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A new poll from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found a majority of Ohioans support expanding Medicaid coverage, but state legislators have passed on a federally funded expansion in their latest budget bills and other legislation. About 63 percent of 866 Ohioans asked between May 19 and June 2 supported the expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent. The question was part of the Ohio Health Issues Poll, which the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for Policy Research has conducted for the Health Foundation each year since 2005.
An Ohio bill would ease restrictions on semi-automatic magazines, making it so gun owners can more easily purchase high-round clips for their semi-automatic weapons. Supporters of the bill say the change helps differentiate between automatic and semi-automatic weapons — a differentiation that doesn’t currently occur under state law. Critics argue the bill makes it easier for offenders to carry out violent shootings, such as the recent massacre in Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Councilman Chris Smitherman is stepping down
as president of the local branch of the NAACP while he runs for
re-election. If he wins the election, Smitherman will then offer his resignation, which the NAACP's local executive committee can accept or reject. James Clingman, a vice president of the NAACP and founder
of the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce, will
take Smitherman's spot for the time being. Before the move, Smitherman was criticized for engaging in
partisan political activity as he ran for re-election, which is
generally looked down upon by the NAACP and federal rules regarding
501(c)(3) organization like the federal branch of the NAACP.
The world’s most advanced solar plane touched down in Cincinnati Friday before continuing its record-breaking journey across the nation to Washington, D.C.
The Columbus Dispatch says Internet cafes make gambling more convenient and accessible to problematic gamblers. As a result of recently passed legislation, Internet cafes are being effectively shut down around the state.
Ohio gas prices are coming back down.
If someone wants to get away from the U.S. government, Popular Science has a few suggestions.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology built a robot that helps people be less awkward.
Council member Chris Smitherman announced in a statement today that he will leave his post as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP while he runs for re-election to City Council.
If he does win re-election, Smitherman will offer his permanent resignation to the local chapter's executive committee, which can then accept or reject Smitherman's leave.
James Clingman, a vice president of the NAACP and founder of the Greater Cincinnati African-American Chamber of Commerce, will take Smitherman's spot for now.
Smitherman, City Council's sole Independent, has come under criticism recently to step down from his NAACP post as he runs for office.
Others have also criticized Smitherman's involvement with political organizations like the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and his support for Republican City Council candidates — involvement and support that critics argue are too political for the NAACP.
A memo titled "Election Year Dos and Don'ts" from the NAACP tells members to avoid partisan, political activity.
"Although NAACP units are 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations, the national NAACP is a 501(c)(3) organization which is restricted in how it can assist people in registering or getting out to vote. In addition, NAACP policy specifically prohibits units’ engagement in political campaign activity. This means that NAACP units cannot endorse or oppose candidates running for public office, make financial or in-kind contributions to candidates, political parties, or PACs, or engage in other activity that is designed or targeted to influence the outcome of any candidate election," the memo reads.
By separating himself from the NAACP, Smitherman can continue his political activities without violating federal and national NAACP rules.
City Council unanimously approved a development deal today to
build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage at Fourth and
Race streets downtown.
With council approval, construction could begin later this year, with developers hoping to finish the project in 2015.
The $80 million deal with Indianapolis-based development company Flaherty and Collins was approved following City Manager Milton Dohoney’s urging earlier today.
“If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward,” Dohoney said in a statement.
The city’s share of the project will cost $12 million. As part of the deal, the city will provide the money through a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for capital projects downtown. The funds can’t be used for operating budget expenses such as police and fire.
For more information on the project, read CityBeat’s original story on the Budget and Finance Committee hearing here.
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City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a development plan for Fourth and Race streets to build a downtown grocery store, a luxury apartment tower and a garage that will replace Pogue’s Garage. The project will cost $80 million, with the city paying
$12 million through a five-year forgivable loan and private financing paying for the remaining $68 million. The city’s loan is being financed through urban renewal
funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used
for capital investment projects downtown. The project was originally attached to the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, but the city administration says the urban renewal funds opened up after a hotel-convention center deal collapsed.
The city’s pension fund saw a return of 12 percent in fiscal year 2012, but the amount of money the city owes and should contribute to the pension fund continues to go up. The higher costs will likely force City Council to put more money toward the pension, which means less money for other services. City Council has underfunded the pension system by varying degrees since 2003 — a problem that was further exacerbated by the economic downturn of 2008, which cost the city’s pension fund $102 million. Consultants suggested City Council view the pension fund as “not being of good health” and make changes that would help make the pension fund more “robust” and less volatile.
