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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).”

 
 
by German Lopez 11.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar supporters pack event, federal funds threatened, Dohoney to get severance pay

Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square last night to start a two-week campaign to prevent Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council from halting the ongoing project. The goal is to convince at least five of the nine newly elected council members to support the project. So far, streetcar supporters have at least three pro-streetcar votes: Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young. Now, they’re trying to convince another three — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld — to support continuing the project; all three spoke against the streetcar on the campaign trail, but they’ve recently said they want a full accounting of the project’s completion costs, cancellation costs and potential return of investment before making a final decision. CityBeat covered the campaign and the people involved in greater detail here.

Hours before the event began, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated canceling the project would cost Cincinnati nearly $41 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left under the discretion of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio. Cranley previously stated he could lobby the federal government to re-appropriate the money to other city projects, but the letter makes it quite clear that’s not in the plans right now. On the elevator ride up to the Mercantile Library event, Sittenfeld commented on the letter to CityBeat, “I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column.”

City Council yesterday accepted the resignation of City Manager Milton Dohoney, just one day after Cranley announced Dohoney’s leave and his support for it. Although council members acknowledged they had to accept the resignation in lieu of the Nov. 5 election results, they said they were unhappy with the behind-the-scenes approach that was taken by Cranley throughout the process. For the year following his resignation, Dohoney will receive $255,000 in severance pay and health benefits through the city, which will cost an already-strained operating budget that’s been structurally imbalanced since 2001.

Flaherty & Collins, the Indianapolis-based developer that’s building a downtown apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, said it’s interested in the retail space being left vacant by Saks Fifth Avenue.

Northern Kentucky residents last night got a look at a regional strategy to fight the growing heroin problem in the area. The report, put together by substance abuse and medical experts, law enforcement officials, governmental leaders and business representatives, calls for more physicians and long-term treatment options to address the issue. “We cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the problem,” said Dr. Lynne Saddler, director of the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department. “The success of this plan really hinges on having sufficient treatment options and resources available so that everyone seeking and wanting treatment can easily access it.”

Union Township Rep. John Becker introduced a bill in the Ohio House this week that would ban most public and private health insurers from providing abortion coverage. The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. Becker describes himself as one of the most conservative members of the Ohio legislature. He’s also supported the Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected; called needle-exchange efforts part of the “liberal media agenda”; and lobbied for the impeachment of a judge who allowed the state to recognize the same-sex marriage of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who recently passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted urged the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission to address politicized redistricting. Under the current system, the political party in charge — the last time around, Republicans — can use demographic trends to redraw congressional district boundaries to maximize the votes of supporters and split and dilute the votes of opponents. Although Husted is now calling for reform to make redistricting more representative of the state’s actual political make-up, he opposed a ballot initiative in 2012 that would have placed an independent committee in charge of redistricting.

Speaking at a Cleveland steel mill, President Barack Obama talked up U.S. manufacturing and its potential for economic growth.

The Christmas holiday tree arrives at Fountain Square tomorrow.

Tomorrow is also the day of the One Stop Drop recycling event, where anyone can drop off electronic and other waste — TVs, computers, cellphones and chargers, No. 5 plastics such as butter tubs and yogurt containers, single-use grocery bags and used writing instruments like pencils and pens — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Whole Foods Market in Rookwood Commons, 2693 Edmondson Road.

Five crashes in Covington, Ohio, left six horses dead and one injured.

More Ohioans also died on the road in 2012 than the year before.

The world’s oldest animal — a mollusk — missed Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas by 14 years.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
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by German Lopez 11.14.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar at 09:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Supporters Pack Mercantile Library, Fountain Square

Supporters hold town hall-style meeting in effort to stop cancellation of project

Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.

Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.

In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.

The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.

Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.

Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.

Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.

Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.

Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.

City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.

The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.

The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."

Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed.

Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding.

"As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."


Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar.

"Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.

But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.

The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.

That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.

In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.

But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.14.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Mayor at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Council Accepts City Manager's Resignation

Dohoney to get one year of severance pay following mayor-elect’s request

City Council on Thursday accepted City Manager Milton Dohoney’s resignation, setting the stage for the end of more than seven years of service that fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the $133 million streetcar project and the controversial parking plan.

The request comes just one day after Mayor-elect John Cranley announced Dohoney’s resignation. Cranley says he will appoint an interim city manager once Dohoney officially steps down on Dec. 1 and then begin a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

For the year following his resignation, Dohoney will receive $255,000 in severance pay — the same as his current annual salary — and health benefits through the city. The extra costs will go to an already-strained operating budget, which has been structurally imbalanced since 2001.

