Convening in packed City Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem convinced.
To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.
“I'm disappointed in this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”
The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.
Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2 million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have to be returned to the federal government.
Dohoney added that terminating the project would also reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development projects.
The budget gap was originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3 million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the scope” of the project and push it into a “danger zone.”
The budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget. The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget, has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is still willing to work on the streetcar project.
The city could rework the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would effectively lower costs.
Throughout the meeting, streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.
Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.
Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found streetcars can help grow local economies. He said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,” but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s necessary to compete with other cities.
Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of Cincinnati.
Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.
The project has faced continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the economic growth being promised by city officials.
Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.
The streetcar project was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.
Duke’s reluctance led to a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out, the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side with the city.
The city originally expected $31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”
Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.
The streetcar budget debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues, but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton Dohoney unveiled Plan B to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.
Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.
On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools. Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only to traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.
The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.
U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.
Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”
If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.
Ohio Senate Republicans unveiled a budget plan yesterday that would keep social issues at the forefront and refocus tax reforms on small businesses instead of all Ohioans.
The budget plan would potentially allow Ohio's health director to shut down abortion clinics, effectively defund Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the Medicaid expansion.
The plan would also cut income taxes by 50 percent for businesses owners while undoing a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut for all Ohioans.
Republicans say the tax cuts will spur the state's economy, but Democrats were quick to argue the tax cuts will exclude a majority of Ohioans, particularly low- and middle-income earners.
The small business tax cut was originally proposed by Gov. John Kasich alongside a 20-percent across-the-board tax cut for all Ohioans, but the Ohio House undid both suggestions in its own budget plan in favor of a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
Meanwhile, the conservative push on social issues echoes priorities established in the Ohio House budget bill, which was passed on April 18 ("The Chastity Bunch," issue of April 24).
But the Ohio Senate plan comes with a new addition: It would give the director of the Ohio Department of Health the power to close ambulatory surgical centers without cause, which could be "a thinly veiled tool to close abortion clinics and effectively outlaw abortion across the state," according to NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
The other Ohio Senate measures are drawn from the Ohio House budget bill, including a rework of family services funding that prioritizes other programs over Planned Parenthood, leading to less funds for the controversial women's health program.
The change has been trumpeted by Republicans who claim it will allow more programs to get funding. But the cuts have been criticized by Planned Parenthood advocates, who say other programs already compete for family planning services funding; those programs are just dismissed as inferior under the current competitive distribution process.
The Ohio Senate budget plan would also shift a separate set of funds to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which essentially act as the anti-abortion alternative to family planning institutions like Planned Parenthood.Supporters of CPCs, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, praise them for promoting "chastity" and "abstinence."
But CPCs have been criticized by pro-choice groups for misleading women about false links between abortion, breast cancer, mental health problems and infertility. An "undercover investigation" from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio found 47 percent of CPCs gave misleading information about abortions and mental health problems and 48 percent gave false information about abortions, breast cancer and infertility.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio criticized the measures in a statement.
"Just when you thought the budget couldn’t get any worse for Ohio women, it does," said Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, in a statement. "This budget attacks every choice a woman can make about her reproductive health. If she wants to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, her family planning provider may be defunded. If she gets pregnant when she is unable to become a parent, the abortion clinic in her community may be shuttered. If she chooses to become a parent and needs assistance to provide for her child, funding may no longer be available. Gov. Kasich can stop these attacks on women’s health care. We need him to pledge to line-item veto these dangerous measures when they reach his desk."
Just like the Ohio House budget plan, the Ohio Senate's plan also forgoes the Medicaid expansion. Kasich and Ohio Democrats have supported the expansion, but the Republican majority in the legislature has so far stood in opposition.
The expansion would use mostly federal funds from the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") to increase the eligibility cut-off for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The first three years would be completely paid by the federal government. Afterward, federal funding would be phased down to 90 percent over the next decade, where it would remain.
A study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade.
Despite staunch opposition in budget talks, Republicans have introduced a standalone bill that would expand and reform Medicaid, which Republicans say will let them take a more "holistic" approach to the health care program.
