City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. defended the streetcar project at a special four-hour session of City Council yesterday, but the city manager did not reveal any specifics over how the project’s $17.4 million budget gap could be closed. Dohoney revealed the price of halting the project would be $72 million: the project has already cost the city $19.7 million, the city would have to spend another $14.2 million in close-out costs and another $38.1 million in federal grants would have to be returned to the federal government. Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s economic benefits, but opponents say the budget gap proves the streetcar project is unsustainable and its costs are too high.
The Cincinnati Enquirer identified the 17-year-old honors student at LaSalle High School who tried to commit suicide
in front of a classroom of 22 other students yesterday, even though parents asked press to provide privacy. The student remains
alive and in critical condition this morning. No other students were physically hurt, and classes are
resuming as normal. (Update: The student’s name was removed from this post upon the family’s request.)
The city is moving to sell Tower Place Mall for $1 to Brook Lane Holdings, an affiliate of JDL Warm Construction, so the construction company can pour $5 million into the defunct mall and convert it into a garage with street-level retail space. Financing the project at Pogue’s Garage, which is across the street from Tower Place Mall, is still being worked out now that the parking plan has been delayed by court battles and a referendum effort.
Cincinnati’s police and firefighter unions are filing a lawsuit over the city’s health care dependent audit. The city is asking employees to verify whether spouses and children are legitimately eligible for health care benefits by turning over documents such as marriage licenses, birth certificates and tax returns. The unions’ attorney told WVXU the unions are willing to provide the necessary documents, but he said they’re concerned the process is too intrusive and difficult.
Two firms are getting tax credits for creating jobs in the Greater Cincinnati area: 5Me, which creates manufacturing software, and Festo Americas, which specializes in factory and process automation. Altogether, the credits could create 312 jobs in the region.
A Democratic state senator hinted yesterday at letting voters decide whether Internet sweepstakes cafes should be allowed in Ohio. State officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, claim Internet cafes are hubs for criminal activity. The Ohio House already passed a measure that would effectively ban the cafes, but some are cautious of the ban as the Ohio Senate prepares to vote.
An intelligent headlight makes raindrops disappear.
Some people may prefer death to being saved by this terrifying robot snake.
The lineups for 2013's PNC Summer Music Series on Fountain Square — featuring live music from different genres for free throughout the summer — have been coming out gradually. We're happy to announce the lineup so far for the Friday night "Indie Summer" shows (presented by CityBeat and the MidPoint Music Festival).
Look for the rest of the finalized lineups — for American Roots Tuesdays, Reggae Wednesdays, Salsa Thursdays, Saturday's popular Beats night (with Hip Hop, Dance and Electronica) and the acoustic-music-meets-wine-tastings "Sunday in the Grove" — later this week. Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine is also again presenting regular music programming this year, with Jazz on Wednesday, Bluegrass and Roots music on Thursday and R&B/Soul/Hip Hop on Fridays, plus a new Tuesday night feature, Dance Under the Stars, featuring dance lessons in a variety of styles.
The bad news? The Indie Summer shows kick-off on May 31 with the final show by fantastic Cincinnati Indie Pop band Pomegranates. The good news? It will also be the first show by Healing Power, Pomegranates' new name. The opener will also serve as a "release party" for great local Indie crew The Yugos. Christian altrockers Seabird will also use their Indie Summer show to celebrate the release of a new album, the band's first independent release after a couple of albums on Credential Recordings/Universal Music Group. Northern Kentucky rockers Dept. Store Alligators will also put out their new release in conjunction with their Aug. 16 appearance with Belle Histoire.
Local restaurant/club chain 4EG will host "Happy Hour" parties on Fridays as well, featuring various local DJs and drink specials from 5-8 p.m. Indie Summer concerts are open to fans of all ages and run from 8-11 p.m. all summer on the Square. Click here for details.
July 12: Plumb; more TBA
Aug. 9: Archers Paradox; (headliner to be announced on June 2)
Convening in packed City Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem convinced.
To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.
“I'm disappointed in this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman. “We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”
The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.
Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2 million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have to be returned to the federal government.
Dohoney added that terminating the project would also reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development projects.
The budget gap was originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3 million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the scope” of the project and push it into a “danger zone.”
The budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget. The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget, has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is still willing to work on the streetcar project.
The city could rework the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would effectively lower costs.
Throughout the meeting, streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.
Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.
Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found streetcars can help grow local economies. He said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,” but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s necessary to compete with other cities.
Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of Cincinnati.
Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.
The project has faced continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the economic growth being promised by city officials.
Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.
The streetcar project was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.
Duke’s reluctance led to a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out, the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side with the city.
The city originally expected $31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”
Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.
The streetcar budget debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues, but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
Get ready, MidPoint Music Festival fans. This Friday, the first 10 or so artists booked for 2013's MPMF — returning to the streets and venues of Over-the-Rhine and Downtown Sept. 26-28 — will be announced. And longtime MPMF sponsor Dewey's Pizza will have the scoop.
Friday, those wanting the info first should head to facebook.com/DeweysPizza ("like" their page, not just for the yummy grub they serve but for the support they've given MPMF and local music over the years). Then, of course, check this here music blog for a recap and more details.
Also of interest to MPMF fanatics are the lineups for this year's "Indie Summer" concerts, every Friday on Fountain Square from May 31-Aug. 30. The performers for the MidPoint- and CityBeat-sponsored shows are expected within the week. Keep an eye on this blog for the full announcement as soon as we get the green light to post it. (The lineups for the other themed Fountain Square music nights — six per week — are due very soon as well.)
For artists wanting to be considered for a performance slot at MPMF.13, the time to submit is now, as the deadline is quickly approaching. Submissions will be accepted (visit mpmf.com for directions) until May 11 at 11:59 p.m.
Several weeks ago, two pricing tiers of "early bird" and "loyalty" MPMF tickets sold out almost immediately. Tickets for MPMF.13 go back on sale this Friday through cincyticket.com ($69 for a three-day pass or $169 for "VIP Experience" tickets).
City Hall will be hosting a meeting on the streetcar project at 6 p.m. today to figure out what the project’s options are now that it has a $17.4 million budget gap. The meeting was called by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained in a memo that the project has a budget gap because construction bids came in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the the Senate Public Utilities Committee, says he wants to “modify,” not repeal, Ohio’s Clean Energy Law to have more clear-cut compliance standards. Environmentalists say they’re concerned Seitz will use the review as a front to water the law down, especially since electricity giant FirstEnergy is pushing against the law’s energy efficiency standards. CityBeat wrote more about the conflict between environmentalists and FirstEnergy here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading liberal and conservative think tanks apparently agree on: Ohio is not the “economic miracle” often touted by Gov. John Kasich. In the past year, job numbers for the state have been particularly weak, with public sector losses nearly making up for very weak private sector gains. The right-leaning Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions says a complicated tax system is largely to blame for the stagnant job growth, while the left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio is mostly focusing on governments’ budget austerity.
A student allegedly shot himself in front of classmates at LaSalle High School today. Police say he is currently at a hospital, and there are currently no reports of anyone else being shot. As of 10:30 a.m., the situation was still developing.
After misleading media reports sent the public into a furor, Mayor Mark Mallory agreed to rescind salary raises
that were part of his office’s deficit-reducing budget plan. The plan
gave the mayor’s top aides raises to make up for an increased workload following staff reductions. Even with the raises, the plan
reduced the deficit by $33,000 during the mayor’s remaining time in
office — a fact originally omitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Music Hall’s facelift is not happening just yet, even though approvals from City Council and the Music Hall Revitalization Company have already paved the way for Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) to begin renovations. As project manager, 3CDC will take four to six months to develop a budget, review designs and go over the legal and financial work necessary to start the project.Hamilton County is currently tracking to be $1.5 million over budget this year — a budget hole the Board of Commissioners hopes to plug by using the rainy day fund.
One section of the Ohio House budget bill would allow charter schools to enroll out-of-state students and charge them tuition. The policy could involve online schools, which were previously found to have poor results in a CityBeat report. The relaxed rules potentially add more controversy to a budget plan that’s already mired in criticism for defunding Planned Parenthood and forgoing the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.Ohio gas prices are starting 9 cents down this week.
Bad news: The largest HIV vaccine study was shut down after patients contracted the AIDS virus more often than those who didn’t take it.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati today announced four of its six shows for the 2013-2014 season, which opens on Sept. 4. Producing Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers says, "We are planning a truly original, fresh and exhilarating season of dynamic regional premieres, and I am absolutely thrilled to showcase some of the hottest titles and newest voices this coming year."
Mayor Mark Mallory announced in a memo today that he will not be following through with previously planned salary raises for his staff, citing poor morale in light of recent — but misleading — press coverage. But the rest of his budget plan will remain.
