The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
In February, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent, from 7.9 percent in January, and the nation added 236,000 jobs. Many of the new jobs — about 48,000 — came from construction, while government employment saw a drop even before sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts, began on March 1. Economists seem quite positive about the report.
In January, Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent, from 6.7 percent in December, with the number of unemployed in the state rising to 399,000, from 385,000 the month before. Goods-producing and service-providing industries and local government saw a rise in employment, while jobs were lost in trade, transportation, utilities, financial activities, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, state government and federal government. In January, U.S. unemployment rose to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in December.
A new report outlined renovations for the city-owned Tower Place Mall, which is getting a makeover as part of Cincinnati’s parking plan. A lot of the retail space in the mall will be replaced to make room for parking that will be accessed through what is currently Pogue’s Garage, but two rings of retail space will remain, according to the report. The parking plan was approved by City Council Wednesday, but it was temporarily halted by a Hamilton County judge. The legal contest has now moved to federal court, and it’s set to get a hearing today.
Meet the mayoral candidates through CityBeat’s two extensive Q&As: Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley. Qualls spoke mostly about her support for immigration, the parking plan and streetcar, while Cranley discussed his opposition to the parking plan and streetcar and some of his ideas for Cincinnati.
A Hamilton County court ruled against the controversial traffic cameras in Elmwood Place, and the Ohio legislature is considering a statewide ban on the cameras. In his ruling, Judge Robert Ruehlman pointed out there were no signs making motorists aware of the cameras and the cameras are calibrated once a year by a for-profit operator. The judge added, “Elmwood Place is engaged in nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty. … It is a scam that motorists can’t win.” Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced to prohibit traffic cameras in Ohio.
JobsOhio, the state-funded nonprofit corporation, quietly got $5.3 million in state grants, even though the state legislature only appropriated $1 million for startup costs. JobsOhio says it needed the extra funds because legal challenges have held up liquor profits that were originally supposed to provide funding. In the past few days, State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has been pushing Republican Gov. John Kasich and JobsOhio to release more details about the nonprofit corporation’s finances, but Kasich and JobsOhio have been pushing back.
Advocates for Ohio’s charter schools say Kasich’s budget amounts to a per-pupil cut, with funding dropping from $5,704 per pupil to $5,000 plus some targeted assistance that ranges from hundreds of dollars to nothing depending on the school. A previous CityBeat report on online schools found traditional public schools get about $3,193 per student — much less than the funding that apparently goes to charter schools.
Fountain Square will be getting a new television from Cincinnati-based LSI Industries with the help of Fifth-Third Bank and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The new video board will have better image quality and viewing angles, but it will also come with more screen space for sponsors.
Ohio’s casino revenues rose in January. That could be a good sign for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, which opened Monday.
In light of recent discussion, Popular Science posted a Q&A on drones.
Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday approved the first comprehensive plan in the last 32 years to direct future city growth and development.
All eight present members of council voted in favor of the plan, after a 10-minute “love-fest,” as Councilwoman Yvette Simpson put it, praising one another and the team that created the plan. The nine-member team worked on the comprehensive plan for the last three years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was not present for the vote.
“I can’t use the term that Joe Biden, our vice president used, but this is a big deal,” said Mayor Mark Mallory, referencing an infamous gaffe where Biden uttered an expletive into a hot microphone.
The 228-page plan emphasizes urban development over suburban, citing population movement back into city centers.
The plan focuses on key areas and offers proposals for the near-, middle- and long-terms.
These include proposals to stabilize residential and business areas, improve quality of life, improve housing choices and affordability and offer alternative means of transportation to automobiles, including the controversial streetcar.
CityBeat previously covered the plan in depth.
A state lawmaker will host two sessions later this month designed to give advice to small business owners on obtaining loans to start or expand a business.
State Sen. Eric Kearney (D-9th District) is sponsoring the Small Business Credit Access Forum on July 28. The sessions will be held at the TechSolve Business Park, located at 6705 Stegner Drive in Carthage.
