While fact checking an interview, CityBeat discovered it will be possible to circumvent the parking plan’s cap on meter rate increases through a multilayer process that involves approval from a special committee, the city manager and the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. The process adds a potential loophole to one of the city manager’s main defenses against fears of skyrocketing rates, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says raising the cap requires overcoming an extensive series of hurdles: unanimous approval from a board with four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, affirmation from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. Olberding says the process is necessary in case anything changes during the 30-year time span of the parking deal, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley launched DontSellCincinnati.org to prevent the city manager’s parking plan, which semi-privatizes the city’s parking assets. The website claims the plan gives for-profit investment companies power over enforcement, guarantees 3-percent rate increases every year and blows through all the money raised in two years. The plan does task a private company with enforcement, but it will be handled by Xerox, not a financial firm, and must follow standards set in the company’s agreement with the Port Authority. While the plan does allow 3-percent rate increases each year, Olberding says the Port Authority will have the power to refuse an increase — meaning it’s not a guarantee.
Arnol Elam, the Franklin City Schools superintendent who sent an angry letter to Gov. John Kasich over his budget plan, is no longer being investigated for misusing county resources after he paid $539 in restitution. CityBeat covered Elam’s letter, which told parents and staff about regressive funding in Kasich’s school funding proposal, and other parts of the governor’s budget in an in-depth cover story.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio’s oil lobby is still against Kasich’s tax plan, which raises a 4 percent severance tax on oil and wet gas from high-producing fracking wells and a 1 percent tax on dry gas.
Local faith leaders from a diversity of religious backgrounds held a press conference yesterday to endorse the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom Amendment, an amendment from FreedomOhio that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Pastor Mike Underhill of the Nexus United Church of Christ (UCC) in Butler County, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple Sholom, Pamela Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values and Mike Moroski, who recently lost his job as assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School for standing up for LGBT rights all attended the event. CityBeat covered the amendment and its potential hurdles for getting on the 2013 ballot here.
Vanessa White, a member of the Cincinnati Public Schools board, is running for City Council. White is finishing her first four-year term at the board after winning the seat handily in 2009. She has said she wants to stop the streetcar project, but she wants to increase collaboration between the city and schools and create jobs for younger people.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) policy on providing driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants remains unclear. Since CityBeat broke the story on the BMV policy, the agency has shifted from internally pushing against driver’s licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to officially “reviewing guidance from the federal government as it applies to Ohio law.” DACA is an executive order from President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to qualify for permits that enable them to remain in the United States without fear of prosecution.
A survey from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments found locals are generally satisfied with roads, housing and issues that affect them everyday. The survey included 2,500 people and questions about energy efficiency, infrastructure, public health, schools and other issues.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine revealed 7,000 Ohioans have received more than $280 million in consumer relief as part of the National Mortgage Settlement announced one year ago. The $25 billion settlement between the federal government and major banks punishes reckless financial institutions and provides relief to homeowners in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Ohio received a $3 million federal grant to continue improving the state’s health care payments and delivery programs.
Cincinnati home sales reached a six-year high after a 27-percent jump in January.
CityBeat’s Hannah “McAttack” McCartney interviewed yours truly for the first post of her Q&A-based blog, Cinfolk.
Crows have a sense of fairness, a new study found.
For better or worse, Cincinnati will have to deal with another major election cycle for City Council and the mayor’s office in 2013. With four-year terms for City Council recently approved by voters, the 2013 election could play one of the most pivotal, long-term roles in Cincinnati’s electoral history.
But what most people know about the candidates and issues
is typically given through small fragments of information provided by
media outlets. At CityBeat, we do our best to give the full context of
every story, but just once, we decided to give the candidates a chance
to speak for themselves through a question-and-answer format. (Update: Since this article was published, CityBeat interviewed Democratic mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls for another Q&A here.)
First up, mayoral candidate John Cranley, a former Democratic council member, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the recently announced parking plan (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20) and the Cincinnati streetcar (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23) in his mayoral campaign against fellow Democrat Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. CityBeat talked with Cranley about these issues and how they relate to the campaign to get his full take, all in his own words. The conversation (with some edits for readability) is below.
CityBeat: I know your campaign kick-off was last night. How did that go? Did it have good turnout?
John Cranley: It was awesome. We had over 300 people there. Very diverse crowd. It was just great.
CB: How do you feel about the campaign in general? It’s pretty early, but how do you feel about the local support you’ve been getting?
JC: It’s been overwhelming. People are rallying behind my progressive vision, and trying to stop privatization of parking meters to Wall Street. And trying to get focus back on neighborhoods, balance, equity, basic services for everyone, special attention to those in need and broad opportunities for the working poor. I think people are very excited for that message, and I’m finding support in every neighborhood of town.
