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by German Lopez 06.06.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Cats, Humor at 11:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
cutest cat

Cat Break: "Sad Cat Diary"

Video provides best break for budget hearings

Here at CityBeat, we cover a lot of budget hearings, and they can very easily wear us down with their partisan squabbles and monotonous focus on details that everyone will forget about in a week or so.

Right now, we're watching the Ohio Senate budget hearings, which have so far involved Democrats repeatedly bringing up amendments only to get them shot down by the Republican majority. Very repetitive, very boring.

Thankfully, the Internet has given us the chance to take what we like to call "cat breaks." This video — arguably the greatest thing in the entire Internet — is the latest example:

We encourage you to do the same while you're at work. If your employer ever questions the practice, just point him or her to the study that found looking at cute animals actually boosts productivity.

by Danny Cross 12.13.2011

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio voter advocates say there was a big elephant in the room during the creation of Ohio's controversial redistricting map, and it was super tan and cried a lot. The Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting says John Boehner was central in the process, working with map-making consultants and the National Republican Congressional Committee. Here's a link to the Ohio Redistricting Transparency Report. From The Enquirer:

"The report found: decisions were not made in public; public input was ignored; there was limited opportunity for the public to review proposed maps; the public was not provided with relevant data for proposed districts; nonpartisan redistricting criteria were not used; and the criteria used to evaluate plans were never publicly identified."

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by German Lopez 09.20.2013
Posted In: News, Poverty, Economy at 03:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
hamilton county department of job and family services

Food Stamp Restrictions to Hit 18,000 in Hamilton County

Governor not pursuing waiver for restrictions as economy supposedly recovers

Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue.

Under federal law, “able-bodied” childless adults receiving food stamps are required to work or attend work training for 20 hours a week. But when the Great Recession began, the federal government handed out waivers to all states, including Ohio, so they could provide food assistance without placing burdens on under- and unemployed populations.

Kasich isn’t asking for a renewal of that waiver, which means 134,000 Ohioans in most Ohio counties, including 18,000 in Hamilton County, will have to meet the 20-hours-per-week work requirement to get their $200 a month in food aid starting in January, after recipients go through a three-month limit on benefits for those not meeting the work requirements.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services explained earlier in September that the waiver is no longer necessary in all but 16 counties because Ohio’s economy is now recovering from the Great Recession. Two weeks later, the August jobs report put Ohio’s unemployment rate at a one-year high of 7.3 percent after the state only added 0.6 percent more jobs between August 2012 and August this year.

At the same time, the federal government appears ready to allow stimulus funding for food stamp programs to expire in November. The extra money was adopted in the onset of the Great Recession to provide increased aid to those hit hardest by the economic downturn.

That means 18,000 food stamp recipients in Hamilton County will have to meet a 20-hour-per-week work requirements to receive $189 per month — $11 less than current levels — for food aid starting in November. Assuming three meals a day, that adds up to slightly more than $2 per meal.

The $11 loss might not seem like much, but Tim McCartney, chief operating officer at the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS), says it adds up for no- and low-income individuals.

“Food assistance at the federal level is called SNAP, which is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s not designed to be the entire food budget for yourself or your family. It’s designed to be a supplement. So anything you lose to a supplement, you obviously didn’t have enough in the first place,” McCartney says.

HCDJFS already helps some recipients of other welfare programs meet work requirements through local partnerships. But to avoid further straining those partners with a rush of 18,000 new job-searchers, the county agency is also allowing food stamp recipients to set up their own job and job training opportunities with other local organizations, including neighborhood groups, churches and community centers.

McCartney says he’s also advising people to pursue job opportunities at Cincinnati’s SuperJobs Center, which attempts to link those looking for work with employers. McCartney says the center has plenty of job openings, but many people are unaware of the opportunities.

“This population sometimes has additional barriers with previous convictions or drug and mental health issues that would eventually exempt them, but for others, there are plenty of opportunities right now that we’d like to connect them with,” he says.

Conservatives, especially Republicans, argue the work requirements are necessary to ensure people don’t take advantage of the welfare system to gain easy benefits. But progressives are concerned the restrictions will unfairly hurt the poorest Ohioans and the economy.

Progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio previously found every $1 increase in government food aid produces $1.70 in economic activity.

At the federal level, Republican legislators, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, are seeking further cuts to the food stamp program through H.R. 3102, which would slash $39 billion over 10 years from the program. Part of the savings in the bill come from stopping states from obtaining waivers on work requirements.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, decried the bill in a statement: “Congress shouldn’t be turning to Ohio’s poorest people to find savings — especially children and others who are unable to work for their own food. The proposal the Ohio members of Congress supported is immoral, and our lawmakers must work together to represent all their constituents. No one should be in the business of causing hunger, yet that’s the choice the Ohio members of Congress made today.”

The legislation is unlikely to make it through the U.S. Senate, but President Barack Obama promised to veto the bill if it comes to his desk.

Correction: This story previously said the restrictions start removing “able-bodied” childless adults from the rolls in October instead of January.

by Danny Cross 08.02.2013
Posted In: News at 03:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Requiem Project Files Lawsuit over Emery Lease

Organization faced eviction with management agreement set to expire Aug. 3

The Requiem Project filed a complaint today asking a judge to force the Emery Theater’s operating entity to enter into a long-term lease with the organization. 

On Monday, Judge Carl Stitch is scheduled to rule on a motion to grant a temporary restraining order to stop the Requiem from being evicted from the building. The complaint states that the Emery Center Corporation asked Requiem to vacate the theater by Aug. 3 and has requested that Requiem return its keys to the building. It asks the court to declare that the Requiem is entitled to a long-term lease of the property based on a 2010 agreement that the two sides would work toward a long-term lease.

The Requiem Project is a nonprofit organization that formed in 2008 to redevelop the Emery Theater, a 1,600-seat, acoustically pure concert space on Walnut Street in Over-the-Rhine. The theater entrance is on the west side of the building at the corner of Walnut and Central Parkway, which includes Coffee Emporium and about 60 apartments.

Requiem founders Tina Manchise and Tara Gordon have programmed events at the venue during the past few years under temporary occupancy permits. The theater is not eligible for a permanent certificate of occupancy because it needs significant renovations — it currently doesn't have working plumbing or heat. Still, organizers have produced individual events, sometimes bringing in portable toilets and taking other measures to make the space functional. In April, the Emery hosted the Contemporary Dance Theater’s 40th anniversary celebration. It also hosted three nights of live music during last fall’s MidPoint Music Festival, which is owned and operated by CityBeat. MidPoint organizers were unable to secure the venue for this year’s event.

The theater is operated by the Emery Center Corporation (ECC), a nonprofit organization that subleases the theater from the Emery Center Apartments Limited Partnership (ECALP), a for-profit corporation that holds a long-term lease to the building from UC. All three parties — UC, ECC and ECALP — are named as defendants in the complaint. 

University of Cincinnati spokesperson Greg Hand declined to comment, only stating that UC doesn’t have a relationship with the Requiem Project because Requiem works directly with the ECC, which subleases part of the building from ECALP.

The Requiem Project alleges that the intent all along was for ECC to lease the space to Requiem long-term, not just for Requiem to program events under a management agreement. According to the complaint, the Requiem and ECC in 2010 signed a Letter of Intent, which stated that the ECC would enter into a lease agreement with the Requiem “on substantially similar terms” as the ECC’s current deal with ECALP, the for-profit entity that oversees the rest of the building. That lease, signed in 1999, is for 40-years and renewable for another 40 years after that. 

The two sides entered into a management agreement while negotiating the long-term lease, but the lease was never agreed upon. The most recent yearlong management agreement is set to expire Aug. 3. 

ECC informed Requiem Jan. 16 that it would not renew the current agreement “for no cause,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that the theater cannot obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy because ECALP removed the heat and water systems while renovating part of the building into apartments, which were developed to raise revenue for the eventual renovation of the theater. The renovations of the apartments left the theater without running water, heat, bathrooms or fire escapes, according to the complaint, which notes that ECC let the theater sit empty between the time it took over its management in 1999 and when the Requiem Project came along in 2008. A permanent certificate of occupancy would allow regular programming in the theater, but the venue needs considerable renovations to qualify.