Although council members acknowledged that they had to accept the resignation in the aftermath of the Nov. 5 election, some said they were unhappy with the behind-the-scenes approach Cranley took to finalize Dohoney’s leave.

“It’s certainly not the process I would have liked,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach.

Others praised Dohoney’s work for the city, which lasted through both the Great Recession and the beginnings of Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s economic revitalization.

“He has served the city very well. He has been a leader in terms of economic development across the city,” said Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who lost in her bid against Cranley for the mayorship.

Cranley and Dohoney differ on both the streetcar project and parking plan, which would have outsourced the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private operators. Cranley opposes and plans to do away with both policies, while Dohoney helped establish both.

Cranley announced on Tuesday that he, newly elected council members and the Port Authority agreed to call off the parking plan once the new city government takes office on Dec. 1, but it remains unclear how much it will cost the city to break from the plan and its numerous contractual obligations.

Similarly, Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer in a livestreamed interview on Thursday that he will try to put an estimated 30-to-90-day time-out on the streetcar project as the city conducts a full accounting of how much it would take to cancel the project versus continuing with ongoing construction and the potential return on investment of completion.

The talk of cancellation already spurred some Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses to launch a campaign to save the streetcar. Cranley insists it’s too expensive and the wrong priority for the city, but supporters tout independent studies and their own experiences to argue it would spur economic development. The pro-streetcar group will meet on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100, downtown Cincinnati.

If the streetcar goes the way of the parking plan, Cranley will effectively unravel two major milestones of Dohoney’s seven years of service.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.12.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Supporters Launch Campaign to Save Project

Residents, business owners rally to lobby new mayor and council

Dozens of residents and business owners gathered in Over-the-Rhine on Tuesday to launch a campaign that seeks to persuade Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council to support the $133 million streetcar project.

Attendees included Ryan Messer, who used his life savings to renovate his home in Over-the-Rhine; Derek Bauman, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress; Jean-Francois Flechet, owner of the Taste of Belgium; and Derek dos Anjos, owner of The Anchor.

“We’re here today to keep the conversation going outside of political rhetoric and partisan politics,” Messer said. “Simply put, the streetcar is a component of Cincinnati economic development, and it’s a project that grows the whole city — not just an urban core, which, by the way, is an important part of developing this region.”

The group intends to lobby Cranley and the newly elected council, which appear poised to cancel the project when they take office in December.

At least three of nine elected council members — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — have told media outlets that they want a full accounting of the project before making a final decision. Another three — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — are on the record as supporting the project. The final three — Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Amy Murray — adamantly opposed the project in the past.

Members of the pro-streetcar group invited Cranley and all elected council members to join them at a town hall-style meeting on Nov. 14 at the Mercantile Library, where supporters will discuss their path forward. So far, supporters have publicly discussed a concerted lobbying effort, a referendum if council passes an ordinance undoing the streetcar project and possible legal action.

As CityBeat first uncovered, the costs of canceling the project are currently unknown, and some of the costs could actually fall on the operating budget that pays for police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget that is currently financing the streetcar project.

Much of the uncertainty falls on ongoing construction for the streetcar, which has continued despite the newly elected city government’s intent to stop the project. As of September, the city spent $23 million on the project and contractually obligated $94 million, some of which city officials say will need to be paid back even if the project were canceled.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also told city officials in a June 19 letter that nearly $41 million of nearly $45 million in federal grants would need to be returned if the project were terminated.

Supporters also claim Cincinnati would be giving up a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years if the city abandoned the streetcar now. That estimate is derived from a 2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.

Project executive John Deatrick says the HDR study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. Still, Deatrick says the project is intended to spur economic development, not just provide another form of public transportation.

The Nov. 13 issue of CityBeat will give a more in-depth look at the campaign to save the streetcar and some of the people involved in the movement.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.12.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Education, Police at 08:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jeffrey blackwell

Morning News and Stuff

Police investigate cruiser crash, council holds last finance meeting, achievement gap widens

The Cincinnati police officer who struck a pedestrian with his cruiser on Saturday was apparently driving 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, which violates the Cincinnati Police Department's guidelines that limit officers from driving more than 20 mph above the posted limit. Officer Orlando Smith was responding to a call to help an officer when he struck Natalie Cole of Dayton, Ky. She remains in critical condition at University Hospital Medical Center following the incident. CPD is conducting an investigation that is expected to be completed within two weeks. But Smith's cruiser camera mysteriously failed to record for three minutes as the events unfolded; the latest recording available prior to the incident shows Smith leaving a grocery store parking lot with his lights and sirens on, as required by department policy when responding to help an officer. Witnesses told WCPO that Smith was actually driving in excess of 60 mph without his siren on and the victim flung 40 feet after she was struck. Smith is on paid administrative leave as the investigation finishes, which is routine police procedure.