The Ohio Senate budget plan also pulled out controversial language that would have forced public universities and colleges to decide between $370 million in higher out-of-state tuition rates and providing out-of-state students with documents required for voting in Ohio.
If the budget plan is approved by the Ohio Senate, it will head to the Ohio House and Kasich for final approval.
Update (1:51 p.m.): This story was updated with comments from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.
Republican state legislators today rolled out a major tax overhaul that would cut Ohio income taxes, but the plan would also increase and expand sales and property taxes.
Legislators plan to add the tax changes to the $61.7 billion two-year budget. The final plan is being touted as a merger of the original proposals from the Ohio House and Senate, but none of the proposed tax hikes in the revised plan were included in the original tax proposals from either chamber.
Relative to rates today, the new plan would cut state income taxes across the board by 8.5 percent in the first year of the budget’s implementation, 9 percent in the second year and 10 percent in the third year. That’s a bump up from the House plan, which only included a 7-percent across-the-board income tax cut.
The Senate’s 50-percent tax deduction for business owners
would be reduced to apply to up to $250,000 of annual net
income, down from $750,000 in the original plan. Under the
revised plan, a business owner making a net income of $250,000 a year
would be able to exempt $125,000 from taxes.
The plan would also create an earned income tax credit that would give a tax refund to low- and moderate-income working Ohioans.
To balance the cuts, the plan would hike the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent. Some sales tax exemptions would be eliminated, including exemptions for digital goods such as e-books and iTunes downloads.
The plan would also make two major changes to property taxes: First, the state would not pay a 12.5-percent property tax rollback on new property tax levies, which means future levies for schools, museums and other services would be 12.5 percent more expensive for local homeowners.
Second, the homestead tax exemption, which allows disabled, senior and widowed Ohioans to shield up to $25,000 of property value from taxes, would be graduated over time to be based on need. In other words, lower-income seniors would still qualify for the exemption, while higher-income seniors wouldn’t. Current exemptions would remain untouched, according to House Finance and Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Amstutz.
The final tax plan is a lot closer to Gov. John Kasich’s original budget proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for disproportionately favoring the wealthy (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
The budget must now be approved by the conference committee, House, Senate and Gov. John Kasich in time for a June 30 deadline.
Despite strong backing from Republican Gov. John Kasich, the Medicaid expansion didn’t make it into the final version of the two-year state budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday.
Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, calls the expansion’s failure a disappointment, but he says he remains optimistic the expansion will be taken up in future legislation.
Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the federal government is asking states to expand their Medicaid programs to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or an annual income of $32,499 for a family of four.
States are given a powerful financial incentive for doing so: For the
first three years, the expansion is entirely paid for by the federal
government. Afterward, the federal commitment is dropped to 90
percent, where it will indefinitely remain.
The federal government on average pays about 57 percent of Medicaid costs, while states pay for the rest. So the 90-percent match for the expansion is a uniquely lucrative deal.
But Republican legislators say they’re skeptical the federal government can afford such a large commitment to Medicaid, often calling the size of the expansion unprecedented.
Owens claims there is a precedent for the Medicaid expansion: Medicaid. He says the federal government has historically upheld its commitment to Medicaid, which insures 2.2 million Ohioans. There’s no sign that will stop any time soon, according to Owens.
To support his claim, Owens cites scoring from the
Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan organization that
scores federal policy proposals to gauge their fiscal and economic
impact. In July 2012, the CBO found repealing Obamacare, which includes the
Medicaid expansion, would actually increase the federal deficit by $109 billion
over 10 years, which means the health reform law is an overall fiscal gain for the federal government.
At the same time, analysts have found the Medicaid expansion would be fiscally beneficial for Ohio. Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade.
Instead of being concerned about fiscal problems, Owens concludes opponents of the Medicaid expansion simply dislike the president, Obamacare and Medicaid.
Michael Dittoe, spokesperson for Ohio House Republicans, pushes back at that notion. He points out the state budget will increase funding for Medicaid by $1 billion, allowing 231,000 more Ohioans to enter the system.
