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

City Administration Responds to Critical Parking Memo

Previously unreleased memo spurs renewed calls to reject parking lease

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

In its own memo released today, the city claims that the June 20 memo, which was first reported by WCPO yesterday, is outdated and makes a few technical errors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morning News and Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio gas prices are shooting back up.

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

 
 
by Andy Brownfield 11.15.2012
 
 
milton dohoney

Council Approves Raise, Bonus for City Manager

Opponents argue unwise with looming deficit; Dohoney's last raise in 2007

City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.

Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.

Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.

Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.

Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.

To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”

The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.

Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.

Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.

“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”

Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.

Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.

Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.

Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.

"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”

 
 
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 06.24.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
streetcar

Streetcar Project to Move Forward

Council measures increase capital funding, require more transparency

The streetcar project remains on track following today's votes by City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that aim to keep the public informed on the project's progress.

The increased funding was previously proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney to fix a $17.4 million budget gap. The money will come from more issued debt and pulled funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. Under state law, none of the capital funding could be used for operating budget expenses, such as police and fire.

The accountability measures also require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports.

"The progress reports should be easy-to-understand and made available online to ensure transparency and accountability to City Council and to citizens," the motion reads.

Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she abstained from voting on the motion imposing accountability measures.

Qualls, who revealed the accountability measures in a press conference prior to today's committee meeting, said the measures will move the streetcar forward and help keep the public informed.

"I will vote today to continue the streetcar project because we need to continue moving Cincinnati forward," she said. "At the same time, while I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a reboot on the project to instill public confidence in its management."

Smitherman did not seem convinced.

"I believe the administration will be back asking for more money on the streetcar," he claimed, pointing to pending litigation with Duke Energy over who is legally obligated to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate the project.

Smitherman and Sittenfeld also criticized their colleagues for not bringing the accountability measures to a vote earlier in the process.

"You would think seven years ago there would have been a motion like this in front of us," Smitherman said, referencing when City Council first approved the streetcar project.

Among the accountability motion's items is an operating plan, which streetcar critics have long demanded.

The city administration estimates operating the streetcar will cost about $3.5 million a year, indicating in the past that casino tax revenue would be used to pay for the costs.

Supporters say those costs will be outweighed by the city's estimated three-to-one return on investment for the streetcar project — an estimate backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati.

Simpson in particular argued the costs will be made up through increased revenue as the streetcar brings in more businesses and residents to Cincinnati.

Still, Simpson says those estimates don't matter to streetcar opponents.

"If it was $5, there would be individuals who don't support this project," she said.

Winburn responded by saying he supports the streetcar as a concept, which roused laughter from streetcar supporters in the audience. Throughout the project's many hearings, opponents of the streetcar have often said they support streetcars as a concept — at least until they have to put their support to a vote or commit funding.

Still, Winburn added, "Even if you all are wrong, I want to commend you for fighting for what you believe in."

The streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a result of "errors in bid documents," according to Qualls.

Besides increasing funding, the city is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager of The Banks, to head the streetcar project. Multiple city officials, including Qualls and Quinlivan, have praised Deatrick for his ability to bring down project costs and put large projects on track.

The funding currently set for the streetcar will only go to the first phase of the project. The final plan calls for tracks stretching from The Banks to the Cincinnati Zoo.

"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 previously told City Council. "The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that."

But Smitherman says talk of another phase is financially irresponsible: "I want to indicate to the public that they (the city administration) don't have a budget for the second leg."

The funding ordinance and accountability motion must now be approved by a full session of City Council, which has the same voting make-up as the Budget and Finance Committee.

If it's approved, the federal government has committed another $5 million to the streetcar that will help restore certain aspects of the project previously cut because of budget concerns.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.20.2012
Posted In: Budget, Development, Economy, News, Energy, Environment at 09:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
feature_banks_lede

Morning News and Stuff

Plan Cincinnati set for approval, Hamilton County's budget delayed, waste wells return

Plan Cincinnati is expected to be approved by City Council Wednesday, according to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. The plan was unanimously approved by the Livable Communities committee last night. Plan Cincinnati, which is Cincinnati’s first comprehensive plan in 30 years, emphasizes the city’s urban center through new infrastructure, transportation options and goals to make downtown residents stay in the area. CityBeat previously covered the plan in greater detail here.

At the request of the sole Democrat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, a vote on the 2013 budget is being delayed by one week. Commissioner Todd Portune asked Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, for the vote delay to address funding to juvenile courts and plans for future financial stability. Hartmann agreed to the delay, noting consensus is important for budget issues. The budget won’t raise taxes, but it could put 150 Hamilton County employees out of jobs.

Wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of fluids used during the fracking process, will soon be popping up around Ohio again. The wells are the first to get state approval since earthquakes around Youngstown in December were blamed on nearby wastewater injection wells. It’s clear little — not even earthquakes — will stop Ohio’s fracking boom, but at what cost? It is generally accepted switching from coal to natural gas would bring down pollution that causes global warming, but some findings from Australia suggest problems still lay ahead. One study found an abnormal amount of greenhouse gases around an Australian fracking site. Methane leakage in particular is a problem at natural gas sites because over 100 years methane is 25 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Cincinnati home sales shot up in October, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors. The report paints a great picture for the city’s housing economy. Housing was one of the biggest sectors hit by the financial crisis of 2007-2008, so a recovery in housing is a sign the economic downturn could soon be a thing of the past.

University of Cincinnati researchers want to know if testing emergency-room patients for HIV makes sense. ER doctors worry about longer wait times, disrupted operations and possible interference with emergency services, but the health benefits could outweigh the negatives.

FirstGroup America is looking into moving from its Cincinnati headquarters. The company originally got a million-dollar tax incentive from the city for moving to downtown.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich hopes his rejection of Obamacare’s health exchanges will ignite some re-election fundraising. Kasich is up for re-election in 2014. Exchanges are subsidized, heavily regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace. With Kasich’s rejection, the federal government will manage Ohio’s exchange.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted finally had a good day in court on Saturday. In a reversal from the lower court’s ruling, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said ballots without proper identification should not be counted. It’s estimated that, at most, the ruling will affect about 2,000 votes.

A Dayton man allegedly robbed the same bank twice.

Behold, the greatest thing the internet has ever created: The Spice Kittens livestream.

With a nose cell transplant, paralyzed dogs are walking again.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.01.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 11:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Manager Proposes Streetcar Budget Fixes

Recommendations would pull capital funding from multiple sources

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. released a memo yesterday detailing how the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap could be fixed by pulling funds from various capital projects and issuing more debt, upholding a promise he made at a contentious City Council meeting Monday.

The five-page memo says none of the proposed capital funding sources can be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law, which means the streetcar project is not being saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other city employees being laid off to balance the operating budget.

"Neither Capital nor TIF funds can be used to help with the operating budget deficit that the City is facing," the memo reads. "They are separate sources of funds and by State Law, cannot be used for operating expenses like police and fire personnel."

At least $5.4 million would be temporarily pulled from the $10.6 million planned for the Music Hall renovation project, but the redirected Music Hall funds would eventually come back in capital budgets for fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019. City spokesperson Meg Olberding explained in an email that moving funds around would not hinder the Music Hall project.

"The use of $5.4 million of Funds set aside for Music Hall this year is money currently sitting in a fund for this year that will not be needed this year," she wrote. "Funds for Music Hall will not be needed until 2016, the agreed upon deadline for fundraising for the Music Hall renovation with the Music Hall Revitalization Company. Therefore, the City is still keeping its commitment to Music Hall, while also advancing the streetcar project."

About $6.5 million would be taken from infrastructure projects surrounding the Horseshoe Casino, including funds that would otherwise go to lighting the trees along Reading Road and a study that would look at adding a turn lane from Reading Road. The memo acknowledges the trade-off, but it also justifies the redirected spending: "However, since the Streetcar passes within two blocks of the Casino Site, it is a project within the Casino Area that both benefits the TIF District and the Casino."

The memo also recommends pulling $400,000 that was originally set for traffic signal replacement, which would be used for the traffic replacement component of the streetcar project.

Another $500,000 would come from funding currently set for water main relocation and replacement. The memo says the water main funding is simply Water Works' share: "Of the $21.7 million cost overrun for the Streetcar project, approximately $1 million was for water main relocation (and) replacement work. Water Works' share of this is $0.5 million."

The remaining $4.6 million would come from the city issuing general capital debt, which would be paid back through a small portion of the income tax that is established in the City Charter for permanent improvement purposes. The memo acknowledges this would cost other economic development and housing projects $340,000 a year over the next 20 years, but it claims the funding is justified because the streetcar project is a permanent improvement project.

The memo outlines other vague capital funding options that could be used to balance the budget, but Dohoney does not explicitly recommend them.

The memo also leaves open the possibility of future sources of funding, including $15 million that could be opened up if the city prevails in court against Duke Energy over who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate streetcar tracks — but this was money that was originally supposed to go to neighborhood development projects — and the sale of remaining city-owned land at the Blue Ash Airport.

City Council still has to consider and approve the memo's recommendations for them to become law.

 
 
by German Lopez 05.02.2013
Posted In: Health, News, Budget at 10:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
chastity bunch

Study: Medicaid Improves Mental Health Outcomes

Researchers find no short-term improvements in physical health

As Ohio debates the Medicaid expansion, a new study from Harvard researchers revealed access to Medicaid in Oregon led to better mental health outcomes and reduced financial strain, but no short-term gains were found in physical health outcomes.