As county and state officials move to investigate and potentially prosecute 39 “double voter” cases, local groups are pushing back with warnings that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among voters. Most of the cases cover voters who mailed in an absentee ballot then showed up to vote on Election Day. Although the voters voted twice, their votes were only counted once. Critics of the investigations, including Hamilton County Democrats, cite Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2), which says voters who show up to vote on Election Day after filing an absentee ballot should be given a provisional ballot. Hamilton County Republicans say they’re not prejudging anyone and just want an investigation.
Following a report that found Ohio’s juvenile correction facilities are among the worst in the nation for rape and other sexual assaults against incarcerated youths, the state is assigning assessors to the facilities to ensure proper protections and improvements are being put in place.
A derailed train hit a local electrical tower yesterday, temporarily shutting down power for part of the region.
Fatal collisions between cars and trains at public railroad crossings increased in 2012 to the highest level since 2008.
The former Terrace Plaza Hotel was sold, but it’s not clear what will come next for the building.
An experimental form of male birth control involves injecting gold into testes and zapping them with infrared light.
Another one of Saturn’s moons may contain an underground ocean.
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.
With a $3.2 billion price tag and 15- to 20-year time scale, Cincinnati’s plan to retrofit and replace its sewers is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history, but the program is experiencing hurdles as the city and county clash over how to reward contracts and whether the government should have a say in training employees. Cincinnati recently passed and modified a “responsible bidder” law that sets rules for apprenticeship programs and a fund for pre-apprenticeship programs, which Councilman Chris Seelbach says help promote local jobs and job training. But critics, backed by county officials and business organizations, say the law puts too much of a burden on contractors.
The Ohio Senate budget bill would restore $717 million in education funding, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome $1.8 billion in education funding cuts carried out in the last biennium budget. The funding increase also disproportionately favors the wealthy, with the property-poorest one-third of school districts getting 15 percent of the funding increases and the top one-third getting the vast majority. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill today.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns didn’t hand out “free marijuana plants” at a campaign event Wednesday, instead admitting to multiple media outlets that he was misleading the public to raise awareness of his campaign and marijuana legalization platform. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, which look similar to marijuana plants.
With 8-0 support from City Council, Mayor Mark Mallory appointed Stan Chesley to the city’s Human Relations Commission yesterday. Chesley retired from practicing law after he was disbarred in Kentucky for allegedly keeping millions of dollars that should have gone to clients involved in a lawsuit about phen-fen, a diet drug. Mallory and Chesley have worked together in the past, particularly to raise money for the city’s swimming pools.
Ohio lawmakers are considering two laws that would tighten rules about who can carry guns in schools and encourage religious education. The changes related to guns would involve local law enforcement in deciding who can carry guns, but it would also allow schools to conceal the names of who can carry a firearm and protect those individuals from liability for accidents unless there was “reckless and wanton conduct.” The changes for religious education would allow public high schools to give credit to students who take religious courses outside of school.
Ohio senators scrapped a plan that would have raised vehicle registration fees.
Ohio gas prices jumped above $4 this week.
NASA is building an intergalactic GPS.
Sleep-deprived men are apparently really bad at judging who wants to sleep with them.
City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.
As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.
Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget.
"The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."
The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.
The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department.
Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated.
Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.
The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.
The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a 50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special events.
At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget.
"I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.
Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of control."
Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.
Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.
The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months
of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to
be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway.
But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.
The operating budget plan, which passed with an 8-1 vote, comes after months of city officials threatening to lay off cops and firefighters if the city did not approve a plan to lease Cincinnati's parking assets to the Port Authority, which city officials previously claimed was necessary to raise funds that would help balance the operating budget for two years and fund economic development projects. But the parking plan is currently being held up in court, and the public safety layoffs are being avoided anyway.
Last week, council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach announced a budget motion that would avoid all fire layoffs and all but 25 police layoffs. The remaining 25 police layoffs are being undone through the budget motion approved today, which increases estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan did not sign onto the plan, articulating concerns that the budget maneuver will make the deficit worse in 2015 and fail to structurally balance the budget.
Even with the motion, the overall operating budget plan would make cuts elsewhere and raise fees and property taxes. If the plan is approved, about 60 city employees are expected to lose their jobs in the next couple weeks.