“When people say that we’re not doing anything for Medicaid, obviously that’s not true,” he says. “Certainly, we could have gone down the road of not funding that particular provision.”
The increased funding is going to people who are already eligible for Medicaid but, for whatever reason, aren’t currently enrolled. The federal government expects the new enrollees to sign up as a result of Obamacare raising awareness and education about health coverage.
In other words, the federal government already expects Ohio to pay for these Medicaid enrollees. Failing to do so would have likely violated the state’s Medicaid agreement with the federal government and, as Dittoe acknowledges when asked, resulted in penalties.
Although the Medicaid expansion is out of the state budget, there is a bill currently sitting in the House that would take up the expansion. Dittoe says that bill will likely be looked at in the early fall.
For legislators, that might be politically prudent: A poll released June 14 by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati found 63 percent of Ohioans support the Medicaid expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent. The University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research conducted the poll for the Health Foundation between May 19 and June 2.
The $62 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly on Thursday. It’s expected Kasich will sign it into law this weekend.
Check out all of CityBeat’s state budget coverage:
• Report: State Budget Tax Plan Favors Wealthy
• State Budget's Education Increases Fall Short of Past Funding
• State Budget to Limit Access to Abortion
Plan Cincinnati is expected to be approved by City Council Wednesday, according to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. The plan was unanimously approved by the Livable Communities committee last night. Plan Cincinnati, which is Cincinnati’s first comprehensive plan in 30 years, emphasizes the city’s urban center through new infrastructure, transportation options and goals to make downtown residents stay in the area. CityBeat previously covered the plan in greater detail here.
At the request of the sole Democrat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, a vote on the 2013 budget is being delayed by one week. Commissioner Todd Portune asked Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, for the vote delay to address funding to juvenile courts and plans for future financial stability. Hartmann agreed to the delay, noting consensus is important for budget issues. The budget won’t raise taxes, but it could put 150 Hamilton County employees out of jobs.
Wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of fluids used during the fracking process, will soon be popping up around Ohio again. The wells are the first to get state approval since earthquakes around Youngstown in December were blamed on nearby wastewater injection wells. It’s clear little — not even earthquakes — will stop Ohio’s fracking boom, but at what cost? It is generally accepted switching from coal to natural gas would bring down pollution that causes global warming, but some findings from Australia suggest problems still lay ahead. One study found an abnormal amount of greenhouse gases around an Australian fracking site. Methane leakage in particular is a problem at natural gas sites because over 100 years methane is 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cincinnati home sales shot up in October, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The report paints a great picture for the city’s housing economy. Housing was one of the biggest sectors hit by the financial crisis of 2007-2008, so a recovery in housing is a sign the economic downturn could soon be a thing of the past.
University of Cincinnati researchers want to know if testing emergency-room patients for HIV makes sense. ER doctors worry about longer wait times, disrupted operations and possible interference with emergency services, but the health benefits could outweigh the negatives.
FirstGroup America is looking into moving from its Cincinnati headquarters. The company originally got a million-dollar tax incentive from the city for moving to downtown.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich hopes his rejection of Obamacare’s health exchanges will ignite some re-election fundraising. Kasich is up for re-election in 2014. Exchanges are subsidized, heavily regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace. With Kasich’s rejection, the federal government will manage Ohio’s exchange.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted finally had a good day in court on Saturday. In a reversal from the lower court’s ruling, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said ballots without proper identification should not be counted. It’s estimated that, at most, the ruling will affect about 2,000 votes.
A Dayton man allegedly robbed the same bank twice.
Behold, the greatest thing the internet has ever created: The Spice Kittens livestream.
With a nose cell transplant, paralyzed dogs are walking again.
Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.
With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.
Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.
The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.
Cincinnati State is looking to expand.
One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.
The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.
Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.
A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.
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.
in the same meeting, City Council unanimously passed a resolution
asking the federal government to take up comprehensive immigration
Update: This story was updated to reflect Judge Robert Winkler's actions.
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 today’s 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.
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).