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by German Lopez 11.15.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Mayor at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar supporters pack event, federal funds threatened, Dohoney to get severance pay

Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square last night to start a two-week campaign to prevent Mayor-elect John Cranley and the newly elected City Council from halting the ongoing project. The goal is to convince at least five of the nine newly elected council members to support the project. So far, streetcar supporters have at least three pro-streetcar votes: Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young. Now, they’re trying to convince another three — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and P.G. Sittenfeld — to support continuing the project; all three spoke against the streetcar on the campaign trail, but they’ve recently said they want a full accounting of the project’s completion costs, cancellation costs and potential return of investment before making a final decision. CityBeat covered the campaign and the people involved in greater detail here.

Hours before the event began, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated canceling the project would cost Cincinnati nearly $41 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left under the discretion of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio. Cranley previously stated he could lobby the federal government to re-appropriate the money to other city projects, but the letter makes it quite clear that’s not in the plans right now. On the elevator ride up to the Mercantile Library event, Sittenfeld commented on the letter to CityBeat, “I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column.”

City Council yesterday accepted the resignation of City Manager Milton Dohoney, just one day after Cranley announced Dohoney’s leave and his support for it. Although council members acknowledged they had to accept the resignation in lieu of the Nov. 5 election results, they said they were unhappy with the behind-the-scenes approach that was taken by Cranley throughout the process. For the year following his resignation, Dohoney will receive $255,000 in severance pay and health benefits through the city, which will cost an already-strained operating budget that’s been structurally imbalanced since 2001.

Flaherty & Collins, the Indianapolis-based developer that’s building a downtown apartment tower at Fourth and Race streets, said it’s interested in the retail space being left vacant by Saks Fifth Avenue.

Northern Kentucky residents last night got a look at a regional strategy to fight the growing heroin problem in the area. The report, put together by substance abuse and medical experts, law enforcement officials, governmental leaders and business representatives, calls for more physicians and long-term treatment options to address the issue. “We cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the problem,” said Dr. Lynne Saddler, director of the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department. “The success of this plan really hinges on having sufficient treatment options and resources available so that everyone seeking and wanting treatment can easily access it.”

Union Township Rep. John Becker introduced a bill in the Ohio House this week that would ban most public and private health insurers from providing abortion coverage. The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. Becker describes himself as one of the most conservative members of the Ohio legislature. He’s also supported the Heartbeat Bill, which would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected; called needle-exchange efforts part of the “liberal media agenda”; and lobbied for the impeachment of a judge who allowed the state to recognize the same-sex marriage of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who recently passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted urged the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission to address politicized redistricting. Under the current system, the political party in charge — the last time around, Republicans — can use demographic trends to redraw congressional district boundaries to maximize the votes of supporters and split and dilute the votes of opponents. Although Husted is now calling for reform to make redistricting more representative of the state’s actual political make-up, he opposed a ballot initiative in 2012 that would have placed an independent committee in charge of redistricting.

Speaking at a Cleveland steel mill, President Barack Obama talked up U.S. manufacturing and its potential for economic growth.

The Christmas holiday tree arrives at Fountain Square tomorrow.

Tomorrow is also the day of the One Stop Drop recycling event, where anyone can drop off electronic and other waste — TVs, computers, cellphones and chargers, No. 5 plastics such as butter tubs and yogurt containers, single-use grocery bags and used writing instruments like pencils and pens — from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Whole Foods Market in Rookwood Commons, 2693 Edmondson Road.

Five crashes in Covington, Ohio, left six horses dead and one injured.

More Ohioans also died on the road in 2012 than the year before.

The world’s oldest animal — a mollusk — missed Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas by 14 years.

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by German Lopez 02.14.2013
Posted In: Budget, 2013 Election, News, Mayor, Streetcar at 05:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
qualls

Qualls Raises Concerns Over Streetcar Project

Streetcar construction bids come over budget

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).

 
 
by German Lopez 01.04.2013
Posted In: Economy, News, John Boehner, Streetcar, Budget at 10:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar delayed to 2016, unemployment steady, Boehner re-elected speaker

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.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.16.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Homelessness, Health care at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

First streetcar tracks set, homeless to sue county, Medicaid expansion expected to pass

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Cincinnati yesterday laid down the first two streetcar tracks, putting the project on a clear path to completion after years of financial and political hurdles. The $133 million project is now expected to continue its construction phase over the next three years, with a goal of opening to the public on Sept. 15, 2016. City officials, including Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, celebrated the milestone and thanked supporters for remaining committed to the project. Meanwhile, former Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for laying down the tracks instead of delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December. Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition yesterday announced it’s suing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department over a new policy that attempts to remove homeless people from courthouse steps with the threat of arrest. The sheriff’s office says it still intends to redirect homeless people to housing and other services, but it told WVXU that clearing out the courthouse is necessary to invoke a “type of immediacy” to encourage homeless residents “to seek housing and a better situation.” Advocates call the policy dangerous and unfair. A press conference will be held later today to discuss the lawsuit.

