City Council’s budget committee voted 6-3 Monday to use $29 million from other projects in part to move utility lines and pipes to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The plan will use $15 million from the Blue Ash airport deal and $14 million from a new financing plan to ensure the streetcar’s opening is not delayed further from the current 2015 deadline.
The city claims it will eventually get the $15 million back. That money, which was originally promised to neighborhood projects, will be used to move utility lines and pipes. The city is currently trying to resolve a dispute with Duke Energy over who has to pay to move utility lines and pipes. If the city wins out, Duke will reimburse the costs. If Duke wins out, the money will be lost in the streetcar project.
At the public meeting that preceded the vote Monday, neighborhood officials and streetcar supporters clashed. Opponents to the plan claimed the money should stay in neighborhood projects as originally promised, while streetcar supporters pointed to the benefits of the streetcar for neighborhoods and insisted the money will eventually come back.
Chris Smitherman, Independent; Charlie Winburn,
Republican; and P.G. Sittenfeld, Democrat, voted against the plan.
Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas, Wendell
Young and Chris Seelbach — all Democrats — approved the plan.
Jason Barron, spokesperson for Mayor Mark Mallory, says the mayor is in favor of the plan moving forward.
Although the vote included all City Council members, it was not the formal City Council vote. Instead, it was only the budget committee vote. The City Council vote will take place Wednesday.
CORRECTION: This story originally said the entire $29 million plan will be reimbursed by Duke. Only the $15 million from the Blue Ash airport deal will be reimbursed if the city wins in the dispute.
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.
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.
Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld is circulating a small business petition to stop Cincinnati from privatizing parking services. Sittenfeld threw his support behind the petition in a statement: “Individual citizens have made clear that they are overwhelmingly against outsourcing our parking system. Now we're going to show that small businesses feel the same way. I hope that when council sees that the small businesses that are the engine of our city are strongly against outsourcing our parking, we can then nix the proposal immediately.” The petition asks city officials “to find a smart, resourceful, sustainable alternative to address the budget situation.” City Manager Milton Dohoney says parking privatization is necessary to avoid laying off 344 city workers.
Gov. John Kasich’s expanded sales tax is going to hurt a lot of people. The tax is being expanded to apply to many items included in households’ monthly budgets, such as cable television, laundry services and haircuts. The revenue from the sales tax expansion will be used to cut the state income tax by 20 percent across the board, lower the sales tax from 5.5 percent to 5 percent and slightly boost county coffers.
City Council and local residents are not impressed with the USquare development. At a City Council meeting Tuesday, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls described the development: “I have to say that it is underwhelming. And that’s about the kindest thing I can say about it. And also really repeats, on many different levels, virtually all of the mistakes that have ever been made in the city and in neighborhoods when it comes to creating public spaces.” But architect Graham Kalbli said he’s excited about the plan: “Because we’ve taken a vacant strip of land and really made kind of a living room for the Clifton Heights community. We wanted to do that, that was one of our overriding goals.”
The Hamilton County Board of Elections is subpoenaing 19 voters who are suspected of voting twice in the November election. Most of the voters being investigated filed provisional ballots then showed up to vote on Election Day.
David Mann is officially running for City Council. The Democrat has served as a council member, mayor and congressman in the past.
Traffic congestion isn’t just bad for drivers; it’s also bad for the environment and economy. The Annual Urban Mobility Report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found traffic congestion cost Cincinnati $947 million in 2011 and produced an an extra 56 billion pounds of carbon dioxide nationwide.
Leslie Ghiz is taking the judge’s seat a little early. The former city council member was elected to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court in November, but she was appointed to the seat early by Gov. John Kasich to replace Dennis Helmick, who retired at the end of 2012.
The magic of capitalism: Delta is already matching a low-cost carrier’s fares to Denver at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
The U.S. Postal Service is ending Saturday mail delivery starting Aug. 1. The Postal Service has been dealing with financial problems ever since a 2006 mandate from U.S. Congress forced the mail delivery agency to pre-fund health care benefits for future retirees. Riddled with gridlock, Congress has done nothing to help since the mandate was put in place. This will be the first time the Postal Service doesn’t deliver mail on Saturdays since 1863.
It’s unlikely zombies could be cured by love, but it’s possible they could be cured by science.
The next Michael Jordan has been discovered:
A small group of Over-the-Rhine homeowners is preparing for a possible lawsuit and other actions should Mayor-elect John Cranley try to cancel the $133 million streetcar project. Ryan Messer says the fight is about protecting his family’s investment along the streetcar route. Streetcar supporters plan to host a town hall-style meeting in the coming weeks to discuss possible actions to keep the project on track, including a referendum effort on any legislation that halts construction of the ongoing project. While Cranley says canceling the streetcar is at the top of the agenda, questions remain about how much it would cost to cancel the project, as CityBeat covered in further detail here and here.
As Cincinnati debates canceling the streetcar project, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is evaluating transit systems around the state to encourage more efficiency and cost effectiveness. The agency is particularly focused on how different transit services are dealing with rising demand and shrinking budgets. But if that’s the case, ODOT might carry some of the blame: When Gov. John Kasich took office, ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council pulled $52 million from the Cincinnati streetcar project despite previously scoring the streetcar the highest among Ohio’s transportation projects. The Kasich administration also refused $400 million in federal funding for a statewide passenger light rail system, and the money ended up going to California and other states that took on light rail projects.