City Council's Budget and Finance Committee will hold its final scheduled meeting today, less than three weeks before the new mayor and council are sworn in on Dec. 1. The committee's agenda is fairly packed after council canceled so many meetings throughout September and October for election season, but most of the items are uncontroversial incentive packages that aim to bring jobs and develop more housing opportunities in the city.

The achievement gap between white and black students in Ohio grew in the past two years, according to the results from a series of tests known as "the Nation's Report Card" from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Chad Aldis, the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Fordham Institute, told StateImpact Ohio the results are disappointing because the achievement gap between black and white students in Ohio was already way too big and above the national average in math and English, the two categories in which the gap widened. Overall, Ohio's students ranked slightly above the national average in all areas but showed no significant improvement since 2011. Aldis says Ohio's adoption of Common Core standards, a set of stricter expectations for students embraced by 45 states, should help challenge students and lead to improvement.

Here is an interactive map of marijuana seizures in Ohio this year, which were down from a record high in 2010. Some experts say marijuana and other drugs should be legalized following the failure of the decades-long war on drugs to seriously curtail supply and demand, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. will answer questions from readers and the editorial board at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The two chairmen of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and Republican Party will on Nov. 21 switch roles and argue the other side's position on alleged voter fraud as part of the "Beyond Civility" debate series. The initiative seeks to bring public officials together in a less partisan environment.

The Cincinnati area's most prominent white-collar crime case will start hearings in December after a jury is picked by the end of the month in the trial of Matt Daniels, the former Kenwood Towne Place developer who's accused of various charges of fraud. Daniels' attorney talked to the Business Courier here.

Ohio homeschoolers can now join public schools' sports teams.

President Barack Obama will stop in Ohio on Thursday to discuss U.S. manufacturing.

Boy choirs are having a more difficult time filling roles as boys hit puberty earlier.

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by German Lopez 11.06.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, City Council at 09:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
election_streetcaressay_juliehill

Morning News and Stuff

Voters elect anti-streetcar majority, pension privatization rejected, turnout at record low

Voters last night elected an anti-streetcar City Council majority and mayor, which raises questions about the $133 million project’s future even as construction remains underway. Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who ran largely on his opposition to the project, easily defeated streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls 58-42 percent, while non-incumbents Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray replaced Qualls, Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas on council to create a 6-3 anti-streetcar majority with Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman. Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the project — also won re-election. It remains unclear if the new government will actually cancel the project once it takes power in December, given concerns about contractual obligations and sunk costs that could make canceling the project costly in terms of dollars and Cincinnati’s business reputation.

Other election results: Cincinnati voters rejected Issue 4, which would have privatized Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees, in a 78-22 percent vote. Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved property tax levies for the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 80-20 percent votes. In the Cincinnati Public Schools board election, Melanie Bates, Ericka Copeland-Dansby, Elisa Hoffman and Daniel Minera won the four available seats.

At 28 percent, citywide voter turnout was at the lowest since 1975, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio Libertarians are threatening to sue if Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature pass a bill that would limit ballot access for minor parties. Although many of the new requirements for signatures and votes were relaxed in the Ohio House, minor parties claim the standards are still too much. Critics, who call the bill the “John Kasich Re-election Protection Act,” claim the proposal exists to protect Republicans, particularly Kasich, from third-party challengers who are unhappy with the approval of the federally funded Medicaid expansion. CityBeat covered the Ohio Senate proposal in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the Kasich administration stands by its decision to bypass the legislature and go through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, to enact the federally funded Medicaid expansion despite resistance in the Ohio House and Senate. The Ohio Supreme Court recently expedited hearings over the constitutional conflict, presumably so it can make a decision before the expansion goes into effect in January. Opponents of the expansion, particularly Republicans, argue the federal government can’t afford to pay for 90 to 100 percent of the expansion through Obamacare as currently planned, while supporters, particularly Kasich and Democrats, say it’s a great deal for the state that helps cover nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Across the state, voters approved most school levy renewals but rejected new property taxes.