Hamilton County once again froze new work on a $3.2 billion project that will retrofit Cincinnati’s sewers because of a dispute concerning the city’s established bidding requirements. City Council in 2012 passed and in 2013 further adjusted rules that require companies bidding for lucrative sewer contracts to meet specific local hiring and training standards. City Council says the requirements will produce more local jobs, but Hamilton County commissioners argue that the rules favor unions and cost too much for businesses. Councilman Chris Seelbach and Commissioner Chris Monzel were originally working on a compromise, but prospects fell through after City Council rejected the deal. CityBeat covered the conflict in further detail here.
Covington, Ky., is publicly welcoming Pure Romance to the other side of the Ohio River, which could cost Cincinnati and Ohio up to 120 jobs and $100 million in revenue. Pure Romance was initially planning to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati with some tax support from the city and state, but after the state’s tax credit agencies rejected the plan, the company has been getting better offers from out-of-state sources, including Covington. Ohio officials say they denied Pure Romance because the company isn’t part of a target industry such as biotech, energy or logistics, but emails have suggested that the Republican state government is worried about the deal coming off as politically embarrassing because some of Pure Romance’s products include sex toys.
Ohio coal officials repeatedly complained about the state’s water pollution rules to Gov. John Kasich, whose administration then carried on the complaints to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Kasich’s office insists it was just trying to collect “different viewpoints and then work together to challenge each other to do the best job possible,” but environmental advocates say the governor was putting unfair pressure on a state agency just trying to do its job. The conflict might explain why the Ohio EPA’s top water-quality official, George Elmaraghy, was forced to resign after claiming that coal companies are pursuing permits “that may have a negative impact on Ohio streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.”
The tea party-backed pension reform effort on Thursday sued to change ballot language approved by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The lawsuit says the current ballot language is making “conjecture and partisan argumentation” by claiming the pension amendment will force the city to raise taxes, fees or other revenues to cope with stricter requirements for paying back Cincinnati’s $872 million pension liability. If it’s approved by voters, the amendment would effectively privatize the city’s pension system so future city employees, minus police and firefighters, would be required to contribute to and manage an individual 401k-style plan; currently, the city pools city employees’ retirement funds, makes its own contribution and invests the funds through an independent board. CityBeat covered the tea party-backed pension amendment in further detail here.
Hamilton County sheriffs are rolling out a three-phase plan to move homeless squatters out of county buildings and especially the Hamilton County Courthouse, where much of the city’s homeless population has been sleeping and defecating. Sheriffs will first set up bathrooms, such as portable potties, and try to identify the needs of the squatters and whether they should be connected to mental health or other services; during the month of the first phase, homeless people will be allowed to remain in the buildings. Then sheriffs will get more strict and forcibly remove people but still connect them to special services. Finally, the affected buildings will be cleaned up.
An upcoming report will likely place legislators and police and fire officials in conflict over the state’s police and fire pension system. Supporters of the pension system claim it’s financially stable, but a state consultants predicted that an actuarial report will soon show the pension system is failing to make its required commitments and will be unable to play for health care benefits beyond 15 years. Despite the problems, pension officials say they want to avoid more changes until the most recent changes are in place for one year. The most recent reforms will be officially in place for one year on July 2014, but they won’t show up on actuarial reports until late 2015, which means further changes would have to be held off until 2016 at the earliest under pension officials’ suggestion.
A lengthy, scathing report from the state’s independent prison watchdog found skyrocketing violence and drug use, high staff turnover and low staff morale at the Toledo Correctional Institution.
Two private organizations and the city of Cincinnati are working to place 21 bike share stations with 10 bicycles each in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati by spring 2014.
The reason reported mayoral primary results seemed to stall midway through counting: a memory card mix-up. Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Amy Searcy says the memory cards were never in an insecure environment, but some memory cards were locked up and left behind, while others were accidentally taken to a warehouse instead of the Board of Elections.
At four times their usual number, bats are forcing health officials to recommend rabies vaccinations and other disease-avoiding precautions to people in Kenton County in northern Kentucky.