CB: I noticed that a theme of your campaign is helping out neighborhoods by spreading the funding not just to downtown, but neighborhoods as well. Are you hoping to build support from those areas?
JC: I’m for fairness. I think that right now you have a disproportionate amount of money — $26 million over budget on the streetcar, yet they’re still proceeding with it — and the neighborhoods are forgotten about. But I want to see downtown flourish too, so it’s not like I’m one or the other. I want the whole city to do better. But I think there needs to be equity and balance.
CB: You just think the playing field isn’t leveled right now?
JC: Absolutely not. Right now they’re trying to raise parking meters in neighborhoods to build luxury apartments in downtown. If that doesn’t show you their values are out of whack, I don’t know what does.
CB: Speaking on that, the latest news is the city manager’s parking proposal, which he calls a “public-public partnership” that will boost economic development. What are your thoughts on it?
JC: The PR campaign that they’ve been putting out
is very deceptive and willfully so. This is not a public plan; this is
privatization to a Wall Street company. The only elements that matter to
city control are control over rates and control over enforcement. The
city has said repeatedly, dishonestly, that the city will maintain
control over rates and enforcement, but neither one of those statements
The rates are guaranteed to go up 3 percent a year for 30
years on a compounded basis. Prior to the recent increases in parking
rates, the city hadn’t raised rates in 10 or 15 years. Right now, the
elected officials — we live in a democracy, for now. Right now, City
Council decides to raise rates, lower rates, maintain rates. If there’s a
recession in the future, City Council can choose to reduce parking
rates. There might be certain neighborhoods where you want to charge
different rates over others depending on economic demographics of those
areas. Right now, we have complete flexibility to change those rates.
This plan gives Wall Street the right to raise rates by 3 percent every
single year for 30 years.
Not to mention due process concerns. What happens if you
don’t believe you were late back to your meter? Who do you appeal to?
You appeal to this company from Wall Street, who has a financial
incentive to make you pay.
[Editor's Note: Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, told CityBeat the rate
increase cap could be circumvented, but the decision would have to be unanimously
approved by a board with four members appointed by the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority
and one selected by the city manager, then affirmed by the city manager, then get a final nod from the Port Authority. The 3-percent rate increase is
also not automatic, and the Port Authority could decide to not
take it up every year.
On that point, how is it that there are public hearings next week and they haven’t released any of the contracts or documents for this transaction? They are going on a Power Point presentation, which is their talking points. Everyone is writing it as if it’s fact, yet the contract and the details haven’t even been released.
Roxanne is calling public hearings and expecting people to weigh in on a 30-year decision before the details are released to the public. How cynical is that?
CB: We might not know the details right now, but you think that shows a lack of transparency?
JC: Of course. I hope you guys will editorialize about that and stand up against privatizing and outsourcing the city to Wall Street.
CB: In the past, you and I talked about the next phase of the Smale Riverfront Park not having funding, which you pinned on the streetcar taking tax revenue that could be used for it. I couldn’t help but notice that it’s one of the things funded in the city manager’s parking proposal. Do you see that as evidence to your claim?
JC: Well, of course. They don’t have funding for the Riverfront Park. That’s why they’re selling the city’s parking meters.
The bigger issue is it’s just fundamentally wrong to take an asset that is a recurring revenue stream for 30 years and try to monetize it today at the expense of the future generations. It’s giving Roxanne the ability to try to buy votes by playing Santa Claus before the election at the expense of the next generation.
CB: Another part of the plan is it’s expanding hours. Do you think that might hurt nightlife in Downtown?
JC: Of course it’s going to hurt restaurants, nightlife and the Cincinnati Reds, not to mention the neighborhoods — Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Clifton. They’re going to pay higher meters so they can pay off their friends to build luxury apartments in downtown. The equity of this is awful.
CB: Would you be willing to bring up a referendum on this deal?
JC: Absolutely. It’s such a selling-out of the city on a long-term basis, but I think the people should have the final say.
CB: I want to move onto the streetcar. Even for supporters of the streetcar, the delays are unnerving. The latest news is these construction requests came way over budget and they might cause more delays. How do you feel about it?
JC: It’s what we’ve been saying for a long time. A lot of people’s reputations have been attacked for having said that this thing would be over budget. I think a lot of people, including Roxanne, need to fess up that they’ve been misleading the public about this deal for years.
But the real issue is it’s $26 million over budget, it’s the tip of the iceberg, and it’s going to get worse. And Roxanne is continuing to spend money on the streetcar. She’s continuing to move forward. She still says she wants to get it done by the (2015 Major League Baseball) All-Star Game. She still says that she wants to pay for future phases. So it doesn’t really matter, from Roxanne’s standpoint, if it’s $26 million over budget. I think it’s too expensive, we can’t afford it, we shouldn’t be raising property taxes, etc. We should stop now and we should try to get our money back.
