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by German Lopez 11.13.2012
Posted In: Budget, News, Economy, Education, Environment at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

State budget cuts hit counties, food deserts in Cincinnati, area's nuclear weapons legacy

A new report from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio shows the impact of state budget cuts on individual counties. Statewide, more than $1 billion in tax reimbursements and the Local Government Fund was cut between the 2010-2011 budget, which was passed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, and the 2012-2013 budget, which was passed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. Additionally, Ohio’s estate tax — a tax that affected only 8 percent of Ohioans, largely those at top income levels — was eliminated, killing off a crucial source of funding. Hamilton County, its jurisdiction, schools, services and levies lost $222.1 million. Health and human services lost $23.2 million. Children’s services lost $4.6 million, and the county children’s agency services “was sent into financial crisis.” In total, more than 5,000 local government jobs were lost in the area.

The Center for Closing the Health Gap is launching a campaign to raise awareness about food deserts in Cincinnati. Food deserts are areas, particularly neighborhoods, where full-service grocery stores aren’t readily available to residents. The campaign hopes to raise awareness and funding to combat the food deserts in the Cincinnati area. With a funding target of $15 million, the organization plans to help build smaller stores with close ties to the local communities.

A new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital resurfaced Greater Cincinnati’s nuclear weapons legacy. Between the 1950s and 1980s, residents of nearby farm communities were unaware they were being exposed to radioactive materials in the air, water and soil from a Cold War era nuclear weapons plant, located 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati. Apparently, the exposure has led to higher rates of systemic lupus in the area.

Greater Cincinnati’s economic recovery could be slowed or boosted by policy, but it will outpace the nation’s economic recovery, according to local economists. Still, the economists caution that there is a lot of uncertainty due to oil prices, the fiscal cliff — a series of tax hikes and budget cuts scheduled to be made at the start of 2013 if U.S. Congress doesn’t act — and the fiscal crisis in Europe.

Cincinnati’s small businesses are more upbeat about the economy. Eleven percent of local family firms expect the economy to improve, but whether that translates to business expansions remains to be seen.

CityLink Center is scheduled to open today. The initial plans for the facility sought to help the homeless with health services, overnight shelter, food, temporary housing and child care. At one point, the center’s opening was threatened due to legal challenges regarding zoning.

Hostess, maker of Twinkies, says it will close down three bakeries, including one in Cincinnati, due to a national strike. According to reports, union workers walked off the job after a new contract cut their wages and benefits. Hostess insists the factory shutdowns will not affect customers.

Top Cincinnati mortgage lenders saw double-digit increases between Sept. 1, 2011 and Aug. 30, 2012. The rise is yet another positive sign for the housing market, which collapsed during the latest financial crisis and recession.

The state agency in charge of higher education released a report highlighting 20 recommendations to improve degree completion in Ohio. Some of the recommendations from the Board of Regents: Adopt more uniform statewide rules regarding college completion and career readiness, push stronger collaboration and alignment in education from preschool through senior year in college, establish a new system of high school assessment to improve readiness for college, and improve flexibility. The board will attempt to turn the report into reality in cooperation with university and state officials.

Too much school choice may be a bad thing. A new study found Ohio’s varied education system, which offers vouchers for private schools and charter schools as alternatives to a traditional public school, may have passed “a point where choice actually becomes detrimental to overall academic performance.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) issued an action alert on Saturday telling members to oppose privatizing the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio state government, led by Kasich, is currently studying possible plans to privatize the turnpike. In a video, an OFB member argues the current turnpike management is fine.

There are still some undecided seats in the Ohio legislature from the Nov. 6 election.

Once again, a reminder not to drive on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus.

Former George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes says she will “cut out” the tongue of Republican men making “Neanderthal comments” about rape.

A new way to fight bacteria: coat it with a thin layer of mucus.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.12.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Budget at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Gets Good News with New Construction Bid

Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund

Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the city established in case of further cost overruns.

In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

During discussions for the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.

Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if the project was to continue.

