WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
Home - Blogs - Staff Blogs - Popular Blogs
by 05.26.2009
Posted In: City Council, Public Policy, Courts at 04:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)
 
 

City: COAST Squanders Taxpayer Money

Cincinnati’s solicitor says an anti-tax group is wasting taxpayer money by filing a federal lawsuit against the city without first contacting its Law Department to resolve the alleged violations outside of court.

Read More

 
 
by German Lopez 05.30.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, City Council at 02:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Budget Slashes Several Programs, Saves Public Safety Jobs

Cuts hit parks, human services, arts, outside agencies and other city programs

City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.

Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.

As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.

Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.

Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget.

"The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."

The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.

The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department.

Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated.

Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.

The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.

The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a 50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special events.

At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget.

"I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.

Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of control."

Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.

Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.

The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway.

But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.

Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.

 
 
by 05.20.2011
Posted In: News, City Council, Police, Charter Committee at 01:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
-

Worker Alleges Bortz Used Slur (UPDATED)

(**UPDATE FOLLOWS BELOW)

A sanitation worker has filed an incident report with Cincinnati Police alleging City Councilman Chris Bortz threatened him and used a racial slur while doing so.

The alleged incident occurred Thursday morning outside of Bortz' townhouse in Mount Adams, when the worker blew the horn on his garbage truck a few times because the vehicle's path was blocked by the councilman's parked car.

Read More

 
 
by 04.17.2011
 
 

Seelbach Gets Nat'l Endorsement

Chris Seelbach, a first-time candidate for Cincinnati City Council, has won an endorsement from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that could provide a boost in campaign fundraising.

Founded in 1991, the Victory Fund  provides strategic, technical and financial support to openly gay and lesbian candidates across the United States, helping them win elections at local, state and federal levels. Most recently, the organization helped elect Mayor Anise Parker of Houston, Texas, the fourth-largest city in the nation.

Read More

 
 
by 04.28.2010
 
 

Bortz and the Letter

As anyone who viewed The Enquirer’s Web site Tuesday night or read the newspaper this morning knows, Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz received an advisory opinion from Ohio ethics officials last year indicating he shouldn’t participate in any decisions about the proposed streetcar project.

Although CityBeat asked Bortz last week about any potential conflicts of interest involving the project, he didn’t disclose the June 2009 letter from the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Read More

 
 
by Kevin Osborne 09.22.2011
Posted In: 2011 Election, City Council, Spending, Police at 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
seal_of_cincinnati,_ohio

Candidates On: How to Budget for Public Safety

As CityBeat did in the 2007 and 2009 election cycles, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.

Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.

During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.

Today’s question is, “The Police and Fire departments constitute 69 percent of the city's General Fund spending. Do you believe this amount can be lessened without affecting public safety?”

Read More

 
 
by 04.29.2010
 
 

Jeffre Files Ethics Complaint

That didn’t take long.

Less than 48 hours after it was revealed that the Ohio Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion last year stating Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz shouldn’t take part in decisions about a proposed streetcar project, a formal complaint has been filed with the commission.

Read More

 
 
by 05.06.2010
Posted In: City Council, Public Transit, Ethics at 01:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Qualls: Bortz' Claim Is Wrong

In this week’s Porkopolis column, I wondered how Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls felt about “being continually used as a human shield” by City Councilman Chris Bortz on an issue of a potential conflict of interest.

Apparently, the answer is, “Not too good.”

Read More

 
 
by German Lopez 02.13.2014
 
 
news1_headwatersgatewaydistrict_provided

What Is Responsible Bidder?

City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training

Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to court.

The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly fines from the federal government.

For many across the city and county, the conflict is understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue. Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.

Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of compromise.

What is responsible bidder?

It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is finished.

Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because workers get paid for their work while participating in an apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an “earn-while-you-learn” model.

The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.

The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer revamp, are exempted.

What about local hire and local preference?

Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD contracts within local companies.

What’s the conflict about?

The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules, while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.

The city and county also dispute which governing body can set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.

So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?

No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would continue today.

Why are these projects so important?

By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most expensive in the city’s history.

If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.

Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?

Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job training options for the city’s struggling workforce.

Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”

Does responsible bidder benefit workers?

Some research suggests it would.

The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to revitalize the U.S. workforce.

“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of 3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system, research shows that employers are now spending less on training than they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”

Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.

Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?

In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.

On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.

Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?

Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.

But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would qualify under the law.

Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county seemed unmoved by the proposal.

What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?

By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund, the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the requirements are a burden is subjective.

John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.

Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.

Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.

More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are always going to burden businesses to some extent.

For example, financial regulations burden big banks and financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged the country into the Great Recession.

Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.

Why don’t the city and county just compromise?

They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too strong to reach a substantial agreement.

The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than $400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.

In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules altogether.

Which side would win the court battle?

It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.

So what’s next?

At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain, but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.

This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.

 
 
by 05.06.2009
Posted In: Media, City Council at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Still Not Welcome

An historic local political group’s policies about who may join are again raising questions about new media like the Internet and the citizen journalism movement.

Read More

 
 

 

 

 
Close
Close
Close