CB: One of the issues you’ve told me you have with the streetcar before is a lack of transparency. Do you think that’s catching up to the city in these budget surprises?
JC: Of course the lack of transparency is catching up to them. Not only is it the right thing to do what you’re doing with their money and government; it’s always the right way to manage money. When you hide problems, it always leads to greater expense later.
CB: We’ve thoroughly covered what you’re against. What positive visions do you have for the city and neighborhoods?
JC: I have lots. On my website, JohnCranley.com,
I have my 10-point plan, which goes in great deal over my positive plan
for the city. We need to focus on jobs and opportunities for the
future. We need to partner with the venture capital and university
entrepreneurship efforts in the city, and I’ll do everything in my power
to help that. We need to work to improve our schools; what we need to
do is get communities involved to adopt under-performing inner-city
schools to improve the standards and opportunities. Third, we need to
adopt my plan to reprogram existing federal dollars into job training
and job opportunities to put people to work in building city’s
infrastructure projects now. Those are probably the three major ones.
The good thing about Cincinnati is we have momentum, which is great. But we’re not getting better fast enough.
Update: This story was updated with comment from the city manager’s office to clarify how the parking plan’s rate cap will work and Guggenheim's role.
Mallory puts the issue in perspective on the proposal's page on The Huffington Post: "In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate."
Mallory's proposal would create an Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which, according to a press release sent out by Mallory's office, has already been launched via a pilot version with significant success. Here's how it works: When a woman finds out she's pregnant, she's enrolled in First Steps, a care program that maintains a secure database of new mothers and monitors pregnancies.
The competition garnered applications from 305 cities, and Cincinnati was one of 20 finalists selected. If recognized, Cincinnati could win a $5 million prize or one of four $1 million prizes to help implement and sustain the Infant Mortality Network.
"City after city deals with this issue, but in Cincinnati, we are dealing with an infant mortality rate that is twice the national average. And half of those deaths occur in just five zip codes. So we know exactly where the problem is, we know exactly what community is having the issue. ... We're really trying to create a program in Cincinnati that can be replicated all across the country. So that in city after city, they can see the same type of success that we are seeing — continuing to drive that infant mortality rate down so that we are saving babies' lives," Mallory says in the Mayors Challenge finalist video below.
According to data from 2007-09 from the Cincinnati Health Department, the five zip codes experiencing the highest infant mortality rates are: 45219 (30.4), 45202 (24.2), 45246 (20.7), 45203 (20.1) and 45214 (19.2). For more detailed information from the Cincinnati Health Department, click here.
Watch the full finalist video:
State legislators, particularly Republicans, have a lot of questions regarding Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion. Legislators are worried the state won’t be able to opt out of the expansion if the federal government reneges its funding promise, raising potential financial hurdles. As part of Obamacare, the federal government pays for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and the share phases down to 90 percent after that. Kasich’s budget includes a trigger — called a “circuit breaker” — in case the federal government ever funds less than currently promised. A study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the Medicaid expansion could insure nearly 500,000 people and generate $1.4 billion by raising revenue and shifting funding burdens from the state to federal government.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a longtime supporter of the streetcar, is getting concerned about some of the problems surrounding the project. In a memo to the city manager, Qualls suggested putting the streetcar project through “intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The memo was in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a setback that could cause further delays or more funding problems.
With Councilman Chris Seelbach’s strong support, City Council passed a resolution urging the state government to maintain its energy efficiency standards. State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the Public Utilities Committee, sent out a memo Feb. 1 that pledged to review the state’s standards, causing much concern among environmental groups.
Tolls for the Brent Spence Bridge could be as low as $2,
according to financial consultants involved with the project. The tolls
will help pay for the massive rehabilitation project, which gained
national attention when President Barack Obama visited Cincinnati to support rebuilding the bridge.
State Democrats and Republicans have some questions
about the governor’s Ohio Turnpike plan. Some Democrats are concerned
the state government won’t actually freeze toll hikes at the rate of inflation for
EZPass users. Others are worried
about language in the bill. The plan leverages the Ohio Turnpike to fund a statewide construction program.
The man accused of dumping fracking waste into the Mahoning River in Youngstown was arrested and charged with violating the Clean Water Act.
Dayton wants to help
illegal immigrants who are victims of crime. The Dayton City Commission
approved a $30,000 contract with a law firm to help potential
victims. CityBeat previously covered the recent struggles of children of illegal immigrants in Ohio.
A Dayton Daily News report found Ohio overpays unemployment compensation claims by millions of dollars.
The University of Cincinnati is launching a technology incubator for mobile apps.
In his State of the County address yesterday, Commission President Chris Monzel said Hamilton County is “on the move and getting stronger.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine and officials from other states announced a $29 million settlement with Toyota over the unintended acceleration debacle. Ohio will get $1.7 million from the settlement.