State Senate President Keith Faber says he expects Gov. John Kasich’s proposal for a two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion to gain approval from a seven-member legislative oversight panel known as the Controlling Board. Faber, a Republican who opposes the expansion, says it’s now time for the legislature to consider broader reforms for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income and disabled Ohioans. After months of wrangling with legislators in his own political party to approve the expansion, Kasich, a Republican, on Friday announced he would bypass the legislature and instead ask the Controlling Board to approve federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans for two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Mayor Mallory says the Millenium Hotel’s owners agreed to conduct a feasibility study to see what kind of renovations the market will support for the hotel. Mallory told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the agreement is the first sign of progress since discussions about overhauling the shabby hotel began.

To tackle concerns about second-hand smoking, one state senator proposed a bill that would ban smoking in a car when a young child is present. It’s the second time in two years State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) introduced the bill.

Allegiant Air will offer low fares to fly to Florida from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), ending months of speculation over whether the airline would pick CVG or Lunken Airport.

A state audit released on Tuesday found a local water worker was paid $437 in 2001 for work that wasn’t done.

Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel was named the No. 1 hotel in the country and tied for No. 11 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Scientists found a way to block the dopamine rush associated with THC and make marijuana un-fun to help people with a psychological dependence on the drug.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.06.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, City Council, Streetcar at 02:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
john cranley

Cranley Might Veto Ordinance Continuing Streetcar Project

Decision means City Council might need a supermajority to continue streetcar project

Mayor John Cranley might veto an ordinance continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project, even if a majority of City Council wants the project to continue after its costs are reviewed through an independent audit, said Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s chief of staff, on Friday.

The decision means six of nine council members — a supermajority — might be required to overturn a mayoral veto and continue the streetcar project. With only two perceived swing votes on council, that could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.

“Of course he reserves the right to veto the legislation,” Kincaid said.

If Cranley reviews the numbers and decides that the project is too costly, he will use the veto powers provided to him through the city charter, Kincaid explained.

Kincaid’s response came after CityBeat confirmed with City Solicitor John Curp that continuing the streetcar project would require a new ordinance that, in theory, could be vetoed by the mayor. City Council can overcome a mayoral veto with a supermajority, or six of nine total council votes.

When CityBeat talked to Kincaid the day before he confirmed Cranley’s willingness to veto, Kincaid speculated that Cranley would not veto legislation continuing the streetcar project.

“I have not talked to (Cranley) about it. I assume that he would let it go forward since he gave (Councilman) David Mann his word that he would give this time to review it, and he gave the same assurance to (Councilman) Kevin Flynn,” Kincaid previously said.

Five of nine council members on Wednesday agreed to allocate $1.25 million to indefinitely pause the streetcar project and pay for an independent study that will gauge how much it will cost to continue or permanently cancel the project.

Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be lost if the project were terminated.

Almost immediately, a majority of council voiced distrust toward Deatrick’s numbers. In a press conference following Deatricks presentation, Cranley called city officials in charge of the streetcar project “incompetent.

Council members Flynn and Mann vocally opposed the streetcar project on the campaign trail. But both said they’ll make a final decision on the project once the cancellation and completion numbers are evaluated through an independent review.

Mann previously told CityBeat, “If they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”

Flynn wouldn’t speculate on what stance he will take if the numbers stand to scrutiny. He said a pressing concern for him is how the city will pay for $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar, which could hit an already-strained operating budget.

If Cranley vetoes an ordinance continuing the streetcar project, both Flynn and Mann would likely need to agree to continue — or at least overturn a mayoral veto — to keep the streetcar alive.

City officials estimate the review will take at least two weeks. Once the audit is finished, council members are expected to announce their final positions on continuing or canceling the project.

Update: Mayor John Cranley on Friday announced the federal government is giving Cincinnati until Dec. 19 to make a decision on the streetcar project. Read more here.