"UC refuses to even meet with the parties to outline its demands," the complaint states. "ECC and ECALP have stopped replying to Requiem's reasonable proposals."

The hearing is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. Monday. 

by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Development, City Council at 03:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
roxanne qualls

Qualls Unveils ‘Come Home Cincinnati’ Initiative

Plan addresses blight and abandonment in eight Cincinnati neighborhoods

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and community partners on Monday unveiled the “Come Home Cincinnati” initiative, which promises to make vacant properties available to new occupants in an effort to increase homeownership and redevelop neighborhoods hit hardest by vacancy and abandonment.

The goal is to establish a residential base that will help jumpstart private redevelopment and revitalize largely abandoned areas of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Just about a year ago, we were in Evanston to talk about their housing strategy for the Woodburn Avenue corridor and what to do about the 200 vacant and abandoned properties in the community,” Qualls said in a statement. “The next logical step on the path to revitalization is to incentivize private market investment in the residential core of our neighborhoods and help to fill the once-abandoned homes with new owner-occupants.”

The initiative will work through the Hamilton County Land Bank, private lenders and community development corporations to connect potential homeowners with a pool of loan guarantees.

Qualls’ office says the plan will likely require tapping into the city’s Focus 52 fund, which finances neighborhood projects.

The Port Authority estimates the loan guarantee pool will be $2.5 million to $4.5 million and other aspects of the initiative will cost $3.3 million, but not all of the funding will come from the city.

To qualify for the program, owner-occupants will have to meet minimum credit requirements, agree to live in the rehabilitated home for five years and pay for 5 percent of the total rehabilitation and acquisition costs as a down payment. After five years, the loan will be refinanced at the same or better interest rates to relinquish the city and its partners’ loan guarantee.

The city is eyeing a few potential partners for the initiative, including the Cincinnati Development Fund, Cincinnati Preservation Association, the University of Cincinnati Urban Design Center and neighborhood-specific groups.

The initiative will start with 100 homes in the pilot neighborhoods of Evanston and Walnut Hills, but it will expand to Avondale, College Hill, Madisonville, Northside, Price Hill and South Cumminsville as resources grow. It will work in conjunction with the Moving Ohio Forward demolition grant program, which allows the city and Hamilton County Land Bank to tear down blighted and vacant buildings.

At the same time, three of the neighborhoods — College Hill, Madisonville and Walnut Hills — are currently trying out form-based code, a special kind of zoning code championed by Qualls that allows developers to more easily pursue projects as long as they stay within a neighborhood’s established goals.

City Council will now need to approve a motion that gives the city administration 60 days to develop a plan and budget for the initiative. The city administration’s proposal will also require City Council approval.

by German Lopez 01.11.2013
Posted In: News, Prisons, Privatization at 02:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Liberty for Sale

More Bad News From Private Prison

Conneaut councilman asks state to intervene at CCA facility

Private prison critics have been proven right once again. Smuggling incidents are on the rise around Lake Erie Correctional Institution, which Ohio sold to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in 2011.

In a letter to Gov. John Kasich’s northeast Ohio liaison, Conneaut Councilman Neil LaRusch claimed a rise in contraband smuggling has forced local police to increase security around the CCA facility.

Since the end of 2012, four have been arrested and charged with smuggling. Another four were arrested Monday and police suspect they were in Conneaut for a smuggling job. According to the Star Beacon, the four suspects arrested Monday were only caught due to the increased police presence outside the Lake Erie prison.

LaRusch said Conneaut and its police department are already running tight budgets, and they can’t afford to continue padding prison security. He then asked the state and governor to help out with the situation.

The letter prompted a reaction from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU), which has staunchly opposed prison privatization in the state. In a statement, Mike Brickner, director of communications and public policy for the ACLU, said, “Unfortunately, this is a predictable pattern with private prisons. Promises of lower costs quickly morph into higher crime, increased burdens on local law enforcement, and in the end, a higher bill for taxpayers.”

He added, “This is not an anomaly. It is a predictable pattern. The private prison model is built on profit above all else. These facilities will cut corners and shift responsibility to taxpayers wherever necessary to maximize profits.”