A meteor flew over Russian skies and exploded with the strength of an atomic bomb Friday, causing a sonic blast that shattered windows and injured nearly 1,000 people.
Scientists engineered mice that can’t feel the cold. Certain people on CityBeat’s staff would probably do anything for this superpower, but scientists are probably going to use it to make better pain medication.
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125 million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project, everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank check.’”
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through “intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher costs.
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
John Cranley is calling for the city to halt progress on the streetcar after a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer revealed the city’s construction bids are $26 million to $43 million over budget. City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city might throw out the bids and start the bidding process again, but no final decision has been made yet. But Cranley argues the city has no leverage over bidders because it already bought the streetcars. In CityBeat’s in-depth look at the streetcar, Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, said the cars had to be bought early so they can be built, tested and burned into the tracks while giving staff enough time to get trained — a process that could take as long as two and a half years. The city also cautions that sorting through the bids will take a few more weeks.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) landed a $2.5 million grant to purchase seven new buses. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, yesterday announced SORTA had won the competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The new buses will replace old ones that are no longer good for service.The Horseshoe Casino got approval from the state yesterday despite fears of bankruptcy surrounding the casino’s parent company. As a precaution, the Ohio Casino Control Commission is requiring Caesar’s, the troubled company, to undergo annual financial reviews and notify the commission of any major financial plans, including any intent to file bankruptcy. Caesar’s is currently $22 billion in debt.
Ohio legislators have a lot of questions about Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding formula. Kasich claims his formula levels the playing field between poor and wealthy schools, but Rep. Ryan Smith, a Republican, pointed out his poor Appalachian district is getting no money under the formula, while the suburban, well-off Olentangy Schools are getting a 300 percent increase. In a previous glimpse at the numbers for Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), CityBeat found the funding increases aren’t enough to make up for past cuts — largely because of the phaseout of tangible personal property reimbursements.
Another report found low-performing schools could be forced to outsource teaching. The new policy has aggravated some local officials.
Kasich’s budget will apparently benefit the state’s mentally ill and addicted. Mental health advocates said the budget will expand treatment, housing and other services. Most of the benefits will come from the Medicaid expansion.
CPS says it will not lose any funding over the state auditor’s attendance scrubbing report. The report, released Tuesday, found CPS had been scrubbing attendance data, but the school district claims errors were not intentional.
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel will give the State of the County address later today.
Ohio Third Frontier approved $3.6 million in new funds to support Ohio innovation. About $200,000 is going to Main Street Ventures, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator.
Cincinnati Art Museum named an interim curator: Cynthia Amneus.
Covington is getting a new city hall.
New evidence shows lab testing on mice may not be helpful for humans. Apparently, mice and human genes are too different for treatments to be comparable.
In response to Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s call for a debate, the campaign for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another Democratic candidate for mayor, is calling both campaigns to schedule a series of debates. Jens Sutmoller, Qualls’ campaign manager, said in a statement, “Vice Mayor Qualls believes the citizens of Cincinnati deserve a robust series of public debates between the two final 2013 Mayoral candidates. She looks forward to articulating her optimistic vision of Cincinnati’s future and the investments we need to make in our neighborhoods and city to achieve a welcoming city of opportunity for all our citizens.”
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) are being used as a model by other schools around the state and country. Other schools are particularly interested in Cincinnati’s community learning centers, which provide services not directly related to education, including health clinics, mental health counselors, tutoring programs and extensive after-school programs. The approach is being praised for making schools serve the greater needs of communities. CityBeat wrote about CPS and its community learning centers here.
Steve Dyer, an education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, says Gov. John Kasich’s school education plan actually does the opposite of what Kasich claimed: “However, after examining the district-by-district runs produced by the Kasich Administration yesterday (which I posted at Innovation Ohio earlier), what is clear that even without eliminating the guaranteed money Kasich said he wants to eliminate soon, kids in the poorest property wealth districts in the state will receive 25 cents in additional state revenue for every $1 received by kids in the property wealthiest districts.” A CityBeat analysis found the education plan increases funding for Cincinnati Public Schools, but not enough to make up for past cuts.
The University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State and Miami University are getting slight increases in funding under Kasich’s higher education funding plan.
The plan increases overall higher education funding by 1.9 percent,
with UC getting 2.4 percent more funding, Cincinnati State getting 4
percent more and Miami getting 1.8 percent more. The increased funding
should be helpful to Miami University, which recently initiated $99 million in summer construction and renovation projects. Historically, Ohio has given its universities less funding per pupil than other parts of the country.
An appeals court ruling could put the Anna Louise Inn back at square one. On Friday, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals affirmed most of a lower court’s ruling against the Anna Louise Inn, but it sent the case back down to the lower court on a legal technicality. The ruling means the case could restart, but Tim Burke, the inn's attorney, claims the Anna Louise Inn has already done what the appeals court asked. For CityBeat’s other coverage of the Anna Louise Inn, click here.