Cincinnati’s largest mall, currently known as Forest Fair Village and previously named Cincinnati Mall, Cincinnati Mills and Forest Fair Mall, is apparently not for sale, despite early reports from The Business Courier.
Social robots can easily replace humans as dogs’ best friend, according to a new study in Animal Recognition.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday unanimously agreed to allocate $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71.
The funding will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from lowering property taxes in the future as originally planned.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld argued the focus should be on the project’s economic potential, not its possible impact on property taxes.
“If the city stopped spending money and stopped investing in things, indeed people’s taxes would go down, but I don’t think it’s a very fair frame to think about making this very important investment,” he said.
But Councilman Chris Seelbach said the public should know the full effects of the project.
“Believe me, I support this, and I support this through the property tax, but I just don’t want us to be able to pass this without saying what it is,” he said.
Council members said they support the interchange project because of the positive economic impact it will have on the uptown area, which includes the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals.
According to a May 2012 study from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center, the project will produce 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs. The same study found the economic impact of the project will reach $133 million during construction and $750 million once the interchange opens, which would lead to higher tax revenues.
The city is carrying roughly one-fifth of the cost for the interchange project. The rest will be financed through the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
Local job numbers continued their positive trend in April, with Cincinnati’s unemployment rate dropping to 6.9 percent and the rest of the region following suit. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, attributed the job gains to improvements in manufacturing and continued growth in health care jobs. Still, the public sector continued to lag behind the private sector — a trend Jones says could change in the coming months as government budgets are adjusted to match higher tax revenues resulting from the recovering economy.
Downtown’s population growth slowed last year as available housing failed to match demand, according to Downtown Cincinnati Inc.’s annual report. In the past few years, the city has pursued multiple actions to meet demand, particularly through public-private partnerships. Most recently, City Council approved leasing the city’s parking assets to raise funds that would help build 300 luxury apartments, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
The second phase of The Banks riverfront project will cost $62 million, according to the report from Downtown Cincinnati Inc. That’s smaller than the first phase, which cost $90 million. The second phase of the project is expected to begin this fall, and it should bring 300 apartments and 60,000 square feet of street-level retail space to the area by the end of 2015. The Banks also plans to build a $45 million hotel, which is also expected to be complete in 2015. The funding for the projects is coming through multiple public-private partnerships.
After the final
public hearing on the city budget Wednesday, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan plans to introduce her own
budget plan that would avoid all city employee layoffs. A statement from Quinlivan
did not give much in the way of details: “My plan saves all city jobs
and restores all neighborhood programs. It requires common sense and
shared sacrifice of all city employees.” Most recently, council members
Chris Seelbach and Roxanne Qualls co-sponsored a motion that would eliminate fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25 by making cuts elsewhere.
The Ohio Senate plans to vote today on a measure that would effectively close down hundreds of Internet “sweepstakes” cafes around the state in an effort to eliminate illegal gambling activities. The cafes’ operators insist their activities are not gambling but rather a promotional tool that helps sell Internet time and long-distance phone cards.
Cincinnati’s zoning hearing examiner says he’s trying to reduce the time it takes to go through the zoning hearing process to less than 60 days.
Three major Ohio universities, including the University of Cincinnati, and four hospitals, including Cincinnati Children's Hospital, are teaming up to find out what causes premature birth.
Beginning July 1, some Ohio interstates will allow drivers to go 70 miles per hour. Find out which ones here.
At congressional hearings yesterday, U.S. senators criticized Apple for legally taking advantage of the complex American corporate tax system, but Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put the blame on Congress:
The creator of the GIF says it’s pronounced “jif.”
Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget plan is on the horizon, and it contains “sweeping tax reform,” according to Tim Keen, budget director for Kasich. Keen said the new plan will “result in a significant competitive improvement in our tax structure,” but it’s not sure how large tax cuts would be paid for. Some are already calling the plan the “re-election budget.” Expectations are Kasich’s administration will cut less than the previous budget, which greatly cut funding to local governments and education.
