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.
County Commissioner Todd Portune is proposing a 0.25 percent sales tax hike to stabilize the stadium fund and preserve the property tax rebate promised to voters in 1996. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will have to approve the hike before it becomes law. It would raise the county sales tax from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent.
Portune, the lone Democrat on the three-man board, says the county got to this point after years of problems with the stadium fund’s solvency culminated into one of two options: either the sales tax goes up or the property tax rebate is rolled back. He claims the two options are the only way to keep the stadium fund stable.
Portune says the 0.25-percent increase on the sales tax will hurt low-income families less than rolling back the property tax rebate. He reasoned the impact of the property tax rollback would focus on Hamilton County residents, including low-income families, while any hike in the sales tax is spread out on anyone who spends money in Hamilton County, including visitors from around the Tristate area. He also pointed out that essentials like food and medicine are exempt from the sales tax, which gives some relief to anyone trying to make ends meet.
On support from other commissioners, Portune says Board President Greg Hartmann agreed either the rebate has to go or the sales tax has to go up, but Hartmann could not be reached by CityBeat for further comment. This story will be updated if comments become available.
Update (Nov. 29, 4:25 p.m.): Hartmann called CityBeat after this story was published. He says he has not made a final decision, but he echoed Portune's comments by saying the
“reality of the situation” demands choosing between a sales tax hike or property tax rollback. If the commissioners take the latter option, Hartmann says only a partial rollback will be necessary to draw enough funds. He also cautioned that any one-time sales and spending cuts will not be enough to stabilize the stadium fund in the long term.
Commissioner Chris Monzel says he would rather keep the stadium fund balanced for one year with short-term cuts, including a cut on further investments in The Banks development before raising taxes. After the year is up, Monzel says commissioners could see if revenue from the new Horseshoe Casino and a possible deal involving the University of Cincinnati using Paul Brown Stadium would be enough to sustain the stadium fund in the long term.
The property tax rebate and sales taxes are both generally
considered regressive, meaning they favor the wealthy more than the
poor. In simple terms, as income goes down, spending on goods and
services take bigger bites out of a person’s income. A sales tax makes
that disproportionate burden even larger.
One analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer found the wealthy actually made more money from the property tax rebate than they were taxed by the half-cent sales tax raise that was initially meant to support the stadium fund.
For a previous story covering the stadium fund, Neil DeMause told CityBeat the stadium fund’s problems stem from the county government making a “terrible deal” with the Reds and Bengals. DeMause is a journalist who has chronicled his 15-year investigation of stadium deals in his book “Field of Schemes.”
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.
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.
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.
Cincinnati Public Schools seems to be playing a big role in reforming Ohio’s school funding formula. Superintendent Mary Ronan got a call from Gov. John Kasich’s office about the per-pupil funding formula CPS uses to distribute funds to its schools. It seems the state might adopt a similar method, but Ronan is cautious: “I do think it's one of the ways you could do it, a per-pupil funding, but I have to say, we were always tweaking every year ... because sometimes those formulas can be a bit off and any time we saw one school getting a lot more than another ... we tried to refine it every year over probably the 15 years we have used it.” She also notes schools are getting “bare minimum” funding right now. CityBeat covered budget problems at CPS here.
In general, state budget cuts have led to fewer teachers in Ohio schools. Gov. Kasich previously urged schools to focus on classroom instruction, but it seems the words aren't being followed up with proper funding.
Southwestern Ohio judges are clashing over double-dipping. The practice involves government workers retiring and getting rehired so they can collect pensions and a paycheck at the same time. At a meeting, Hamilton County Judge Melba Marsh said she wants to allow Magistrate Michael Bachman to retire and then be rehired so he doesn't lose a 3-percent increase to his retirement, which is otherwise being eliminated by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System after 2012. But the move has been met with resistance from other judges.
For Cincinnati hospitals, Medicare changes mean some loss and some gain.
The online campaign urging Macy’s to dump Donald Trump circled a “Dump Trump” billboard around Macy’s headquarters. The anti-Trump movement has gained about 680,000 signatures since it started.
On Christmas Eve, some spent time with family, while Butler County Deputy David Runnells helped deliver a baby in the back of a car during an emergency call.
Ohio will use $20 million out of $200 million in casino funds to train incumbent workers. Gov. Kasich says the program could help avoid layoffs.
It seems Mitt Romney's presidential campaign really thought they were going to win. In campaign memos leading up to the election, campaign staff said the race was “unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,” and the campaign ridiculed the possibility of losing Ohio due to the Romney campaign’s “better ground game.” But President Barack Obama had a much larger ground game for one-on-one interaction, which is one of the factors former Romney staff now say led to their demise. But whatever. Romney didn't want to be president, anyway, says son Tagg Romney: “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to ... run.”
Fiscal cliff talks aren’t going well. President Obama cut his vacation early to work out negotiations. If Republicans and Democrats can’t work out their problems, a series of spending cuts and tax hikes dubbed the “fiscal cliff” will kick in throughout 2013. But it’s looking more and more likely the nation will head off the cliff, considering U.S. Speaker John Boehner can’t even pass tax hikes on people making more than $1 million a year.
Ever wonder what dinosaur meat would taste like? Well, Popular Science has that covered.
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 Cincinnati Enquirer reports the Cincinnati streetcar is being delayed until 2016. The streetcar has been delayed time and time again, much to the cheer of opponents. Some opponents have taken the delay as yet another chance to take shots at the streetcar, but the city says a lot of the delays have been due to factors out of the city’s control, including ballot initiatives, the state pulling out a massive $52 million in funding and a dispute with Duke Energy.The U.S. unemployment rate remained at 7.8 percent in December, with November’s rate being revised upward to 7.8 percent as well. Employers reported adding about 155,000 jobs last month, but about 192,000 entered the labor force, meaning the amount of people joining the labor force outmatched the newly employed. The unemployment rate looks at the amount of unemployed people in the civilian labor force, which includes anyone working or looking for work.
U.S. Speaker John Boehner was re-elected U.S. House speaker. Just moments after securing the top House seat, Boehner said he will make the U.S. debt a top priority. But continuing to make the debt and deficit top issues could hurt the economy, as the fiscal cliff and recent developments in Europe have shown.
Uncle Sam is helping out Cincinnati firefighters. The Cincinnati Fire Department will be getting $6 million in federal grant money to hire 40 additional firefighters. The money will be enough to fund salaries for two years.
Cincinnati’s biggest cable provider dropped Current TV after it was sold to Qatar-based Al Jazeera. The Pan-Arab news network has had a difficult time establishing a foothold in American markets, largely because of the perception that it’s anti-American. But Al Jazeera has put out some great news stories, and some of the stories won awards in 2012.
If anyone is planning a trip through New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, Dayton International Airport now has that covered.
A small town in Ohio is being accused of covering up an alleged gang rape to protect a local football team. But KnightSec, a hacking group affiliated with the organization Anonymous, is fighting back by releasing evidence related to the case.
Despite a solved fiscal cliff deal extending emergency unemployment benefits, Ohio’s unemployed will soon be getting less aid. The decrease was automatically triggered by the state’s declining unemployment rate.
Ohio’s universities are adopting more uniform standards for remedial classes.
The newest Congress is a little more diverse.
In what might be the worst news of the century, the Blue Wisp Jazz Club could close down. The club, which has the greatest spinach-and-artichoke dip in the universe, is facing financial problems.
People who recently obtained gift cards for Rave Motion Pictures may want to get a move on. The theater is being sold to AMC Theatres.
A new theory suggest Earth should have been a snowball in its early days, but it wasn’t due to greenhouse gases.
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.
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.