This story was updated to better explain that Jay Kincaid’s second direct quote came from a separate conversation on Thursday, the day before he announced Mayor John Cranley’s willingness to veto.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.17.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Education, Streetcar at 09:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar faces $22.7m budget gap, bill would restrict sex education, councilman resigns

In a memo to the mayor and City Council members last night, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed the streetcar is facing a $22.7 million shortfall because construction bids were way over budget. The memo says $5.3 million of that budget gap could be brought down through cuts, but fixing the rest requires $17.4 million in additional funds. The memo comes at a time the city is attempting to balance its operating budget by laying off cops and firefighters. But as John Deatrick explained when the city moved to hire him for the streetcar project, the streetcar is part of the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget and can't be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.

The budget bill heading to the Ohio House floor would ban comprehensive sex education, defund Planned Parenthood and fund crisis pregnancy centers that pro-choice groups consider "anti-choice." Citing "gateway sexual activity," the bill would open teachers to up to $5,000 in fines for explaining the use of condoms and other birth control to students, and it also bans the distribution of any birth control on school grounds. The bill takes its anti-contraceptive measures to promote an abstinence-only education program. Research has found abstinence-only programs to be generally ineffective, while birth control programs ultimately save money by avoiding costly pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection treatment.

Councilman Cecil Thomas is stepping down, and he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas. The appointment has raised questions about how council members are replaced upon resignation, but Thomas says he's just following the rules. Under the current system, designees appoint successors to council seats, but the designees give great weight to the incumbent's input.

JobsOhio repaid $8.4 million to Ohio yesterday — fulfilling a promise it made in March that it would fully repay the state for public funding received since it opened on July 5, 2011. The sum is much higher than the $1 million state officials originally said would go to the agency. JobsOhio's finances came under criticism after it was revealed that Gov. John Kasich was redirecting public funds to the agency, prompting a closer look from State Auditor Dave Yost. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republicans established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.

In light of the Boston Marathon bombings, Flying Pig Marathon organizers are evaluating security measures, but they're not sure whether additional measures are needed just yet. The Flying Pig Marathon is expected to draw more than 20,000 participants on May 5 — close to the 23,000 who typically attend the Boston Marathon. Still, only about 150,000 spectators are expected at the Flying Pig Marathon, while about 500,000 typically spectate the Boston Marathon.

City Council is expected to vote today in support of expanding mobile food vending in the city and make the program, which is handled by 3CDC, permanent. The new mobile vending spots will be near nightlife areas in Over-the-Rhine and during the day at Washington Park.

TriHealth and Mercy Health are among the top 15 hospital systems in the United States, according to a new ranking from Truven Health Analytics.

When renewing its contract with Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Kroger asked the company to move its center from Des Moines, Iowa, to Cincinnati, bringing an estimated 55 new jobs to the city.

New surgical tape works like a parasitic worm for extra stickiness.

For the first time, scientists are being allowed to study psychedelics for potential medical treatments.

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 04.24.2012
 
 
streetcar display

Morning News and Stuff

Cincinnati's streetcar project manager told City Council Monday that top level officials from the city and Duke Energy are continuing negotiations on who should pay for the relocation of underground utilities for the project. Chris Eilerman, an assistant to the city manager, called the discussions “fruitful.” City officials say some of the cost should fall to Duke as some of the pipes and wiring are old and will need to be eventually replaced regardless of the streetcar project. A CityBeat review of streetcar projects in other cities found that utility companies often paid the entire cost for relocation.

About 55 percent of hospitals think they will experience a drop in revenue because of federal health-care reform, according to a new survey. Twelve percent anticipate an increase in revenue and 28 percent don’t know what to expect, according to research by Woburn, a Massachusetts-based benefits consulting firm. The Business Courier reports that Greater Cincinnati hospitals are taking steps to make the best of the reform including forming tight networks with physicians and other providers in order to pursue quality-improvement initiatives the government is promoting.

Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig told City Council that some violent crime is the result of lack of parental involvement in their children's lives. At a special council session Monday evening to discuss a recent spike in shootings, Craig said each homicide costs a community millions of dollars in various expenses, so it's in everyone's best interests to try to reduce the crimes.

Ohio's tax-credit program for film production has helped create work for thousands of people, and sparked millions of dollars in economic impact, according to a new study. The report, compiled by the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University, estimates that each dollar of state tax breaks results in $1.20 in economic impact. The tax credits have cost the state some $30 million so far, the study reports. The film industry has created more than 9,000 temporary jobs and more than 1,100 full-time jobs in the Buckeye State since 2009.

ESPN will shoot a TV commercial promoting its popular College GameDay football show at a campus selected by fans based on online voting. Every college with a Division I football team is eligible to compete for the honor, and the University of Cincinnati is encouraging its fans to participate. Voting in the contest began Monday, and can be done here.