With the construction bids taken care of, the only known funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The issue is currently being decided in court.

Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.24.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Economy, Education, Privatization, Budget at 10:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
news_chris_seelbach

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach tired of streetcar delays, Pentagon to lift combat ban for women, JobsOhio in court

Council Member Chris Seelbach says he’s getting impatient with streetcar delays. During a series of complaints aired on Twitter, Seelbach wrote the deadline for streetcar operation should be the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2015. This week’s CityBeat cover story explains some of the delays and how the streetcar relates to the 2013 mayor’s race.

The Pentagon is planning to lift the ban on women in combat situations. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the decision came after a recommendation from his Joint Chiefs of Staff. Between the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and this decision, President Barack Obama’s administration has been one of the most inclusive when it comes to the military.

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case questioning the constitutionality of JobsOhio. Policy group ProgressOhio says it might be illegal to use state liquor profits to fund JobsOhio, a private nonprofit organization Gov. John Kasich set up to drive economic growth in the state.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game could bring $60-$80 million to Cincinnati, according to Julie Heath, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center. It was recently announced Cincinnati will host the game in 2015.

Gov. Kasich said he won’t oust State Board of Education President Debe Terhar after she made a Facebook post comparing Obama to Adolf Hitler. Kasich is happy she admitted it was a mistake, and he said he will leave it at that. Democrats called for her ousting Tuesday.

American Military Partner Association, a national organization that supports LGBT veterans, endorsed FreedomOhio’s same-sex marriage amendment. If voters approve the amendment this November, gay marriage will be legalized in Ohio. CityBeat wrote more about FreedomOhio’s ballot initiative here.

Cincinnati Public Schools is piloting an after-school program focusing on the arts. The high-energy sessions are apparently proving to be a hit among students so far.

U.S. Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from West Chester, says President Barack Obama is out to annihilate the Republican Party. I’m not seeing the problem here.

Moody’s doesn’t have confidence in U.S. nonprofit hospitals.

New science makes it possible to detect brain damage in football players that previously couldn’t be seen until a victim was dead. CityBeat covered how head trauma relates to former Bengals players' workers' comp claims here.

Popular Science explains how to make the perfect snowball.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.14.2012
Posted In: News, Budget, Transportation, Economy at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Morning News and Stuff

Governor reveals turnpike plan, city to approve budget, Kroger could buy Hostess brands

It’s official: Gov. John Kasich won’t privatize the Ohio Turnpike. Instead, the Republican governor wants to increase tolls at the rate of inflation and issue bonds backed by the turnpike’s profits to raise an estimated $3 billion for infrastructure projects — more than 90 percent of which will be in northern Ohio, where the turnpike is located. To ease the short-term burden of the plan, tolls for local passenger trips using E-ZPasses will be frozen at current levels for 10 years. In a video unveiling the announcement, Kasich says the projects could generate an estimated 75,000 jobs. To most, the plan, which will require approval from the legislature, probably seems like a fairly liberal proposal: use a public asset to leverage revenue, then use the revenue on a large, statewide stimulus program. But Democrats are criticizing the plan because they say the toll hike will hurt individuals, families and businesses that use the Ohio Turnpike. Let the eye-rolling at blatant politicking begin!

City Council is getting ready to approve the budget today. The final plan has made a few tweaks to City Manager Milton Dohoney’s proposal. Parking privatization will remain, but the budget will provide a one-year stopgap in funding for Media Bridges. Previously, all of Media Bridges’ funding was being cut, which CityBeat wrote about here. The plan will also keep the mounted patrol unit, maintain income tax reciprocity and restore funding for human services and arts grants.

Will Cincinnati-based Kroger soon own Twinkies? It’s possible. The grocery store giant is considering buying Hostess brands in the aftermath of Hostess’ bankruptcy. CityBeat previously wrote about the Hostess bankruptcy here.

A study found a gap in Hamilton County’s housing stock. The report suggests the county doesn’t need any more housing than it already has; instead, it should build on current properties. The report also found vacant housing that isn’t for sale and serves no purpose has increased by 107 percent.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has unveiled a new master plan. It’s proposing $450 million in projects.