Media outlets are finally picking up the story about illegal immigrants and driver’s licenses. Gongwer wrote about it here, and The Columbus Dispatch covered it here. CityBeat originally wrote about the story last week (“Not Legal Enough,” issue of Feb. 6).
Following the board president’s comparison of Adolf Hitler and President Barack Obama, the Ohio State Board of Education is set to discuss social media. CityBeat wrote about Board President Debe Terhar’s ridiculous Facebook post here.
Remember the Tower Place Mall! Two tenants are holding out at the troubled mall as they look for different downtown locations.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wants everyone to know he’s still cracking down on synthetic drugs.
The pope is stepping down.
How kids draw dinosaurs is probably wrong.
Damaged parking meters in Over-the-Rhine are causing problems for residents and local businesses. For months, thieves have been cutting off the top of meters to steal change. The vandals directly steal revenue from the city, ensure the damaged meters won’t collect revenue until they’re fixed and force the city to shell out more money to fix the meters. Businesses and residents are also worried the damaged meters cause confusion for drivers and make the area look unattractive.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley wants to debate Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who’s also running for mayor, over the city’s plan to privatize parking services. Cranley, a former council member, has pushed the city to find an alternative to the privatization plan — sometimes leading him to make claims with little backing. Qualls isn’t ecstatic about the privatization plan, but she seems to side with City Manager Milton Dohoney’s position that it’s necessary to avoid the layoff of 344 city employees.
County officials around the state are peeved at Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan because it limits how much they can leverage in county sales taxes.
The proposal bars counties from changing their sales tax rates for
three years starting July 2013, and it also adjusts county’s rates to
force a 10 percent revenue increase over the prior year beginning
December 2013. The Kasich administration claims the move is necessary to
prevent county governments from using the governor’s plan to subtly raise the sales tax, but county officials argue the
move infringes on local rights. Kasich’s plan lowers the state sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5 percent, but it expands what’s affected by the tax.
CityBeat analyzed Kasich’s budget proposal yesterday:
Kasich’s school funding plan is also drawing complaints from school leaders. At a press conference, Kasich made his plan sound fairly progressive, but school leaders found the actual numbers underwhelming, and 60 percent of schools won’t get any increased funding.
City Council Member Chris Seelbach took to Facebook to slam Cranley for some recent comments regarding freestanding public restrooms. During an interview with Bill Cunningham, Cranley tried to politicize the issue by saying City Council wants to build a $100,000 freestanding restroom. In his Facebook post, Seelbach explained that’s not the case: “John Cranley, if you haven't heard (which I find surprising), NO ONE on City Council has ever said, in any capacity, that we should spend $100,000+ on a 24-hour public restroom facility. No one. In fact, I went on Bill Cunningham to make that clear. I'd appreciate if you'd stop trying to politicize the real issue: Finding a way to offer more public restroom choices in our urban core for our growing and thriving city. In case you didn't hear my interview with Cunningham, or my comments to almost every media source in this region, I'll post the interview again.” Seelbach’s interview with Cunningham can be found here.
Clifton’s new grocery store will begin construction next week. Goessling's Market-Clifton is finally replacing Keller's IGA on Ludlow Avenue.
A local high school’s prom was canceled to punish students for a massive water balloon fight at lunch. The giant fight was planned as a prank on social media, and school staff tried to prevent it by warning students of the repercussions on the day of the prank. Students did not listen. Prom was lame, anyway.
PNC Bank donated $450,000 to Smale Riverfront Park. The money will be used to build the PNC Grow Up Great Adventure Playground, which will have a swinging rope bridge for kids to walk across a canyon. PNC is among a handful companies to donate to the riverfront park; most recently, Procter & Gamble donated $1 million.
Cincinnati was called the most literate city in Ohio.
The Montgomery County Democratic Party endorsed the Freedom to Marry Amendment, which would legalize same-sex marriage. CityBeat wrote about the amendment here.
Kasich’s latest budget proposal would privatize food services in prisons to save $16.2 million. The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, which represents prison staff, has come out against the plan.
A lawsuit has been filed to take down a Jesus portrait in Jackson Middle School in southern Ohio. The lawsuit is being backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the Freedom from Religion Foundation. They argue the portrait is an “unconstitutional endorsement of religion and must be removed.”
A new cure for color blindness: goofy glasses.
There’s new evidence that a giant asteroid really sparked earth’s last great mass extinction event, which killed the dinosaurs.
Somewhat of an agreement, anyway. Mallory said that the city and Duke will go before a judge in Common Pleas court, who will make the final decision as to who should pay for the utility relocation. According to the agreement, Duke Energy will begin moving its utilities in the next few weeks, and the court decision will determine cost responsibility later. The city and Duke are expected to file in Common Pleas court within the next few weeks, although the court decision could take years to finalize.