Cranley’s other major campaign promise is to stop the city’s plan to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the Port intends to finalize the lease by the end of the month — before Cranley takes office in December — by selling bonds that will finance the deal. The outgoing city administration pushed the parking plan through City Council in a matter of months for an upfront payment of $92 million. But following unsuccessful litigation and a due diligence process, the Port Authority cut the payment to $85 million, and the city is now responsible for paying $14-$15 million to build a new parking garage that the Port was originally supposed to finance under the deal. Cranley and other opponents of the parking plan say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking assets, while supporters argue it’s necessary to modernize the assets and help fund economic development projects.
Several of Cincinnati’s power brokers and building owners are working on a plan that would create a retail corridor in the city’s center and hopefully keep Saks Fifth Avenue in the city. Some of the efforts apparently involve financial incentives from the city, according to details provided to the Business Courier.
In the past decade, Ohio students have shown limited improvement in reading and math scores.
The Cincinnati area could become the largest metropolitan area without an abortion clinic following new regulations imposed by the state budget signed into law in June by Gov. Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature. CityBeat covered the regulations and the rest of the state budget in further detail here.
The Hamilton County Association of Chiefs of Police released a report outlining stricter guidelines for Taser use. Attorney Al Gerhardstein, who has led lawsuits on behalf of families who lost loved ones after they were Tased, told WVXU he’s encouraged by the report, but he said he would also require annual tests of the devices and a ban on chest shots.
The Cincinnati branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is filing a federal complaint against the DHL Global Mail facility in Hebron, Ky., after DHL allegedly fired 24 of its employees on Oct. 9 in a dispute over prayer breaks.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino reported $18.2 million in gross revenue in October, down from $19.8 million in September. The revenue reduction also cost Cincinnati’s casino the No. 1 spot, which is now held by Cleveland’s Horseshoe Casino. For Cincinnati and Ohio, the drop means lower tax revenue.
The Cincinnati Gay and Lesbian Center plans to close its physical space, but it’s sticking around as a virtual organization and will continue hosting Pride Night at Kings Island. A letter from the center’s board of directors stated that the transition was based on a need to “evolve with the times.”
The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would ban discrimination against gay and transgendered workers, but the bill’s chances are grim in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Ohio senators — Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Rob Portman — voted in favor of the Senate bill. CityBeat previously covered efforts in Ohio to pass workplace protections for LGBT individuals here.
Watch a homeless veteran’s aesthetic transformation, which apparently helped push his life forward:
The popular video of a baby’s reaction to his singing mom might actually show conflicting feelings of fear and sociality, not sentimentality.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino topped state casino revenues last month, translating to $1.4 million in casino tax revenue for the city in March. If the trend holds — a huge if, considering March was opening month for the Horseshoe Casino — the city would get $16.8 million a year, which would be above previous estimates from the state and city but below estimates presented in mayoral candidate John Cranley’s budget plan. Cranley and other city officials say casino revenue could be used to avoid laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, but the city manager’s office says it wouldn’t be enough.
Two City Council decisions yesterday will allow the current project manager for The Banks to take over the streetcar project. The two 5-4 decisions from City Council came in the middle of a tense budget debate that could end with the layoff of 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. But John Deatrick, who could be hired as executive director of the streetcar project as a result of the measures, says his salary would come from the capital budget, which is separate from the general fund that needs to be balanced in light of structural deficit problems.House Republicans are poised to reject Gov. John Kasich’s proposed Medicaid expansion. The expansion, which was part of Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget proposal, would have saved the state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. But it would have done so mostly with federal funds, which state legislators worry will not be there years down the line. The Medicaid expansion was one of the few aspects of Kasich’s budget that state Democrats supported. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
PolitiFact Ohio gave Kasich a “Pants on Fire” rating for his claim that his transportation budget and Ohio Turnpike plan “would make sure we have lower tolls than we’ve had through the history of the turnpike.” PolitiFact explains: “Yes, the bill aims to keep tolls from rising faster than the pace of inflation -- a practice that would stand in contrast to KPMG’s findings from the past 20 years. And, yes, the bill freezes tolls for 10 years on a small, targeted cross-section of turnpike users. But not only are higher tolls a part of Kasich’s plan, they are integral to the concept. The increased revenue will allow the state to issue bonds to finance other projects. Furthermore, the inflation cap is not written into the law, and the state has an out from the local EZ-Pass freeze.”
Melissa Wegman will be the third Republican to enter the City Council race. Wegman is a first-time candidate and businesswoman from East Price Hill. She will be joining fellow Republicans Amy Murray and incumbent Charlie Winburn.
The struggling Kenwood Towne Place will be renamed Kenwood Collection as part of a broader redesign.
One program in President Barack Obama’s budget plan would task NASA with pulling asteroids to our moon’s orbit, where the asteroids could then be studied and mined. The Obama administration says the program will only involve small asteroids, so big, killer asteroids will not be purposely hurled towards Earth.
New evidence suggests some two-legged dinosaurs were strong swimmers, further proving that unless we have extra asteroids to cause an extinction event, we might want to leave them dead.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson addressed Occupy Cincinnati yesterday at Piatt Park. Later in the day 15 individuals were arrested for staying in the park past its 10 p.m. closing time, the first arrests in weeks, as protesters have challenged the legality of the park closing at all. Jackson was reportedly scheduled to return to the park at noon on Wednesday to again speak with Occupy Cincinnati.
Although it has already been explicitly stated in two letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the $132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money to any project in Ohio.
The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not going to happen.
Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government would react to such circumstances.
According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would break the city’s agreement with the federal government and lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds, ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the deal altogether.
Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.
“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”
But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were canceled.
President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.
“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.
Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo, the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4 million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed necessary.
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both for the public.”
But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms. Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”
The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.
The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However, even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the country.
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”