Maximize your caffeine: The scientifically approved time for coffee drinking is between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

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by German Lopez 11.05.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, City Council at 11:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
john cranley

Streetcar Loses in Mayoral and City Council Elections

John Cranley wins mayoral race; three non-incumbents win City Council seats

Cincinnati’s streetcar project lost big on Tuesday as voters ushered in ex-Councilman John Cranley over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race and three non-incumbents who oppose the project to City Council, according to unofficial election results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

With all precincts reporting, Cranley handily defeated Qualls 58-42 percent. Cranley ran largely on his opposition to the $133 million streetcar, while Qualls promised to expand the project.

Voters also elected three non-incumbents to City Council: Democrat David Mann, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Republican Amy Murray. The three non-incumbents oppose the streetcar project, which means re-elected Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman are now part of a 6-3 majority on council that opposes the project.

Democrats Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young — all supporters of the streetcar project — also won re-election. Incumbent Democrats Laure Quinlivan and Pam Thomas lost.

It’s unclear if the newly elected council and mayor will stop current construction on the streetcar once they take power in December, given concerns about contractual obligations and sunk costs that could make canceling the project costly in terms of dollars and Cincinnati’s business reputation.

But Cranley and the six anti-streetcar elects on City Council vested much of their campaigns on their opposition to the project, which they claim is too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.

Supporters argue the project will produce a three-to-one return on investment — an estimate derived from a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR and a follow-up assessment to the HDR study from the University of Cincinnati.

City Council’s new make-up will be five Democrats, two Republicans, one Charterite and one Independent. That’s a shift from the current make-up of seven Democrats, one Republican and one Independent.

The new council slate will be the first to take up four-year terms following a city charter amendment voters approved in 2012.

Sittenfeld also landed a huge win and easily topped the City Council race with 10,000 more votes than Winburn, who, at 27,000 votes, got the second most ballots cast in his favor out of the nine council victors. Sittenfeld netted nearly 5,000 more votes than Cranley did in the mayoral race, although Cranley ran in a head-to-head race with Qualls while Sittenfeld was one of nine candidates voters could pick out of a pool of 21.

Citywide voter turnout ended up at roughly 28 percent.

Other election results:

Cincinnati voters rejected Issue 4, which would have privatized Cincinnati’s pension system for city employees, in a 78-22 percent vote.

In the Cincinnati Public Schools board election, Melanie Bates, Ericka Copeland-Dansby, Elisa Hoffman and Daniel Minera won the four seats up for grabs.

Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved property tax levies for the Cincinnati Zoo and Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in 80-20 percent votes.

This story was updated with the final reported results.

 
 

 

 

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by Nick Swartsell 08.06.2014 134 days ago
Posted In: City Council, County commissioners at 04:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
music hall

Music Hall Cut From Icon Tax Proposal

County Commissioners leave 136-year-old landmark out of renovation funding plan

Hamilton County Commissioners voted today to axe Music Hall from a proposed sales tax increase designed to pay for renovations to that structure and Union Terminal. Now, only Union Terminal will benefit from the potential tax hike, which county voters will decide on in November. Voters won't get a chance to decide whether a similar hike will pay for Music Hall.

Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council are not happy about the change-up.

“As mayor of this city, I’m deeply offended when we’re treated as second-class citizens in our own county,” Cranley said during a vote approving the city’s contribution to renovations at today’s council meeting. “We have done our part. We will pay the tax if it is passed. In no other jurisdiction, not even Hamilton County, is being asked to cut its budget … for these institutions.”

Cranley said asking city taxpayers for more money represents a kind of double taxation, since they would also be paying the county sales tax increase.

Ostensibly, council was voting to approve annual payments toward upkeep of both Union Terminal and Music Hall for 25 years. The $200,000 yearly commitment to each building adds up to $10 million. Cranley floated the plan last week as a demonstration of the city’s commitment to the landmark buildings.

Council approved that money unanimously, but that vote is mostly symbolic now that the fragile plan to fund both renovations with a tax hike, first proposed by a cadre of area business leaders called the Cultural Facilities Task Force, has fallen through. Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel said the proposed contributions, which the city already makes, don’t represent a renewed effort to fix the buildings.

The city has also pledged another $10 million toward Music Hall repairs. Those contributions weren’t enough for Hartmann, who had been the swing vote on the three-member commission. He signaled he would not vote for the original 14-year, .25 percent sales tax increase designed to raise much of the $331 million needed to repair the buildings.