The Hamilton County recorder’s office will remain open on Fridays. The office was previously planning to close every Friday due to funding cuts, but restored funds have made staying open possible.

In its last session of the year, the Ohio Senate approved redistricting reform 32-1. The House could not take up the measure before the end of the lame-duck session, but the vast bipartisan support could be a good sign for next year’s legislative session. Redistricting is widely used by politicians to redraw district boundaries in politically beneficial ways. The First Congressional District, which includes Cincinnati, was redrawn during the Republican-controlled process to include Republican-leaning Warren County, effectively diluting Cincinnati’s Democratic-leaning urban vote in the district.

Ohio lost more residents than it gained last year, but the trend might be reversed by a growing economy. Economic improvements have already slowed down what Dayton Daily News calls an “exodus.”

A new Ohio law would increase the amount of auto insurance motorists are required to carry.

A drop in gas prices lowered U.S. consumer prices by 0.3 percent.

NASA discovered the largest river ever seen on another world. The river is on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, and it is made up of hydrocarbons. The river is still unnamed, so I encourage everyone to email NASA to name the river the German Lopez River here.

Climate change isn’t just bad for humans. It will also hurt cuddly land mammals.

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 12.06.2012
 
 
img_20121206_143508

Activists Urge Boehner to Make Pentagon Cuts

Statement of principles presented to staffer outside of West Chester office

Activists gathered on Thursday outside of the West Chester office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, asking the House’s top official to look at reducing military spending when coming up with a budget.

The group of nearly two dozen — which included nuns, a veteran, a retiree advocate, a small businessman and progressive activists — held signs reading, “It is time for Nation Building in the United States. Cut Massive Pentagon Budget Now!” and “End Tax Breaks for Richest 2%.”

“We’re here today in front of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s West Chester office to drive home the fact that we believe that over 50 percent of the budget magically, this elephant in the House, has failed to be discussed as we discuss taking away services that provide human needs,” said David Little of Progress Ohio.

“Any discussion that fails to address excesses in that budget is failing the American people.”

Little added that it was possible to support the troops and veterans without spending billions on pointless wars.

Butler County attorney and Navy veteran Bruce Carter said the military can be more efficient in what he called the changing mission.

“When you refuse to have a discussion on over half of the budget, that’s like trying to tell the Bengals to win a game without going over the 50 yard line,” he said.

The group had a letter to deliver to Boehner, which contained what they called a statement of principles.

“We believe in a holistic approach to the budget crisis, and in order to protect the middle-class, cuts to the Pentagon need to be at the forefront,” the letter states. “We understand that Pentagon cuts are a controversial issue, however, Pentagon cuts in the sequester do not threaten our national security.”

The letter suggests that some of the money currently being spent on the Defense Department goes to providing services for veterans.

The military accounted for about 52 percent — or $600 billion — of discretionary spending in fiscal year 2011.

In contrast, education, training and social services collectively made up 9 percent of the budget.

The group of four activists weren’t allowed into Boehner’s office, but a young staffer met them outside. He said that the speaker thought everything should be on the table when it came to budget cuts.

 
 
by German Lopez 07.15.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Budget at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

City Administration Responds to Critical Parking Memo

Previously unreleased memo spurs renewed calls to reject parking lease

The city administration today disputed the findings of a June 20 memo that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it has not said why the memo wasn't passed along to City Council members and Port Authority during the three-plus weeks since the administration received the memo.

In its own memo released today, the city claims that the June 20 memo, which was first reported by WCPO yesterday, is outdated and makes a few technical errors.

The June 20 memo from Walker Parking Cosultants, a parking consultant hired by the city, found it will be 257 percent more expensive for the new private parking operator to run the city’s on-street parking services in comparison to what the city currently spends. It also concludes the city isn’t getting as much revenue as other cities got under their own parking leases.