The governor’s office and Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) could not be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if a response becomes available.

Update (5:00 p.m.): Col. John Born, superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, responded to the councilman's letter. In his own letter, Born doesn't contradict that there's a rise in drug smuggling, but he gives the issue more context.

Born wrote criminal incidents at the Lake Erie prison have actually decreased. He acknowledges drug smuggling cases went up from four in 2011 to seven in 2012, but he says drug cases have gone down at the prison since 2010.

He also claims seven other state prisons have seen a greater rise in drug smuggling. Born frames the issue in a national context: Unfortunately, despite best efforts, the national problem of illegal drug usage and drug trafficking continues to plague our nation.

Regarding state assistance, Born wrote the Ohio State Highway Patrol does not have the authority to strengthen security in order to directly prevent drug smuggling: It is important to point out the Ohio State Highway Patrol's legal authority and corresponding duties prior to the sale of the prison and after the sale remain largely unchanged. Ohio troopers did not have original jurisdiction on private property off institution grounds while under state operations nor do they today.

He adds the Ohio State Highway Patrol has already deployed more cruisers at the prison, but he believes local law enforcement are still the best option for responding to incidents.

JoEllen Smith, spokesperson for ODRC, wrote in an email, DRC will be in communication with the parties involved to ensure any remaining concerns are addressed.

CityBeat previously covered private prisons in-depth (“Liberty for Sale,” issue of Sept. 19). Within a week of the story going to stands, ODRC Director Gary Mohr said the state would not privatize any more prisons. On the same day of his announcement, Mohr apparently received an audit that found the CCA facility was only meeting 66.7 percent of state standards (“Prison Privatization Blues,” issue of Oct. 10).

by German Lopez 09.13.2012
Posted In: Governor, News, Humor at 10:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Kasich at Romney Rally: Wives 'at Home Doing the Laundry'

Governor makes offensive remark when GOP trails among women voters

At a Romney-Ryan rally near Cincinnati yesterday, Gov. John Kasich made some remarks women voters might find offensive. When describing what his wife and the wives of Mitt Romney, Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Rob Portman are doing as the men attend political rallies, Kasich told Romney supporters the women are “at home doing the laundry.”

The full quote: “It’s not easy to be a spouse of an elected official. You know, they’re at home doing the laundry and doing so many things while we’re up here on the stage getting a little bit of applause, right? They don’t often share in it.”

The comments were quickly picked up by liberal blog Plunderbund, which criticized Kasich's history with women.

While the comment may be true (CityBeat could not confirm if Karen Kasich was doing laundry while Kasich was speaking), it does little for a political party already struggling with women voters. In the latest poll from Public Policy Polling, Romney was down 10 points to Obama among women voters in Ohio. This is often attributed to what Democrats labeled a “war on women” by Republicans to diminish contraceptive and abortion rights. CityBeat previously covered the local and national political issues regarding women here.

Kasich had problems with public speaking in the past. In his 2012 State of the State speech, which The Hill labeled “bizarre,” Kasich repeatedly mentioned his “hot wife,” imitated a Parkinson’s patient and referred to Californians as “wackadoodles.” In a previous statement, Kasich said he would run over opponents with a bus. “If you’re not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus,” he told lobbyists. “And I’m not kidding.”

Kasich's latest comment can be found on YouTube:

by Andy Brownfield 07.16.2012
Posted In: 2012 Election, President Obama, News, LGBT Issues at 04:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Obama Visits Cincinnati For Packed Town Hall Meeting

President touts support for small businesses and LGBT rights

In the first town hall-style event of the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama fielded questions on Monday about rights for the LGBT community, what he would do for small business during a second term and which was his favorite Girl Scout cookie (Thin Mints).

Obama — the first Democrat to carry Hamilton County since Lyndon Baines Johnson — held a packed town hall meeting at Music Hall. Cincinnati Fire Department Capt. Joseph E. Wolf estimated the crowd at 1,200 people in the ballroom with an additional 421 hosted outside.

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll from June 27 showed that 47 percent of Ohio voters favored the president, while 38 percent were behind his presumed Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.8 percentage points.