Chris Monzel is now in charge
of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. Monzel will serve as
president, while former president Greg Hartmann has stepped down to vice
president. Monzel says public safety will be his No. 1 concern.
City Council may vote today on a plan to build the first freestanding public restroom, and it may be coming at a lower cost. City Manager Milton Dohoney said last week that the restroom could cost $130,000 with $90,000 going to the actual restroom facility, but Councilman Seelbach says the city might be able to secure the facility for about $40,000.
Tomorrow, county commissioners may vote on policy regarding the Metropolitan Sewer District. Commissioners have been looking into ending a responsible bidder policy, which they say is bad for businesses. But Councilman Seelbach argues the policy ensures job training is part of multi-billion dollar sewer programs. Board President Monzel and Seelbach are working on a compromise the city and county can agree on.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections is prepared to refer five cases of potential voter fraud from the Nov. 6 election. The board is also investigating about two dozen more voters’ actions for potential criminal charges.
King’s Island is taking job applications for 4,000 full- and part-time positions.
Ohio may soon link teacher pay to quality. Gov. John Kasich says his funding plan for schools will “empower,” not require, schools to attach teacher compensation to student success. A previous study suggested the scheme, also known as “merit pay,” might be a good idea.
An economist says Ohio’s home sales will soon be soaring.
Debe Terhar will continue as the Board of Education president, with Tom Gunlock staying as vice president.
Equal rights for women everywhere could save the world, say two Stanford biologists. Apparently, giving women more rights makes it so they have less children, which biologists Paul R. and Anne Ehrlich say will stop humanity from overpopulating the world.
Ever wanted to eat like a caveman? I’m sure someone out there does. Well, here is how.
One of Cincinnati’s biggest developers has plans to reshape an entire block of Race Street near Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine.
Model Group, which is based in Walnut Hills, has put in an application with Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation to develop city-owned properties on the 1800 block of Race Street. In addition, the developer has recently purchased a number of other properties on the block. The grand vision: more than 50,000 square feet of commercial space and 40,000 square feet of office space in the area just east of the historic market.
“We want it to feel like an extension of the market,” said Model Group COO Bobby Maly Sept. 5. But don’t call it Findlay Market II. “We’re not trying to be the market," he said.
The deal isn’t finalized yet, however. Model will still need approval from 3CDC and the city. On June 25, City Council approved 3CDC's request to be preferred developer of the area around the market. The non-profit development group is currently taking applications from developers who want in on the action in the rapidly changing neighborhood and advising the city about which projects should get the go-ahead. Except for a couple businesses such as Rhinegeist brewery, the area of OTR north of Liberty Street is still mostly untouched by redevelopment.
3CDC’s request that the city make it preferred developer in the area caused controversy. Critics, including Over-the-Rhine Community Council President Ryan Messer, say the group has too much power and shouldn’t be allowed to call the shots entirely in OTR. 3CDC has led the drive to reshape the part of the neighborhood south of Liberty Street, including the renovation of Washington Park, the enormous Mercer Commons project and a bevy of smaller retail, dining and residential spaces, especially along Vine Street. But Messer and others say smaller developers could move quicker than 3CDC, which has banked a number of buildings, shoring them up just enough to save them and then boarding them up. He has also expressed concerns that the development group isn’t serving the interests of everyone in the neighborhood and hasn’t paid close enough attention to the need for things like affordable housing there.
“A common thread in the neighborhood is the expressed desire to protect and expand our cultural diversity and this, in part, can be done by paying close attention to providing affordable housing options in both the rental and the purchase markets,” Messer said in a June 18 letter to the city asking it to not grant 3CDC preferred developer status.
While Model Group has played a relatively smaller role in OTR than the nonprofit 3CDC, it has also been very active in the area, especially in the Pendleton District to the east. Model has been working on Pendleton Square, a $26 million residential development just north of the Horseshoe Casino. That project could create about 40 new market-rate residential units and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space in the neighborhood, which is also experiencing a surge in redevelopment efforts.