Roxanne Qualls, city council member and Democratic mayoral candidate, has long been a supporter of the streetcar project, which she values as an indispensable economic investment for the city of Cincinnati. Yesterday, Qualls announced her request for the city to ramp up the streetcar construction timeline in order to have the project completed in time for the All-Star Games, which will take place in Cincinnati July 2015. Her announcement came just weeks after the city revised its timetable to delay project completion until April 2016.
In a letter from Qualls to Mallory and Dohoney, she explains: “This may present a
challenge, but it is one I am sure the administration is capable of
meeting. The streetcar will serve a critical role in efficiently and
effectively moving visitors to and from Great American Ballpark and
allowing them to conveniently visit other venues such as Fountain
Square, Horseshoe Casino, Over-the-Rhine, Washington Park, etc.”
At the meeting, Mallory announced that the city would shoot for construction to be completed prior to the games, but there were no guarantees. The streetcar builder will ultimately set the timeline for the project, according to Jason Barron, Mallory's director of public affairs.
CityBeat recently covered the streetcar project's delays and how the 2013 mayoral race could affect its progress here.
In the past few days, local media outlets have reported heavily on a supposed conflict between Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and the city of Cincinnati. Essentially, SORTA wants the transit fund limited, while the city government says it doesn’t want to “undermine the city charter” with limitations.
At its heart, the argument is a political back-and-forth with little consequence. It’s two government agencies at a small divide over legalese in an intergovernmental agreement about how the streetcar will operate and how it will be funded.
The specific issue is SORTA, which runs the Metro bus
system and will operate the streetcar, wants to include phrasing in its
agreement with the city that makes it so the transit fund can’t be used
for the streetcar. In a 7-6 vote Tuesday, SORTA's board pushed its preferred wording along with an application for an $11 million federal grant that will help fund the streetcar.
But the city government claims the limitation would go against the spirit of the city charter, which says the transit fund can be used for “public transit purposes generally and without limitation.”
UPDATE: City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution promising not to use Metro bus money on the streetcar, although it has no legal standing preventing council from later coming back and using transit funds for the streetcar.
Still, Mayor Mark Mallory’s office has insisted time and time again that funding for the streetcar’s construction and operation is already allocated, so taking any money from the transit fund will be unnecessary. Specifically, the city will tap into casino revenue to operate the streetcar, on top of the $11 million federal grant.
In an op-ed for The Cincinnati Enquirer Monday, Mallory said the real issue goes back to an ongoing lawsuit between SORTA and the city. In 2010, the city diverted money from the transit fund to pay for street lights. That prompted a lawsuit from SORTA, asking the courts to define the limits of the transit fund.
The mayor’s office sees the wording from SORTA as an attempt from the transit agency to score a minor victory in the legal battle. If the city government accepted the wording, it would be agreeing to a limited transit fund, which is essentially what SORTA wants.
SORTA’s wording also makes it so all transit fund money will continue going to the Metro bus system, which is the agency’s sole service today.
But even SORTA says the disagreement is getting blown out of proportion by media outlets and public officials. Sallie Hilvers, spokesperson for SORTA, says the wording in the approved agreement was the board’s attempt to ensure the transit fund isn’t used for the streetcar, but, for the most part, it’s “really just procedures.”
Hilvers insisted the disagreement over wording has plenty
of time to be worked out, and it will not hinder collaboration between
the city of Cincinnati and SORTA.
The agreement will need to be worked out before summer 2013 for the streetcar to stay on track.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow Cincinnati to keep $44.9 million in federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project until midnight on Dec. 19 while the city reviews the costs of canceling or completing the project, Mayor John Cranley announced on Facebook on Friday.
The FTA's decision gives the city two weeks to assemble a team and conduct its audit, which a slim majority of City Council agreed to do on Wednesday when it put the streetcar project on pause.
Without the federal grants, the streetcar project would have lost one-third of its funding and presumably died, even if a majority of City Council decided it wants to continue with the project.
The city is currently working to hire KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory firm, for the audit, according to Jay Kincaid, Cranley's chief of staff.
Council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn in particular asked for the review before they make a final decision on the streetcar.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously 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, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants.
Mann and Flynn were among a majority of council members who voiced distrust toward Deatrick's estimates, hence the need for an independent review.
But the review might not matter if Cranley decides to veto any ordinance continuing the streetcar project, which Kincaid said Cranley would do if he deems the project too costly following the audit.
A mayoral veto would require both Flynn and Mann to help provide a supermajority — six of nine council votes — to save the streetcar. That could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.
Update: Added who the city plans to hire for the audit.
Cincinnati Parks Department Director Willie Carden, Mayor John Cranley's choice for city manager, has withdrawn from the nomination process, the mayor's office announced on Friday.