“The on-street operating expenses shown in the model are projected to grow at a faster rate than operating revenues,” the June 20 memo claims. “The city should expect a private operator to run the parking system more cost effectively than the current operation, not less effectively. Therefore, revenues should be expected to increase at a rate faster than expenses, not slower.”

The memo’s numbers come through estimates provided by ParkCincy, the operating team set to take over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages following a decades-long lease agreement between the city and the Port Authority.

In particular, the memo highlights what it claims are extraordinary payments requested by Xerox under the deal: The private parking operator is asking for a $627,063 fee in 2013, putting about 14.6 percent of projected net operating income to management fees. That’s far higher than the typical 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent found in similar parking deals in other cities, according to the memo.

The city disputed the findings in its own memo this morning.

“The information that Walker used was from an early point in time; the deal was subsequently negotiated from that point to improve the deal,” wrote City Manager Milton Dohoney in his own memo. “For example, the profit margin used was based on different parking deals in other cities that are not the same as ours. As we know, the Cincinnati model is unique in many ways.”

One such trait: Cincinnati’s parking deal includes modernizing the city’s parking meters to accept credit cards and mobile payment.

The city cited a letter from the Port Authority sent to City Solicitor John Curp during an email exchange on July 12, the same day the Port Authority was given the June 20 memo. The letter contradicted what Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner claims are inaccuracies.

“In its memo, Walker Consulting bases its comparisons on price, yet doesn’t qualify the information with what level of service capabilities are included in the price,” the Port Authority’s letter reads. “The Port Authority is basing its purchasing decisions on price, but also level of enhancement to the on-street system that mirrors the City’s desire to modernize these vital assets and position them to enhance economic development opportunities downtown and in City neighborhoods.”

Besides this “‘apples to oranges’ comparison,” the Port Authority’s letter disputes many of the technical details behind the June 20 memo, particularly questioning some of the measurements used and comparisons that don’t account for differences between Cincinnati’s parking lease and other cities’ agreements. It also emphasizes that contracts with Xerox and other companies are not finalized yet.

Much of the focus is now on why the June 20 memo was kept from City Council, the Port Authority and the public for nearly a month, given the memo’s controversial findings about a controversial deal.

“The city administration misled the public for months on the need for the deal, saying it was needed to avoid laying off cops and firefighters and then they don’t do it. Now it’s keeping vital information from the public and council. It’s a violation of the public trust of the highest order,” Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley said in a statement. “I am urging the Port to reject this deal that is bad for the City.”

Cranley and other city officials, including several City Council candidates and council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn, signed a letter to the Port Authority asking the city-funded agency to reject its agreement with Xerox.

The city manager’s office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if further comments become available.

The parking lease was finally signed by the city and Port Authority in June after months of political and court battles. The deal was signed even though a majority of City Council now opposes the lease after the city managed to balance its budget without the parking deal and without laying off cops and firefighters.

City Council approved the parking lease on March 6, more than three months before the June 20 memo was given to the city administration.

In return for the lease, Cincinnati is getting a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according to city estimates. The city plans to use that money to pay down future budget gaps and fund development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.

Update: Clarified Port Authority didn’t receive the memo until July 12.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.03.2012
Posted In: Budget, Economy, News, Fracking, Environment, Energy at 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_fracking

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio's fracking boom disappoints, war on babies declared, Cincinnati's economic triumph

Ohio’s fracking boom might not be living up to the hype. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources originally estimated that 250 fracking wells would be built by the end of the year, but only 165 have been completed and 22 are currently being built. The disappointing results are being blamed on low natural gas prices and a backlog in work needed to connect wells to customers. Maybe the state’s claim had as much basis as Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s claim that the state’s fracking boom would be worth $1 trillion.

By killing the heartbeat bill and a bill that defunds Planned Parenthood, Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican, apparently declared a war on babies, according to anti-abortion groups. Niehaus is term-limited, so he will not be in the Ohio Senate in the next session, which begins next year. Incoming senate president Keith Faber already said the heartbeat bill could come up to vote in the next Senate session. CityBeat previously wrote about Ohio Republicans’ renewed anti-abortion agenda.