Mallory explained his reasoning in a statement: "I am rescinding the raises that I gave my staff and returning all salaries to the previous levels. Although the changes that I made in my office structure resulted in a saving of $66,000 to be used in next year’s budget, I realize that the perception has had a negative effect on the morale of other City Employees.
"I am the biggest promoter of the public servants who choose to work for the city, both on my staff and in all City Departments. I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. I have been successfully fighting to prevent layoffs throughout the recession. I supported the parking plan because it will ensure that no city employees lose their job. I plan to continue to fight for City Employees and to do everything that I can to minimize the reductions to our City Workforce. Every job that we save is a win for our community."
The announcement comes after a misleading report from The Cincinnati Enquirer sparked public outrage. The Enquirer's original report neglected to say that the overall budget plan would save the city $66,000 for the year and $33,000 during the mayor's remaining time in office. CityBeat covered Mallory's budget changes and The Enquirer's misleading report here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly agree on: The “economic miracle” often touted by Gov. John Kasich is not really happening.
The bleak economic news has been highlighted by recent reports from the right-leaning Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions, which supports little government intervention in the economy, and the left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, which focuses on policies that can benefit low- and middle-income Ohioans.
The March “Ohio by the Numbers” report from the Buckeye Institute did acknowledge that Ohio has a lower unemployment rate than the national average, but the report was particularly hard on Ohio’s lacking private sector job growth. It pointed out the state lost 16,800 private sector jobs in February, ranks No. 27 in the nation for private sector job growth since January 2010 and ranks No. 47 for private sector job growth since January 1990.
Policy Matters’ March report was similarly harsh: “Since the end of the recession, Ohio has added 133,700 jobs, growing at a rate of 2.7 percent. But that growth leveled off in the second half of 2012, and the reported zigzag of the last two months means that Ohio has only added 2,700 jobs over the past year, growing at a very weak 0.1 percent.”
The news may come as a surprise to those who have been reading seemingly positive job news in recent months. Policy Matters places the problem on the inherent volatility in job reports, which are based on household surveys: “This volatility should serve as an important reminder: Monthly numbers are preliminary and will likely be revised, so it is unwise to make too much over the month-to-month changes. Longer-term trends provide a more accurate gauge of the state’s economic health.”
While they agree on the problem, the two think tanks disagree on the causes and solutions.
Greg Lawson, policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute, says the biggest problem is Ohio’s tax system. In this area, he points out three major problems: higher income tax rates than other states, an unusual amount of municipalities in Ohio with income taxes and complicated filing for individuals and businesses.
“You find nowhere else in the entire country a situation in which someone has to file multiple income tax forms ... for different jurisdictions they work in,” he says, citing the different tax rates and credits someone working in multiple municipalities might have to deal with. “That creates a drag on the efficiency of being able to set up businesses.”
As far as tax cuts are concerned, another report from Policy Matters found a series of tax cuts passed by the Ohio General Assembly in 2005 had little impact on the state’s economic growth. The report found Ohio experienced job losses while the rest of the country grew, and not a single Ohio sector outpaced national performance. The report concluded, “State economies are complicated and there are many reasons why Ohio’s job growth is lagging. However, it is clear that the 2005 tax cuts did not bring about the promised job growth. There is no reason to think that further tax cuts will, either.”
Instead, Policy Matters has focused on austerity, which led to the public sector job cuts outlined in Policy Matters’ March report: “A private-sector gain of 16,900 jobs has been nearly erased by the 14,200 jobs lost in the public sector. Most of those public job losses happened at the local level.”
Indeed, federal sequestration has already caused some damage in Ohio, and local government funding cuts approved by Kasich have also forced local governments to cut back (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).
Cincinnati has a wealth of music festivals, from MidPoint Music Festival, Cincy Blues Fest, Macy's Music Festival, Bunbury to new additions like the expanded One More Girl on a Stage event this fall, the recently announced MOXY Music Fest, scheduled for June, and numerous others. But for those who like to get a fresh sampling of some of the newest artists from Greater Cincinnati representing a wide range of genres, The Heights Music Festival has been your best option.
This weekend, The Heights Music Festival returns to venues in the Clifton Heights neighborhood for its eighth edition. Usually, The Heights fest is biannual, with an event in both the fall and the spring. But this weekend's HMF will be the only one in 2013. Organizer Rome Ntukogu of Far-I-Rome Productions says The Heights will definitely be back in 2014, bigger and better. He's simply taking a break to work on some new ideas for the event; understandable, considering large chunks of the Clifton Heights neighborhood (near the University of Cincinnati) are under heavy reconstruction now, part of a revitalization effort that should put HMF in a good position when it returns. The area will be almost like a new (and nicer) neighborhood by then.