The mayor's office said it will keep Acting City Manager Scott Stiles in his current role while it launches a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
"After consulting with my family, we have come to the personal, private decision that it is best for me to remain as the director of the Parks Department," Carden said in a statement. "John Cranley is going to be a great mayor and this is a difficult decision for me. But it’s simply about what is best for me and my family. As a personal matter, I would ask that you respect our family's privacy."
Carden's nomination initially drew wide praise from City Council, but it was snared in controversy after Carden said he will continue to live outside Cincinnati — a violation of the city charter. The Cincinnati Enquirer also uncovered an ethics probe that found Carden wrongfully took pay from both the city and the private Parks Foundation.
Councilman Chris Seelbach responded ambivalently to the news, praising both Carden and the decision to go through a national search.
"Although I would have supported Willie Carden as the permanent city manager, I'm glad to see we are now going to undertake the process we should have taken all along," Seelbach posted on Facebook.
When Cranley announced the nomination on Nov. 27, the Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, criticized Cranley for not undertaking a transparent national search prior to his decision.
City Council's Rules and Audit Committee almost considered Carden's nomination on Tuesday, but the decision was delayed for a week to give council members time to interview Carden one-on-one and evaluate ordinances for the nomination.
Mayor John Cranley might veto an ordinance continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project, even if a majority of City Council wants the project to continue after its costs are reviewed through an independent audit, said Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s chief of staff, on Friday.
The decision means six of nine council members — a supermajority — might be required to overturn a mayoral veto and continue the streetcar project. With only two perceived swing votes on council, that could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.
“Of course he reserves the right to veto the legislation,” Kincaid said.
If Cranley reviews the numbers and decides that the project is too costly, he will use the veto powers provided to him through the city charter, Kincaid explained.
Kincaid’s response came after CityBeat confirmed with City Solicitor John Curp that continuing the streetcar project would require a new ordinance that, in theory, could be vetoed by the mayor. City Council can overcome a mayoral veto with a supermajority, or six of nine total council votes.
When CityBeat talked to Kincaid the day before he confirmed Cranley’s willingness to veto, Kincaid speculated that Cranley would not veto legislation continuing the streetcar project.
“I have not talked to (Cranley) about it. I assume that he would let it go forward since he gave (Councilman) David Mann his word that he would give this time to review it, and he gave the same assurance to (Councilman) Kevin Flynn,” Kincaid previously said.
Five of nine council members on Wednesday agreed to allocate $1.25
million to indefinitely pause the streetcar project and pay
for an independent study that will gauge how much it will cost to
continue or permanently cancel the project.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously 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, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be lost if the project were terminated.
Almost immediately, a majority of council voiced distrust toward Deatrick’s numbers. In a press conference following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley called city officials in charge of the streetcar project “incompetent.”
Council members Flynn and Mann vocally opposed the streetcar project on the campaign trail. But both said they’ll make a final decision on the project once the cancellation and completion numbers are evaluated through an independent review.
Mann previously told CityBeat, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”
Flynn wouldn’t speculate on what stance he will take if the numbers stand to scrutiny. He said a pressing concern for him is how the city will pay for $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar, which could hit an already-strained operating budget.
If Cranley vetoes an ordinance continuing the streetcar project, both Flynn and Mann would likely need to agree to continue — or at least overturn a mayoral veto — to keep the streetcar alive.
City officials estimate the review will take at least two weeks. Once the audit is finished, council members are expected to announce their final positions on continuing or canceling the project.
Update: Mayor John Cranley on Friday announced the federal government is giving Cincinnati until Dec. 19 to make a decision on the streetcar project. Read more here.
This story was updated to better explain that Jay Kincaid’s second direct quote came from a separate conversation on Thursday, the day before he announced Mayor John Cranley’s willingness to veto.
City Council on Wednesday allocated $1.25 million to indefinitely pause the $132.8 million streetcar project and study how much it would cost to continue or permanently halt the project.
If the study's continuation and
cancellation estimates aren't persuasive enough to continue the project,
the vote could effectively act as council's final action on the
The motion came as a result of the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation's offer to pay for the $250,000 study. An undisclosed private contributor also offered to pay $35,000 a day for slowed-down construction, which supporters say will keep the project within Federal Transit Administration (FTA) compliance.
During a brief recess, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson pulled Vice Mayor David Mann out of the council chambers to lobby him to support the motion and hold off on pausing the project.
Mann articulated misgivings with the absence of any written commitment for the private contributions. Given the lack of assurances, Mann voted to pause the project.
claimed a proper study will require at least two weeks, not the one
week the motion allocates. But the undisclosed private contributor is
apparently willing to pay for construction for 10 business days if it's
deemed necessary, according to Mann.
