $53.9 million.
The audit also put the costs of operating the streetcar at $3.13-$3.54 million a year, lower than the previous $3.4-$4.5 million estimate. After revenues from fares, sponsorships and other sources, the city would need to pay $1.88-$2.44 million to operate the streetcar, according to the audit.
The reduced estimate for operating costs could become particularly important in deciding the project's fate as private contributors attempt to get the cost off the city's operating budget.
Delaying the streetcar project while KPMG conducted its audit also added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to the audit. The city allocated another $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.
The audit did not account for the potential costs of litigation if contractors and investors along the planned streetcar line sue the city to recoup costs.
City Council paused the streetcar project on Dec. 4 to obtain the cost estimates of completion, cancellation and annual operations. The full body of council will decide whether to restart the project on Thursday, before a Friday deadline set by the Federal Transit Administration for federal grants.
Read the full audit:
This post was updated at 12:59 p.m. with more information and details.
CityBeat’s full Election Issue is in stands now. Check out our feature stories on three remarkable City Council challengers: Mike Moroski, Michelle Dillingham and Greg Landsman. Find the rest of our election coverage, along with our endorsements, here.
The Ohio legislature is working through a bill that would limit ballot access for minor parties, which argue the petitioning and voting requirements are meant to help Gov. John Kasich’s chances of re-election in 2014. The Ohio House narrowly passed the bill yesterday with looser restrictions than those set by the Ohio Senate earlier in the month, but a legislative error in the House means neither chamber will hammer out the final details until they reconvene next week. Republicans say the bill is necessary to set some basic standards for who can get on the ballot. Democrats have joined with minor parties in calling the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act” because it would supposedly protect Kasich from tea party and other third-party challengers after his support for the federally funded Medicaid expansion turned members of his conservative base against him.
As an attorney and lobbyist at Keating, Muething & Klekamp (KMK), mayoral candidate John Cranley helped payroll company Paycor finalize plans to move its headquarters
— and 450 to 500 jobs with it — from Queensgate in Cincinnati to
Norwood, Ohio. Specifically, KMK and several of its employees, including
Cranley, helped Paycor and Norwood set up a tax credit deal to
incentivize the company’s relocation. The Cranley campaign says he was
just doing his job after Paycor went to KMK, not the other way around.
But supporters of Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the
mayoral race, say he shouldn’t be helping companies leave the city he
wants to lead. Paycor’s move in 2014 means the city will have to take
back some of the money it gave the company, through two tax deals that
Cranley approved while on City Council, to encourage it to stay in Cincinnati through 2015. Cranley received a $1,100 campaign contribution from Paycor CEO Bob Coughlin on Aug. 20.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) board travels widely and often dines at public expense, according to an investigation from The Cincinnati Enquirer. Among other findings, The Enquirer found the CVG board, which is considered a governmental agency, has a much more lenient travel expense policy for itself than it does for staff members, and it sometimes uses airport funds to pay for liquor. On Twitter, Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartman called the findings outrageous and demanded resignations.
Northside property crime is on the rise, and police and residents are taking notice. Business leaders in the neighborhood are concerned the negative stigma surrounding the crime will hurt their businesses.
With federal stimulus funding expiring in November, 1.8 million Ohioans will get less food assistance starting tomorrow. The news comes after 18,000 in Hamilton County were hit by additional restrictions this month, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Hamilton County commissioners yesterday agreed to pay $883,000 to cover legal fees for Judge Tracie Hunter and her legal team. The Hamilton County Board of Elections racked up the bill for the county by repeatedly appealing Hunter’s demands that the board count more than one-third of previously discarded provisional ballots, which were enough to turn the juvenile court election in Hunter’s favor. Hunter’s opponent, John Williams, later won a separate appointment and election to get on the juvenile court.
Metro, Cincinnati’s local bus service, announced it’s relaxing time limits on transfer tickets, which should make it easier to catch a bus without sprinting to the stop.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp laid off nearly 500 employees in the past six months, with some of the layoffs hitting Cincinnati. The bank blames the job cuts on slowdowns in the mortgage business.
Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. If you don’t vote early, you can still vote on Election Day (Nov. 5). Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.