The first Heights Music Fest (originally called the Clifton Heights Music Festival) was held in 2009 and was considerably smaller, with four venues and about 20 performers. Last year, The Heights featured over 75 bands in five venues and included a "Day Fest" on Saturday.
So Friday and Saturday's pre-hiatus is something of a return to the HMF roots, with four venues and around 30 acts. But it's the same eclectic mix of newcomers and up-and-comers from the local scene. And $5 gets you admission to all four venues — Rohs Street Café (the only all-ages venue), Baba Budan’s, Mac’s Pizza Pub and Christy’s Biergarten, a historic building that has been at the center of a battle over whether it should be demolished or sold off in the name of progress or preserved in the name of history (as many residents would like). You can purchase an all-venue pass at any of the four venues.
This year's Heights lineup once again runs a vast gamut of styles, from Reggae, World music, Roots/Americana and Hip Hop to Punk, Jazz, Synth Pop, Funk and various spins on Rock (from Indie to Hard).
Below is the rundown of performers. (Note: There have been some shifts in the lineup since CityBeat's Spill It column about the fest ran on Wednesday; check it out here for a playlist featuring several of the participating artists.)
• Rohs Street Café: The Freebies (8 p.m.); MC Forty (9 p.m.); Young Colt (10 p.m.); The Yugos (11 p.m.).
• Baba Budan’s: One Day Steady (9 p.m.); Wonky Tonk (10 p.m.); Brazilian Jazz (11 p.m.).
• Mac’s Pizza: Rachel Mousie (9 p.m.); Common Center (10 p.m.); Big Rock Club (11 p.m.); Olu, Crack Sauce (midnight).
• Christy’s: Zach Starkie & Guest (9 p.m.); The Newt (9:45 p.m.); AC The Entity, Citoak (10:30 p.m.); Filthy Beast (11:30 p.m.); Gold Shoes (12:15 a.m.).
• Rohs Street Café: Brent Stroud (9 p.m.); Moonbeau (10 p.m.); Little Lights (11 p.m.).
• Baba Budan’s: VanillaSake (9 p.m.); Sulla (10 p.m.); LZRPNY (11 p.m.); Horsecop (midnight).
• Mac’s: Koala Fires (9 p.m.); Emily and The Complexes (10 p.m.); Tana Matz (11 p.m.) and MJs Blues (midnight).
• Saturday at Christy’s: Jordon Schneider & Guests (9 p.m.); Baoku & The Image Afrobeat Band (10 p.m.); The Almighty Getdown (11 p.m.); The Killtones (midnight).
State Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, introduced a bill in the Ohio Senate yesterday that would allow opened alcoholic beverages in “entertainment districts,” which must have populations of more than 50,000 within one-half mile by one-half mile. Kearney said Over-the-Rhine would be an ideal benefactor of the new bill. “Senate Bill 116 will promote tourism and business development across the state,” Kearney said in a statement. “By modifying Ohio’s law, this will provide an opportunity for developments such as the Over-the-Rhine Gateway in Cincinnati and The Flats in Cleveland to create an entertainment experience and attract more customers.”
Supporters of the Medicaid expansion say they may attempt to put the issue on the November ballot if the Ohio General Assembly fails to take action by fall. Republicans in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate have so far rejected Gov. John Kasich’s pleas for an expansion, instead moving toward asking the federal government for a Medicaid waiver that would allow the state to make broader reforms. At least 90 percent of the expansion would be funded by the federal government. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.
The Greater Cincinnati region and Hamilton County ranked among the worst in the nation in the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report. The report, which used 2009-2011 U.S. EPA data, found Greater Cincinnati to be No. 10 worst for year-round particle pollution and No. 14 for ozone pollution. Still, the report did find overall improvement around the nation, with Greater Cincinnati making some advances in pollution reduction in the past few decades.
A new Ohio law going into effect today will require school coaches to acquire additional concussion awareness training. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross says the training will make it easier for coaches to identify symptoms of concussions and get help for students.
A University of Cincinnati study found it could be cost-effective to screen at-risk populations for hepatitis C.
A vegetarian lifestyle may fit some of CityBeat’s most beautiful employees, but Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble says pets need a more expansive diet.
Not only do they have multiple cultural traditions, but humpback whales also learn new tricks by watching their friends.