In news elsewhere, Republican presidential primaries are being held today in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. A total of 228 delegates are at stake, although frontrunner and presumptive nominee Willard Mitt Romney is expected to easily win the primaries. Of the five states, only Pennsylvania is considered as a swing state that could go either way in November's general election.

Facebook's stunning growth might be starting to cool a little. The social media company reported its first quarter-to-quarter revenue decline in at least two years as it prepares to go public in the largest ever Internet IPO. Net income slid 12 percent to $205 million in the quarter, from $233 million a year earlier, which executives blamed on seasonal advertising trends. Facebook is preparing to raise at least $5 billion in an initial public offering that could value the world's largest social network at up to $100 billion.

A nonpartisan group that advocates for open government has filed an IRS complaint against a secretive conservative group, alleging it is falsely claiming tax-exempt status while doing widespread lobbying. Common Cause filed the complaint Monday against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has pushed for voter ID and “stand your ground” laws, among many other efforts. "It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. The group wants an audit of ALEC's work, penalties and the payment of back taxes.

The net flow of Mexicans into the United States has dwindled to a trickle and may now be in reverse, according to a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center. From 2005-10, about 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the U.S., exactly the same number of Mexican immigrants and their US-born children who quit America and moved back or were deported to Mexico. By contrast, in the previous five years, about 3million Mexicans came to the U.S. and fewer than 700,000 left it. Poor economic conditions and an increase in border patrols are being credited with the reversal.

Israel has approved three settlements in the occupied West Bank, the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said in a statement. At a meeting late on Monday, a ministerial committee "decided to formalize the status of three communities which were established in the 1990s following the decisions of past governments," the statement said. The formal approval was criticized by Palestinians, who said it's another impediment to peace talks about contested land.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.13.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, News, Streetcar, Economy at 08:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
120413_obama_romney_4x3.photoblog600

Morning News and Stuff

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced his running mate Saturday: U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. Ryan is currently the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee. He is known by many Republicans as an “intellectual” in the party. He is known by everyone else as the guy who tried to dismantle Medicare. Ryan is also a Miami University graduate, and he was once a staffer for now-Gov. John Kasich when Kasich was still a congressman.

State Rep. Connie Pillich, a Democratic House member for suburban Cincinnati, is facing a tough campaign for re-election against Republican Mike Wilson. One of the reasons the campaign is more difficult for Pillich this time is the redistricting process was used to redraw her district to favor Republicans.

Hamilton County is going to be holding eight budget forums. The forums give the public an opportunity to discuss what they think should be prioritized and slashed in the next Hamilton County budget.

A new report found the 2020 Cincinnati jobs market will be dominated by health care and computer jobs as the city continues its strong growth. The report also found a surprising amount of top jobs will only require a high school diploma or an equivalent to a high school diploma.

The Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is continuing its dishonest campaign to block the Blue Ash Airport deal, but Cincinnati and Blue Ash lawmakers don’t seem too worried. At least COAST admits it’s largely interested in blocking the streetcar “boondoggle,” not just the legitimacy or details of Blue Ash rescinding the original deal. CityBeat previously covered the Blue Ash Airport issue here.

The number of Ohio homeowners late on mortgage payments rose in the second quarter, according to a new report. The rise reverses a trend of dropping mortgage delinquencies seen earlier in the year.

The Complete Ohio College task force will be meeting for the first time today. The group is meant to increase the amount of college degree holders in Ohio.

The Brookings Institute released a study that shows unemployment would be at 7.1 percent without cuts to government job.

Romney has called for a truce on his business record and tax history. Apparently, Romney wants to focus on issues, even though he’s the one that has repeatedly brought up his business record time and time again. Seriously, is this real life?

Speaking of Romney, he will be in Ohio Tuesday.

President Barack Obama takes the old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” really seriously.

Here is a turtle with a mohawk.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.13.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Scrutinizes Streetcar Budget Fixes

City manager, council members discuss streetcar funding

At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it.

Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).

Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is too expensive.

In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino.

Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project.

Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan after it was explained to him.

Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes.

A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope.

“For major projects like this … there is usually an anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said.

For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place.

Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and begins actual work on the project.

But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government.

Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no.

When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end.

Smitherman asked how the city administration can be pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a vote of council is dead?”

Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council.

Ending the project would come with its own costs of about $72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent, $14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants that would have to be returned to the federal government.

Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”

The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney.

Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits, particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011.

“If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing,” Dohoney said. “The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that.”

But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a success by itself.

Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees. But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.

 
 
by German Lopez 03.08.2013
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Federal unemployment down, state joblessness up, Tower Place Mall renovations detailed

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.

 
 

 

 

 
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