Between 2011 and 2012, Cincinnati had the 12th best economic performance in the United States, according to a Brookings Institute study. Out of the 76 metropolitan areas looked at, only Dallas; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Pittsburgh have recovered from the recession, and 20 areas lost more ground throughout the year.

Media Bridges, Cincinnati’s public access media outlet, is the latest victim of the 2013 budget proposal from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. The budget plan suggests slashing $300,000 from the organization’s funding. When coupled with state funding cuts, Media Bridges is losing $498,000 in funding, or 85 percent of its budget. Tom Bishop, executive director of Media Bridges, compared the cuts to a “meteor” hitting Media Bridges’ budget. The city says cuts were suggested in part due to public feedback.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is pushing the public to speak out against $610,770 in cuts to human services funding in Dohoney’s proposed budget. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council have already agreed to continue 2013 funding at 2012 levels, but homeless advocates want to make sure the funding, which largely helps the homeless and low-income families, remains. The group is calling for supporters to attend City Council meetings on Dec. 5 at 1:15 p.m. at City Hall, Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall and Dec. 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the Corryville Recreation Center.

It’s commonly said Cincinnati is Republican territory, but after the latest elections, that’s looking more and more false.

The University of Cincinnati is stepping up safety efforts around campus. The university held a summit to gather public feedback on possible improvements in light of recent incidents in and around campus. Beginning in January, UC will increase patrols by 30 percent.

Crime around Columbus’ Hollywood Casino has ticked up. Could Cincinnati face a similar fate when the Horseshoe Casino is up and running? A Washington Post analysis found casinos bring in jobs, but also bankruptcy, crime and even suicide.

Results equal funding. That’s the approach Gov. Kasich is taking to funding higher education, but Inside Higher Ed says the approach is part of “an emerging Republican approach to higher education policy, built largely around cost-cutting.” Kasich’s approach is meant to encourage better results by providing higher funds to schools with higher graduation rates, but schools with funding problems and lower graduation rates could have their problems exacerbated.

Josh Mandel, state treasurer and former Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, insists his big loss in November does not make him a political has-been. Mandel will be pursuing a second term at the Ohio treasurer’s office in 2014. Mandel lost the Senate race despite getting massive amounts of funding from third parties — Democrats estimate $40 million — to support his campaign.

The auto industry is still chugging along with impressive numbers from November.

Gas prices moved down in Ohio this week.

One geneticist says people are getting dumber, but he doesn’t seem to have much to back his claims up.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.06.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Privatization, Parking, Budget at 04:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Council Approves Parking Plan, Judge Orders Temporary Halt

Injunction puts agreement to lease parking assets on hold

In a 5-4 vote today, City Council approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance deficits for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects in Downtown, but the plan is now being held up by a Hamilton County judge's temporary restraining order (TRO).

The plan was approved with an emergency clause, which means it is not subject to referendum, according to City Solicitor John Curp. Councilman Chris Seelbach joined the parking plan’s five supporters in approving the emergency clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation by removing a 30-day waiting period.

Shortly after the parking plan was approved by City Council, Judge Robert Winkler signed a TRO that will halt its implementation for at least one week. The judge’s action will provide enough time to process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.

Mayor Mark Mallory says the emergency clause was passed to speed up the plan’s implementation in time for the budget that will begin July 1, not to suppress voters: “I don't think that any member of council has ever voted for an emergency clause in an effort to keep voters from being able to reverse the decision that the council is making, so I take exception with that characterization.”

The parking plan got its required fifth vote, up from a 4-3 vote in the Budget and Finance Committee Monday, from Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who abstained from voting in the committee meeting because she said she was concerned about the city’s long-term fiscal outlook. She says her concerns were eased after she read the leasing agreement and listened to a presentation from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. that gave City Council a few options for fixing the city’s structural deficits.

The parking plan’s other supporters were council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young. Council members Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against the plan.

The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), will lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal will produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments will generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.