The cuts swept through most of the city government, hitting parks, the arts, human services, parades, administrative budgets and outside agencies, among many other areas.
The operating budget portion of the property tax will also climb from 5.7 mills in 2014 to 6.1 mills in 2015, which comes out to an extra $34 for every $100,000 in property value. The latest property tax increase comes after City Council approved a hike in 2013, pushing the property tax from 4.6 mills in 2013 to 5.7 mills in 2014.
The plan would also raise fees for several city services, including fire plan reviews and admission into the Krohn Conservatory.
Multiple council members claimed the austerity was necessary because of the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20).
Still, Lea Eriksen, the city's budget director, previously pointed out Cincinnati has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001.
City Council will vote on the overall budget plan May 30. Council members Qualls, Seelbach, Pam Thomas, Wendell Young and Yvette Simpson are expected to vote in favor of the plan, giving it enough votes to pass City Council.
City Council will vote on a budget plan today that will include no public safety layoffs, but about 60 other public employees will likely be jobless as a result of the plan in a couple weeks. The budget proposal comes after months of city officials claiming public safety layoffs were unavoidable without the city's plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. But the parking plan is now being held up in court, and the layoffs were avoided anyway.
CityBeat commentary: "Good News Reveals Budget Deception."
The Ohio Senate revealed a budget plan yesterday that made some major tax changes to the Ohio House proposal, but the budget will still effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion. The Ohio Senate plan passes on the Ohio House's 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut for all Ohioans and instead focuses on a 50-percent tax cut for small businesses. The bill also undid controversial language that forced public universities and colleges to decide between out-of-state tuition rates and providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting. CityBeat covered the conservative social policies in the Ohio House budget plan, which remain in the Ohio Senate bill, here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald came out in support of same-sex marriage in a May 17 interview with Outlook Columbus, putting him at odds with Republican opponent and incumbent Gov. John Kasich, who is running for re-election in 2014. Kasich previously implied support for same-sex civil unions in an interview with a local TV news station, but his spokesperson later walked back that support and reiterated the governor's opposition to same-sex civil unions and marriage. Same-sex marriage could be on the ballot in 2013 through FreedomOhio's efforts, which CityBeat covered in greater detail here.
Twenty were arrested yesterday during the Hamilton County Sheriff Department's sex offender compliance sweep.
A University of Cincinnati study found CPR training does little good, and most people do a lousy job at the life-saving technique.
Some Cincinnati businesses are taking more steps to protect their intellectual property rights in light of high rates of intellectual property theft in Asia.
The leader of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce is set to leave.
A new study suggests humans began walking upright because of rock climbing.
The Ohio Senate is poised to introduce its own budget plan today, and it could forgo the Medicaid expansion and include measures to defund Planned Parenthood and fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers. But how the Senate budget plan differs from the Ohio House version remains uncertain. CityBeat covered the House’s budget plan, which inspired controversy by taking a conservative turn on social issues, here.
The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, with the help of WCPO, is hosting a “phone-a-thon” that will help enroll uninsured children into the Medicaid program. The event, which could reach up to 15,000 children in southwest Ohio, helps tackle awareness, one of the main issues governments have faced while trying to expand health care programs around the nation. Since the Legal Aid Society’s program began getting federal funding in 2009, Medicaid enrollment for children in southwest Ohio has increased by 12 percent, while the rest of the state has increased by 4 percent.
A majority of City Council is now backing the budget plan that would pull back some cuts to city parks and outside agencies
and avoid a majority of layoffs initially proposed by City Manager
Milton Dohoney, leading to only 25 police layoffs and no fire layoffs.
“The plans put forward by a council majority prioritize public safety
and essential services that keep all of our neighborhoods safe and
attack the blight that breeds crime,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a
statement. “Our plan also continues the city’s investment in projects
that will transform our neighborhoods through the Focus 52 fund. Despite
the budget challenges we face, we must do all we can to keep the city’s
momentum moving forward.”
CityBeat commentary on the developing city budget story: “Good News Reveals Budget Deception.”