Instead, he voted with fellow Republican Monzel today for an alternate tax measure that left Music Hall out of the deal, raising $170 million over five years for renovations to Union Terminal only. Democrat Todd Portune, who supported the original plan, voted against the new deal.

Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald, who led the task force designing the original deal, said the new plan jeopardizes more than $40 million in private donations, as well as historic preservation tax credits.

"The idea that somehow there’s going to be more money falling from space or that this money will be put forward for an alternate plan is a fallacious assumption," McDonald told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "That money has been committed to us personally for this plan.”

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called the development “frustrating.”

“I’m not here to add gasoline to the fire, but I think logic is a fair expectation of our elected leaders, and after people have said repeatedly that plans haven’t been vetted, that questions haven’t been answered, they’ve now moved forward with something that has no vetting,” Sittenfeld said, referring to criticisms of the original plan by anti-tax groups like COAST. “I hope people don’t forget what happened eight blocks from City Hall anytime soon.”

Monzel said that the plan's details would be worked out in the coming weeks, and that he wants to keep the county from overextending itself.

“If we limit the scope and focus on the one building that we do have a history with and limit it to five years, we limit our exposure and can be able to handle some of these other issues down the road,” he said.

Council members said that the city has stepped up to take care of the buildings in the past.

“Going back through the real-estate records, it’s clear that time and time again the city has stepped forward,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He highlighted the city’s rescue of Union Terminal from a failed plan to turn it into a mall in the 1980s. The city bought the building from a developer after the plan crashed and burned. Flynn also said the city has made significant contributions to 136-year-old Music Hall's upkeep since the 1800s.

 
 
by Nick Swartsell 06.25.2014
Posted In: City Council at 11:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
avondale housing

A Win-Win of Sorts for Affordable Housing

Council funds one development and leaves the door open for another

A deal approved by City Council June 25 splits the city’s limited funds among two affordable housing projects, funding one one in Over-the-Rhine and leaving the door open for another that’s been in the works for the last few years in Avondale.

The compromise didn’t come without contentiousness, though.

A 100-unit permanent supportive housing project called Commons of Alaska first proposed in 2008 for Avondale has received support from the majority of council in the past, including indications it would get $500,000 in funding toward the facility. But the project has also been delayed as some in Avondale have protested the plans by Columbus-based National Church Residences.

As controversy stalled the Avondale project, Over the Rhine Community Housing put together an unrelated plan to buy up and rehab affordable housing in the Pendleton District in eastern Over-the-Rhine. The city administration indicated to OTRCH that it would be able to use $1.9 million in federal grant money the city holds to help purchase and restore the properties.

Just a couple catches — that’s all the grant money the city has for affordable housing and it’s the same pool of money that would have gone to NCR for Avondale. The NCR project has been around longer, but some council members are adamantly against it and groups in Avondale opposed to the Commons are vocal and active, continually voicing their opposition to the project.

The Pendleton plan has its own drawbacks. Originally, the plan called for all the available grant money for just 40 units of housing. NCR’s plan called for just a quarter of the funds. OTRCH says the properties in question are very neglected, despite having been rehabbed in the 1990s. They must also be purchased first, which accounts for much of the big price tag.

As City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee met June 23, it looked like a battle was shaping up over the money. But it wasn’t to be, and compromise won the day.

“Affordable housing and permanent supportive housing are in our heart, they’re what we do,” said Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTRCH. “It’s a really difficult position to be in right now, because we support the NCR project.”

Rivers asked the Budget Committee to work with both developers to figure out a way to do both projects.

Vice Mayor David Mann offered an amendment to give $1.3 million to OTRCH and hold the other $500,000 or so in grant funds until the NCR project can be sorted out or until another supportive housing project can be worked out. The Budget Committee, and subsequently council, passed that deal.

OTRCH, which had looked likely to get all the $1.9 million it requested, agreed to scale back plans and make the lower funding work so both projects could be done. That doesn’t mean the NCR project has a green light, however.

An alternate site in another part of Avondale is under consideration, but there are a number of procedural hurdles and opposition is still loud against the project.

Some resident groups there say Avondale already has a high concentration of low-income housing, a result of historic inequalities in city planning going back to the 1960s.

Ruth Johnson Watts said she’s lived in North Avondale since 1963.

“When will we stop this trend of keeping crime and poverty concentrated in one or a few neighborhoods?" she asked. "We’re saying that Avondale has reached the capacity for poverty and crime without the necessities of life in our community, like grocery stores, a pharmacy and jobs.”