Opponents say they are concerned the plan will give up too much control of the city’s parking meters and garages, which they say could lead to spikes in parking rates.

Under the initial plan, downtown rates will remain at $2 an hour and neighborhood rates will be hiked to 75 cents. Afterward, parking meter rates will be set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a compounded basis, with actual increases coming in at 25-cents-an-hour increments. That should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for downtown and every six years for neighborhoods, according to Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.

The city will be able to bypass the so-called “cap” on parking meter rate increases through a unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower rates to adjust for changing economic needs, says Olberding.

Opponents also say the money from the parking plan is being used too quickly, which does little to alleviate the city’s structural deficits.

Dohoney previously argued the plan will help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.

“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said Monday. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.”

With the lease agreement approved, it is now up to the Port Authority to develop and publicize the bond documents that will further detail the framework of the parking plan.

Earlier in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration reform.

Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.

 
 
by German Lopez 06.12.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Budget, Courts at 02:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Court Sides with City on Parking Plan

City plans to move forward as some council members suggest a repeal

In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not subject to a referendum and may move forward.

But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget for the next two years.

But critics, including those who led the referendum efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’ operation hours, will hurt downtown business.

In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of todays ruling are exhausted or called off.

“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.

Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the budget and other projects.

“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he says.

But first, the city must follow through with legal processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.

Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.

But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.

At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.

In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill for our kids to pay.”

Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.

My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.

Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.

The ruling also allows the city to once again use emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.

Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the parking plan.

“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”

Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the ruling.

“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and, therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker wrote in his dissent.

The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox, Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and enforcement.

The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and pursue major development projects downtown.

Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.

City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.

Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.

We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. 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.

CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.

Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.

Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls statement.

Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.

Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.22.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Budget, City Council at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Democrats endorse candidates, parking petitions scrutinized, Senate to rework state budget

The Democratic Party’s nominating committee announced who it’s supporting for City Council Friday: Greg Landsman, who heads the Strive Partnership and worked for former Gov. Ted Strickland; Shawn Butler, Mayor Mark Mallory’s director of community affairs; Michelle Dillingham, a community activist; and the six incumbents, which include Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young. The nominations still have to be approved by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee.

Petitioners against the city’s parking plan are supposed to get their final tally on referendum today, but a new video shows at least some of the petitions may have been signed without a legitimate witness, which are needed to validate a signature. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced Thursday that petitioners had met the necessary threshold of 8,522 signatures, but the video casts doubts on whether those signatures were legitimately gathered. The city wants to lease its parking assets to help balance the deficit for the next two years and fund development programs around the city (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but opponents worry higher parking rates and extended hours will harm the local economy. Here is the embedded video:

The Ohio Senate could restore Gov. John Kasich’s tax, school funding and Medicaid plans when it votes on the biennium budget for 2014 and 2015. Kasich’s tax and education funding plans were criticized by Democrats and progressive groups for favoring the wealthy, but the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would expand Medicaid coverage to 456,000 low-income Ohioans and save the state money, was mostly opposed by state Republicans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.

New polling from Quinnipiac University found a plurality of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage rights — granting promising prospects to Freedom Ohio’s ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year.

An audit on JobsOhio could take months, according to State Auditor Dave Yost’s office. Gov. John Kasich was initially resistant to a full audit, but Yost eventually won out, getting full access to JobsOhio’s financial records. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that is meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.

In response to not getting a Democratic endorsement for his City Council campaign, Mike Moroski, who was fired from his job at Purcell Marian High School for supporting gay marriage, launched the Human Party.

Cincinnati received an “F” for business friendliness in the 2013 Thumbtack.com U.S. Small Business Friendliness Survey from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Embattled attorney Stan Chesley will no longer practice law in Ohio. Chesley, who has been criticized for alleged misconduct, was recently disbarred in Kentucky. He recently resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to in a letter from fellow board members.

Ohio gas prices are shooting back up.

PopSci has an infographic showing sharks should be much more scared of humans than humans should be afraid of sharks.

 
 

 

 

 
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