The lawsuit over a pregnant teacher’s firing from her job at a Catholic school begins today with opening statements. The lawsuit claims the Catholic school violated anti-discrimination laws by firing the teacher after she became pregnant through artificial insemination. CityBeat covered another case of the Church firing a pregnant teacher here and a Catholic woman priest who is pushing to make the Vatican more inclusive here.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says five have been charged with cheating at the Horseshoe Casino, which carries a potential sentence of two years in prison.
Gas prices are back down in Ohio this week.
The Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald’s FBI career here.
A man died after a skydiving accident in southwest Ohio Sunday.
The Vatican let everyone know over the weekend that atheists are still going to Hell.
Popular Science has a list of the 10 coolest species discovered in 2012 here.
A group is ordaining Roman Catholic women priests despite Vatican opposition, and Debra Meyers will be Cincinnati's first woman to go through the ordination on May 25. Meyers told CityBeat the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement is about pressuring the Catholic Church to be more inclusive, including with women, LGBT individuals and other groups that may feel left out by the Church's current policies. The full Q&A with Meyers can be read here.
In the latest budget plan, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is asking all city employees, including cops and firefighters, to take eight furlough days, which she says would save enough money to prevent all layoffs. That plan follows a motion co-sponsored by council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach, which would eliminate all fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25.
Hamilton County commissioners voted to stop all sewer projects yesterday in opposition to the city's "responsible bidder" policy, which requires most contractors working with the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) to have apprenticeship programs. City Council, spearheaded by Seelbach, passed the measure to encourage more job training options for workers, but the county government says the measure is unfair and puts too much of a strain on businesses working with MSD. The issue will likely head to court.
Commentary: "Good News Reveals Budget Deception."
At last night's budget hearings, Councilman Charlie Winburn repeatedly brought up the city's so-called "credit cards," which are really procurement cards that are often used by the mayor to entertain and attract businesses to Cincinnati. Winburn says the use of the cards is outrageous when the city is considering laying off cops and firefighters, and Councilman Chris Smitherman says the system needs more controls. The cards are set up so they can only be used by city employees for certain services, and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. says the cards make the system more efficient, which means lower prices for the city.
A bill in the Ohio House revives the Medicaid expansion, which was previously opposed by Republicans as part of the budget process. Gov. John Kasich is one of the top Ohio Republicans who supports the expansion, but it's unclear how far the bill can move this time, considering many Republicans are still opposed. CityBeat covered the expansion, which would insure half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade, in further detail here.
The Ohio General Assembly passed a bill
yesterday that would effectively ban Internet "sweepstakes" cafes,
which state officials say are prone to illegal gambling activity. State
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says the bill is a "shoot ‘em
and let God sort it out" approach because the bill generalizes against
all Internet cafes instead of imposing specific regulations that would
only target offenders. If Kasich signs the bill, it will become law.
The Ohio Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, submitted 589 petitions to the Ohio Senate opposing a measure that would force Ohio's public universities to decide between $370 million in out-of-state tuition revenue and giving out-of-state students documents required for voting. The measure was originally sneaked into the Ohio House budget plan, but Senate officials are removing it from the budget bill and appear likely to take it up in a standalone bill. CityBeat covered the original measure here.
Greater Cincinnati home sales are continuing picking up. There 2,388 homes
sold in the region in April, up 22.65 percent from the year before —
even better than March's 13.5-percent year-over-year rise.
Researchers are now suggesting rubbing a certain kind dirt on wounds.
Only 11 streetcar workers are expected to lose their jobs following a City Council-approved pause of the $132.8 million project, according to Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick.
The final number is far below the original estimate of 200 layoffs that city officials gave on Monday when council members asked about the effects of halting the streetcar project.
The remaining workers will be moved by contractors to
other jobs or kept under ongoing utility work, which utility companies
agreed to continue despite no longer qualifying for reimbursements from
the city, according to Deatrick.
Deatrick says it’s “a wild guess” whether the amount of layoffs will grow in the future.
“Our contractors have real heart,” he says.
The number is good financial news for the city. If 200 workers were laid off, Deatrick previously estimated that unemployment benefits would cost the city $419,000 for the month.
Still, the city administration on Wednesday warned that it could cost $2.56-$3.56 million to pause ongoing construction for the month. In comparison, Deatrick estimates that continuing construction at current speeds would cost $3 million.
A majority of council members dismissed the pause cost estimates as exaggerated when they voted to halt the project on Wednesday.
With the streetcar project on hold, council now plans to review how much it would cost to complete or cancel the project.
Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
But a majority of council members voiced distrust toward the estimates and called for an independent review.
Depending on the outcome of the cost analysis, Vice Mayor
David Mann and Councilman Kevin Flynn say they could change their minds
on canceling the streetcar project. Only one of them needs to do so to give streetcar supporters a majority on council.
City Council yesterday voted to allocate $1.25 million to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project and study how much it will cost to continue or cancel the project. The final 5-4 votes to pause came despite offers from private contributors to pay for the $250,000 study and construction for the one or two weeks necessary to carry out the cost analysis. The city administration warned council earlier in the day that pausing the project for one month could cost $2.56-$3.56 million, while previous estimates put continuing construction for the month at $3 million. After the cost study is finished, council members expect to make a final decision on whether to continue or cancel the project.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson filed a motion to draw up a city charter amendment that would task the city with completing the current streetcar project. If the charter amendment gets council approval, Cincinnatians would vote on the issue approximately 60 to 120 days afterward. But it’s unclear whether the $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar project would survive through the months; the federal government previously warned a delay could be grounds for pulling the money.
Commentary: “Atmosphere at City Hall Changes for the Worse.”
Following various cases of malfunctioning or disabled police cruiser cameras, various groups, including Councilman Chris Seelbach, are asking to get to the bottom of the issue. Police officials say old, deteriorating technology is to blame, but critics claim some officers are purposely tampering with the technology to avoid filming themselves during controversial moments in the line of duty. For both sides, getting the cameras working could be mutually beneficial; functioning cameras would allow police to clear their names but also show when officers make mistakes.
The University of Cincinnati asked Hamilton County judges to crack down on criminals targeting students on or near campus.
State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati says he won’t give up his Democratic candidacy for lieutenant governor despite $825,000 in unpaid state and federal taxes.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati canceled a vote for a proposal that would greatly weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. But he vowed to pursue a “three-pronged strategy to reform the current envirosocialist mandates,” including potential litigation. Environmental groups argued Seitz’s proposal would have effectively eliminated the state’s energy standards. According to a study from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal in greater detail here.
The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved a bill that establishes a state panel to oversee Medicaid and recommend changes for the costly program. Republicans insist the measure isn’t about reducing benefits or eligibility for Medicaid; instead, they argue it’s about finding ways to cut growing health care costs without making such cuts. Gov. John Kasich must sign the bill for it to become law.
Months after rejecting Kasich’s proposal to do so, Ohio House leaders introduced a scaled-down measure that would slightly raise the oil and gas severance tax and cut income taxes. Unlike the governor’s previous proposal, the House plan seems to have support from the oil and gas industry.
Another Ohio House bill seeks to reintroduce prayer in public schools.
Ohioans are borrowing more to pay for college, but the debt load remains less than the national average.
Headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “CVG board votes to hire investigator for butt-dialed call.”
It seems Metropolitan Sewer District rates will increase by 6 percent.
Cincinnati could get three to six inches of snow tomorrow.
Robert Carr, a 49-year-old Cincinnati man, has been going into the homes of strangers and trying to claim them as his own. He’s now being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center on six felony charges for breaking into homes.
Ohio gas prices fell below $3 a gallon.
According to a study from the Library of Congress, 70 percent of America’s silent films are lost and a good portion of the remaining films are in poor condition.
City Council plans to vote today on 11 ordinances that would indefinitely pause the $132.8 million streetcar project while council members review and weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion. The measures are expected to pass. Because they each allocate at least $100,000 in funding, the ordinances are not susceptible to referendum. Although Mayor John Cranley repeatedly defended the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, he now says he doesn’t want the city to be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project he adamantly opposes until November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
If a 1930 Ohio Supreme Court ruling applies, Cincinnati could be responsible for paying to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks, but the city might be able to charge some of those costs back to utility companies, according to a newly disclosed 2011 memo from a city attorney to former City Manager Milton Dohoney. The memo is the latest twist in the ongoing legal battle between Duke Energy and the city over who has to pay $15 million to move utility lines for the streetcar project. If the city loses the case, the cost of the project could climb from $132.8 million to $147.8 million. But it’s still unclear how much the 1930 case applies, given that the 1930 streetcar system was owned by a private company and the 2016 version would be owned by the city.
Editorial from The Cincinnati Enquirer: “Pausing streetcar same as killing it.”