The study, which was released Wednesday by The New England Journal of Medicine, had its most positive findings in mental health outcomes, with Medicaid recipients showing 30 percent lower rates of depression in comparison to people without health coverage. Medicaid recipients had a rate of depression of 21 percent, while those without coverage had a rate of 30 percent.

But the gains did not apply to physical health outcomes. When looking at cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, there was no significant difference between Medicaid recipients and people without coverage. The three measures were chosen because they typically reveal better health results within two years and they're easy to obtain.

Still, the study doesn't rule out the possibility of long-term gains. The study found increased rates of diabetes detection and management, which could lead to better physical health outcomes in the future.

Medicaid enrollment also reduced financial strain, allowed patients to use more preventive services and nearly eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the study.

The study was conducted by looking at Medicaid recipients in Oregon, which enrolled 10,000 people into Medicaid out of nearly 90,000 applicants through a lottery approximately two years ago, giving researchers the first major randomized pool of Medicaid recipients to study.

A previous study from Harvard researchers, including the lead author of the Oregon study, found that Medicaid expansions improved mortality rates, coverage, access to care and self-reported health. That study looked at three states that expanded Medicaid and compared them to neighboring states that did not.

The Oregon study comes at a time when legislators are debating whether Ohio should use federal funds to expand its Medicaid program. Even though Republican Gov. John Kasich supports the expansion, Republican legislators say they're concerned the federal funds will eventually dry up, leaving the state to find a solution for hundreds of thousands of new Medicaid enrollees. Democrats are joining Kasich in supporting the expansion, with Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney recently calling it a "no-brainer."

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade.

The budget bill that recently passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House would forgo the Medicaid expansion while leaving room to consider further Medicaid reforms down the line ("The Chastity Bunch," issue of April 24).

 
 
by German Lopez 12.04.2012
 
 
josh_mandel headshot

Morning News and Stuff

Mandel hires political workers, county will raise taxes, city faces privatization or layoffs

Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.

With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.

Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.

The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.

Cincinnati State is looking to expand.

The Horseshoe Casino has begun its final round of hiring. The casino is set to open in spring 2013. A Washington Post analysis found casinos bring jobs, but also crime, bankruptcy and suicide.

One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.

The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.

The U.S. Supreme Court is delaying action on same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered gay marriage in Ohio and whether Ohioans are ready to embrace it in a Nov. 28 cover story.

A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.

 
 
by German Lopez 02.04.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Economy, Governor, Taxes at 02:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
kasich_2

Kasich Budget Expands Medicaid, Cuts Taxes

Governor proposes health care expansion despite opposing Obamacare

Gov. John Kasich released his 2014-2015 budget plan today, and it has a few surprises — some pleasant, some not — for progressives. Despite his vocal opposition to Obamacare, Kasich will be taking up the federal laws incentive to expand Medicaid, the health care program for low-income families. But instead of taking back past cuts to social services, education and local governments, the governor is pushing ahead with income and sales tax cuts.

The Medicaid expansion would add more Ohioans to the state-federal health care program by raising the eligibility threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 90 percent. The budget summary claims the expansion makes financial sense for the state as long as the federal government picks up most of the tab. As part of Obamacare, the federal government takes all the costs for newly insured Medicaid recipients for the first three years. After that, the federal government’s share is brought down to 95 percent and ultimately phased down to 90 percent. If the federal government reneges on its promise to pay for the bulk of the share, Kasich’s budget has a trigger to wind down the Medicaid expansion.

The budget also proposes income and sales tax cuts, which would come with some trade-offs. The state income tax would be brought down by 20 percent across the board, and the sales tax would be cut from 5.5 percent to 5 percent. To balance the cuts, Kasich has proposed broadening the sales tax to include other “economic activity,” while keeping exemptions for education, health care, rent and residential utilities.

In another slew of tax changes, Kasich’s plan proposes revamping the oil and gas severance tax. It would eliminate the tax for “small, conventional natural gas producers,” but imposes a 4 percent tax for bigger oil and gas producers.

In the past, liberals have voiced opposition to tax cuts — instead favoring investments elsewhere. Policy Matters Ohio released its own budget proposals Jan. 31, which emphasized “education, health care and human services.” The plan would also increase the income tax for top earners.

City Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld released a statement criticizing Kasich’s budget for not using the extra revenue to scale back local government and education cuts enacted in the 2012-2013 budget: “At a time when local governments around the state are being forced to slash basic services, lay off safety personnel, raise taxes, and sell off assets just to stay afloat, it's out of touch for Gov. Kasich not to reverse his raid on our local government fund. We don’t pay taxes to pad the governor’s soundbites, we pay them to maintain our roads and keep cops on the street. This should not be a partisan issue. It's simply illogical governance to make the state look good while in the process hurting Ohio's cities.”

The budget proposal also includes Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan and education reform plan.

 
 

 

 

 
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