The motion could still be taken up by a committee, but the streetcar project is on hold for now.
Council's final decision to pause the project came despite a memo
released earlier in the day by the city administration warning that
pausing the project for one month could cost $2.56-$3.56 million. The memo states the numbers are only estimates and the
true costs won't be fully known until a pause is actually carried out,
which means the final costs could shrink or grow.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously put the cost of continuing construction for one month at $3 million, which means the pause costs could actually come in higher than simply continuing with 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 the five council members opposed to the project — Mann, Kevin Flynn, Christopher Smitherman, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn — voiced distrust toward the estimates and called for further analysis.
Streetcar supporters argue pausing the project could be tantamount to cancellation because it could convince the FTA to permanently pull $44.9 million in federal grants that are funding one-third of the project. The FTA already froze the grants pending a council decision to continue with construction.
Opponents of the project insist the FTA will return the money if the project continues.
hope that the spirit of cooperation that many members of this council
think will come from the federal government is there," said Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld, a streetcar supporter.
But given the estimates for completion and cancellation, Sittenfeld cautioned whether history will look poorly on council's decision on Wednesday. He asked, "Did we choose waste or did we choose opportunity?"
The council meeting also continued the increasingly adversarial atmosphere in council since Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council took office on Sunday.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a streetcar supporter, said it has been "the most destructive, divisive three days" since he began working at City Hall.
one point, Cranley attempted to compare problems facing the streetcar
project to the business failures of Blockbuster and other video stores.
Councilman Wendell Young, who supports the project, responded, "This idea that a bookstore or a video store can be compared to what's going to happen to the streetcar is about the most ridiculous comparison I can think of."
Supporters of the streetcar project argue it's necessary to spur development along the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. The project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.
Opponents of the project argue
it's far too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. They're
particularly concerned about the $3.4-$4.5 million it will cost to
operate the streetcar each year, which could hit an already-strained
After the study reviewing the project's costs is completed, council expects to make a final decision on whether to continue or cancel the project.
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.
After the meeting, Cranley dismissed an offer by major philanthropy organization The Carol
Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation to pay for a study of
streetcar shut-down costs that opponents want to see
come in lower than the
city’s estimates before they vote to completely stop the project. Cranley dismissed
the offer because it also came with a note saying that if the streetcar is canceled the foundation will
reconsider its contributions to Music
Hall, the Smale Riverfront Park and other city projects. Cranley would rather make the city pay for the study than negotiate with terrorists respond to threats.
About seven and a half hours into this debacle of American democracy — which included numerous procedural abnormalities including the mayor asking Council to discuss and vote on ordinances no one had read yet, an hours-long delay and a funding appropriation that leaves the cancellation vote safe from the pro-streetcar-threatened voter referendum (something Cranley railed against when the city administration kept the parking plan safe from referendum) — Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld livened things up with something everyone tired of the streetcar debate can agree is funny: undermining the mayor’s authority by asking fellow council members to overrule him.
The following video published by UrbanCincy shows Cranley denying Sittenfeld an opportunity to speak. Sittenfeld then asks for a vote to overrule Cranley, which the mayor had to approve, and everyone but Kevin Flynn votes to overrule. (Flynn unfortunately had to vote first, leaving him unable to determine which way the vote was likely to go — a tough position for a rookie politician.) Once David Mann and Amy Murray voted to allow Sittenfeld to speak, the rest of the anti-streetcar faction followed suit, knowing Sittenfeld had the necessary votes to overrule Cranley. Then Sittenfeld spent a few minutes going mayoral on Cincinnati's new mayor.
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.
Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have asked state officials to investigate Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for improperly voting.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati plans to introduce on Wednesday a new version of his overhaul of the state’s renewable energy and efficiency requirements. The new version will dampen a plan that would have allowed Canadian hydroelectric power facilities to satisfy Ohio’s renewable energy requirements, but it will also allow decades-old hydro plants along the Ohio River to fulfill the requirement. Seitz and other supporters of the overhaul argue it’s necessary to make the requirements friendlier to businesses and consumers. But opponents of the bill, including businesses and environmentalists, argue it would effectively ruin Ohio’s energy requirements and, according to a study from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, cost Ohioans $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered the proposal in greater detail here.
Ohio schools can now tap into a $12 million program to make their facilities safer through various new measures, including a radio system directly connected to emergency responders, cameras and intercoms. “Naturally, after Sandy Hook, I think we were all just extremely upset about that, and you want to be able to do something,” Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning told StateImpact Ohio.
A report found staff weren’t at fault for the high-profile prison suicides of Billy Slagle, whose case CityBeat covered in further detail here, and Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade.
Popular Science argues Amazon’s plan for delivery drones isn’t realistic.
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.
Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months, according to an index from the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’ economic health.
A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid expansion to boost the local government fund, but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.
More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.
The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.
Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.
Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.