Mayor Cranley and City Council agreed to delay a vote on Willie Carden’s nomination for city manager to give council members enough time to meet with the candidate one-on-one and “digest” ordinances for his nomination. The nomination of Carden, who currently heads the Parks Department, has been plagued by some controversy because of Carden’s decision to live outside Cincinnati, which violates the rules set by the city charter for the city manager, and recently uncovered ethics issues in which Carden wrongfully took pay from both the private Parks Foundation and city.
City Council also delayed voting on new rules for a week to give council members more time to analyze and discuss the rules. Until then, City Council will operate under the standard Robert's Rules of Order. One possible change to the rules would increase the time given to public speakers during committee meetings from two to three minutes.
Watch Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld outmaneuver Mayor Cranley here.
The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents. The court argued that state law passed by Republican legislators largely exempted JobsOhio from public record requests, which means the privatized development agency can keep most of its inner workings secret. Republicans argue the agency’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly establish business deals around the state, while Democrats claim the anti-transparency measures make it too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it uses taxpayer dollars.
The addition of measures that would create state and county councils to help get people off Medicaid ruined some of the bipartisan efforts behind Medicaid overhaul legislation, but Republican legislators still intend to bring the legislation to an Ohio House vote today. Republicans argue the controversial amendments merely update the “framework” under which counties can streamline efforts to get people off public assistance programs. But Democrats say the last-minute measures might have unintended consequences, including one portion that might give the state council the ability to change — and potentially weaken — Medicaid eligibility requirements.
An Ohio Senate bill would revamp and reduce teacher evaluation requirements to make them less costly and burdensome for school districts. The current standards require an annual evaluation of any Ohio teacher rated below “accomplished” and, according to some school districts, create high costs and administrative burdens that outweigh the benefits.
For the second time in two weeks, Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter left court in an ambulance after supposedly passing out in court. Hunter faces increasing pressure from higher courts to rule on long-stalled cases.
A 9-year-old boy who was abandoned by his adoptive parents in Butler County allegedly threatened to kill his adoptive family.
Here is how bars are using cutting-edge technology to make better drinks.
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday after moving forward yesterday with 11 ordinances that aren’t susceptible to referendum. The bills allocate $1.25 million to stop contracts tied to the project and hire expert consultants to study what it would cost to continue or suspend the project — information a majority of council plans to use to gauge whether the project should continue after the pause. Streetcar supporters planned to hold some sort of referendum on the pause ordinances, but Cranley, who previously spoke in favor of the “people’s sacred right of referendum,” now says that the city shouldn’t be required to continue spending on the project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration yesterday announced it froze $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar until Cincinnati agrees to move ahead with the project. The decision shows Cranley and other opponents of the project were in the wrong when they claimed they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the grant money to other projects. But the decision should also come as little surprise to the new mayor and council, considering federal officials warned of the consequences of canceling the streetcar project on three separate occasions in the past six months.
The Haile U.S. Bank Foundation also joined the fray yesterday with an email to city officials plainly stating that the streetcar project’s cancellation “will definitely cause us to pause and reconsider whether the City can be a trusted partner” and endanger contributions to the carousel in Smale Riverfront Park, the shared-use kitchen at Findlay Market and the renovations of the Globe Building and Music Hall. The email also offered to pay for a study that would evaluate the costs of the streetcar project going forward. But Cranley brushed off the letter as a threat and argued the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation “can’t be a passive-aggressive dictator of legislative process.”
Although his nomination to the city manager spot was initially met with praise, some are beginning to raise questions about Willie Carden’s refusal to live in Cincinnati and his history, including an ethics probe that found he was wrongfully taking pay from both the city and private Parks Foundation. Councilman Chris Seelbach said he’s also worried about the process for Cranley’s pick, which didn’t involve a national search and never put any other candidates in front of council.
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Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to halt Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project on Wednesday — and voters might not get a final say on whether they approve of the pause.
In front of council are 11 ordinances totaling $1.25 million that would stop contracts tied to the streetcar project while the city hires expert consultants to review the costs of continuing or suspending the project.“I think cancellation is what we should do,” Cranley said at Monday’s council meeting. “But a majority of council wants to pause and ask questions.”
One immediate concern for supporters of the project: Because the ordinances appropriate funds, they are not susceptible to referendum.