At least part of the objection to the project is the nature of permanent supportive housing, which provides affordable housing and recovery resources for those who would otherwise be homeless due to addiction problems, mental health issues or disabilities.

Advocates say the housing is a necessary step in a multiple-tiered path out of homelessness, starting when an individual enters a temporary shelter and ending when they are able to achieve independent housing. The city’s Homeless to Homes program calls for supportive housing like the Commons at Alaska would provide, but currently the city only has about 15 percent of the units called for in the plan.

NCR has won national recognition for its work with rehabilitative housing, but the group has caught flack for lack of community outreach in Avondale.

Councilmember Christopher Smitherman lambasted the developer during the Budget Committee meeting, saying the group’s efforts to inform Avondale residents about their plan wasn’t good enough and that NCR should be sending letters to every property owner in the area.

“This isn’t complicated, this community engagement,” he said. “It really frustrates me that we’re here talking about a project where those community stakeholders haven’t even been properly identified and communicated with."

Amy Rosenthal of NCR said the group has reached out to half a dozen key individuals and groups in the area and will continue to work with the community.

During council’s final vote on the compromise yesterday, Councilmember Yvette Simpson suggested that instead of simply opposing more affordable housing in the neighborhood, other council members and Avondale residents should oppose those who aren’t doing the job well.

She said her mother had once been placed in what she called sub-standard permanent supportive housing in Avondale.

“The reality is, when you have a great provider for the people who need it, it can be a stability point for the community as opposed to the many facilities in Avondale and throughout our city that are taking a check from people, and people are wandering off,” Simpson said.

She recalled a personal experience.

“My mother walked home from Avondale to Lincoln Heights and nobody knew she was gone. As someone who has lived with this my entire life, evaluating, trying to find a safe place for a parent, it’s real — you know the difference.”
 
 
by Rachel Podnar 05.29.2014
Posted In: LGBT Issues, Public Transit, City Council, Mayor at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
34654622-c5a6-4ae7-8f05-0b2569894db9

Metro to Offer Domestic Partner Benefits

Organization could become first to utilize city’s proposed domestic partner registry

Kim Lahman was doing cartwheels in her mind for Metro this morning.

The organization’s Ridership and Development Director celebrated Metro’s announcement on Thursday that it will provide health and dental benefits to domestic partners of its employees.

Lahman said she has used same-sex partner benefits in the past, when she went back to school.

“[My partner and I] know first-hand what it means to have the flexibility and equality as others do in the workplace,” Lahman said at a press conference at Metro’s office. “This is just a fantastic day and I’m so proud that Metro is able to do the right thing.”

Metro is the first employer to say it will use Cincinnati’s domestic partner registry if the initiative passes next week in City Council. Should it pass, Cincinnati will be the 10th city in Ohio to have a domestic partner registry.

Mayor John Cranley and City Councilman Chris Seelbach attended the press conference and spoke in support of the move.

Cranley called it “symbolically and substantively right” and during   the announcement shared a memory in honor of Maya Angelou, her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.

“She ended it with ‘Good morning,’” Cranley said. “I think this is a good morning for Cincinnati, a new day.”

Many of Cincinnati’s major employers, including Procter & Gamble, Kroger and Macy’s offer same-sex and domestic partner benefits.

Seelbach said while those companies already have systems to evaluate domestic partnerships, the registry will give other companies like Metro an easy way to provide those benefits.

“We are now leaders in the nation and the region to make sure everyone is welcome in our city, regardless of who they love,” Seelbach said. “Everyone should bring their full self to their workplace and be able to do that with health benefits for their partners.”

Seelbach said while Metro is the first to say it will use the registry, other companies like Cincinnati Bell have expressed interest.

Metro is a nonprofit tax-funded public service of the Southwestern Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) with around 850 employees.

One of SORTA’s executive statements says the organization is committed to a work environment that “promotes dignity and respect for all.”

Board Chair Jason Dunn said SORTA’s commitment to inclusion is a great business decision.

“It shows that we value our employees,” Dunn said. “It shows that not only is Metro on the cutting edge of transportation but also making sure we are open to talent and we are open to retaining great talent in our system.”

Same-sex partners with a valid marriage license, same-sex partners registered by a government entity and same-sex partners with a sworn affidavit will be recognized by Metro for domestic partner benefits, which will take effect January 1, 2015.

 

 

 

 
 
by German Lopez 03.06.2014
 
 
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
 
 
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
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
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
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
 
 
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
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.

 
 
 
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