Cranley repeatedly touted the “people’s sacred right of referendum” in opposition to the parking privatization plan while on the campaign trail, but he now argues the city shouldn’t be forced to continue spending on the streetcar project until voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required under a traditional referendum.
Cranley encouraged streetcar supporters to instead push a ballot initiative that doesn’t require the city to continue funding the project.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who supported a referendum on the parking plan, argued Cranley’s position was hypocritical.
“I don’t want to have the voters’ voice suppressed,” he said.
Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced that he’s voting to continue the streetcar project. He asked, “Are we going to have tens of millions of dollars of wasted money or something to show for it?”
In response to the concerns, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a streetcar supporter, said she will have her staff draw up a motion to place the streetcar project on the ballot.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach, who also supports the streetcar, countered that the ballot initiative would not matter if the project is paused and the federal government decides to effectively kill the streetcar by taking back $44.9 million in federal grants that are funding one-third of the project’s costs.
The Federal Transit Administration on Monday stated the grant money is already frozen pending a council decision to advance the project.
Simpson questioned whether the ordinances allocated enough money to pause the project. Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad (MPD) estimate they’ll need $590,000 to suspend work for a month. The ordinance halting MPD’s contract allocates only $100,000.
On top of the $1.25 million — or $1.74 million, if MPD’s estimate is counted — allocated to pause the project, the suspension would also force the city to pay for unemployment insurance as construction companies lay off 200 workers involved in the project. Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick estimates that will cost $419,000 if workers are kept unemployed for a month.
So the city could pay nearly $2.16 million to pause the project for a month. In comparison, Deatrick says one month of construction would cost the city $3 million.
The pause costs would also come from the contingency fund for the streetcar project, according to Deatrick. The $7.4 million contingency fund is already counted as part of the $132.8 million project, but it could go unspent if the project continues without complications.
Deatrick on Nov. 21 warned the costs of canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
(The issue of cancellation costs was first reported by CityBeat in October as a follow-up with city officials to a July story that outlined the top 10 misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project.)Supporters of the streetcar project argue it’s necessary to spur economic development along the planned 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR, which was later validated by the University of Cincinnati, found the project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years.
Opponents argue the project is far too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.“I believe the progress of Cincinnati is going to continue,” Cranley said. “Our future is bullish and bright in downtown and Over-the-Rhine with or without the streetcar.”
A majority of City Council expects to vote in favor of the ordinances at its full meeting on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Council members who oppose the project plan to use the time-out to weigh the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
Federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project are on hold
until City Council votes to continue the project, according to a Dec. 2 email from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to Cincinnati officials.
The decision means Cincinnati can no longer tap into $44.9 million in federal grants until Mayor John Cranley and a majority of the newly sworn-in City Council, both of which have shown opposition to the streetcar project, agree to continue with ongoing construction.
“As per our telephone conversation, early last week, the Administrator decided to restrict further access to the Federal project funds until the FTA received an affirmative signal from the city’s newly elected officials that the city intends to proceed with the project on the agreed-upon schedule,” wrote Marisol Simon, FTA regional administrator in Chicago. “This measure was taken to protect the taxpayer funds not yet drawn down by the city from being subject to a potential debt collection action.”
The FTA’s decision shows Cranley and other streetcar opponents were in the wrong when they insisted they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the money to other projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive.
But the consequence should come as little surprise to elected officials. In two letters to former Mayor Mark Mallory and a phone conference with City Council, federal officials warned the city they would pull the funding if the streetcar project were canceled.
The news comes on the same day City Council plans to vote to pause the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed against the costs of continuing.
It also comes two days after streetcar builder CAF USA warned the city of substantial costs that would be incurred if the streetcar project were canceled.
Even if council only pauses the project, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick says the path forward is unknown because it’s unclear how the city will fund costs associated with a pause.
The costs would presumably come out of the project’s contingency
fund, according to Deatrick, but pulling money out of the contingency
fund for a delay or pause changes the scope of the project and could face federal resistance.
On Nov. 21, Deatrick said the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.
Among the new city government’s first priorities is canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity. They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November 2014 ballot.
Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes in the past few years.
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The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.
The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in.
"CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.
The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.
For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.
City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.
Read the full letter below:
Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.
The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.
On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project, which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to referendum.
But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.
Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.
Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati.
But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.
Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.
Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.
Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.
Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.
Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.
A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.
On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.
The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.
Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.
Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.
Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.
Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.
Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.