Mayor Mark Mallory fired up the crowd before the president spoke, saying Hamilton County is the most important county in Ohio, and Cincinnati the most important city in the county.

“The folks in this room are the most important folks in terms of the re-election of President Barack Obama in the United States of America,” Mallory said.

Attending the town hall was former Cincinnati mayor and daytime TV host Jerry Springer, who said he and about a dozen other folks had a private meeting with the president earlier in the day.

"I think it would be bad for the country," Springer said of an America that saw Obama lose the November election. He says the Republican-controlled house would run away with our country without a Democrat in the Oval Office to issue a veto.

Just an hour before the president spoke and seven blocks away at Fountain Square, dozens of Romney supporters rallied, carrying signs with slogans such as “Obama Bin Lyin’.”

Republican Mike Wilson, who is looking to unseat Montgomery Democrat Rep. Connie Pillich in the Ohio House of Representatives, was among the speakers at the Romney Rally. Pillich defeated Wilson in the 2010 election.

"Ohio seems destined to play a pivotal role. We're used to it," Wilson said.

Wilson criticized the Obama campaign for “playing politics” with Romney’s tenure at the head of investment firm Bain Capital.

The Obama campaign has claimed that Romney invested in businesses that outsourced American jobs.

“We're all interested with what Romney did with his money, but we're not interested with what Obama is doing with our money," Wilson said.

He blamed over-regulation and taxation from the Obama administration for companies moving their operations overseas.

Gerry Molt, who attended the rally with his wife Roxanne, claimed that Obama is at war with America and says the focus on Bain Capital is “clearly a distraction.”

Roxanne Molt said she’s excited about the importance of Hamilton County in this year’s election.

“I think this is the premier election of our lifetime,” she said. “I think Romney’s got a good plan. We need someone who supports capitalism.”

The president did a little bit to support Cincinnati capitalism, making a pit stop at Skyline Chili before the town hall, where he ordered a 4-way and two cheese coneys.

The economy was a big focus of Obama’s speech, but also of questions he received afterward.

Tony White, who owns a barber shop/beauty salon, asked what the president would do for small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.

In his response, the president touted the possible savings for small businesses under the health care overhaul, saying they could pool together and receive the same rates as larger businesses. As for moving forward, Obama said he would continue to put pressure on banks to lend to small businesses.

“We’ve actually been pushing the banks to say, ‘look, taxpayers pulled your backside out of the fire, it’s now important for you to step up and make sure that small businesses aren’t finding their credit restricted, especially if they’ve been in business for a while,” he said.

The president was also asked by a woman who only identified herself as Anna what he would do to further help the LGBT community. Anna’s son Adam is openly gay and is looking at attending Miami University in Oxford.

Despite earlier teasing that he wouldn’t sing at the town hall, Obama led the crown in singing “Happy Birthday” to Adam, who turned 18 on Monday.

Obama again answered the question by touting his accomplishments so far — ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that forbid homosexuals from serving openly in the military and expanding hospital visitation  rights to same-sex partners — before going on to say that the federal Defense of Marriage Act needs to be repealed.

The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Obama is the first American president to openly support gay marriage.

The theme the president to which continued to return was that America needs to return to being the land of opportunity.

“What really sets us apart has always been that we have the greatest middle class and a basic idea that’s at the heart of this country that says if you work hard then you can get ahead. If you’re responsive, then you can live out your dreams. You’re not confined to the circumstances of your birth.”

German Lopez contributed to this report.

by 12.19.2008
Posted In: Business, News, Social Justice at 05:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Congressman: Cintas Settlement 'Despicable'

Two prominent Democratic congress members say a $3 million settlement between Cintas Corp. and federal workplace safety regulators is insufficient because it downgrades the severity of the company’s violations and gives it two years to install new safety equipment.

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by German Lopez 08.14.2012
Posted In: News, 2012 Election, Democrats, Republicans at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
p.g. sittenfeld.nar

Early Voting Controversy Reaches Hamilton County

Democratic council members call for extended early voting

In a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld today asked the Board to extend in-person early voting hours in the county. Council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Cecil Thomas, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young also signed the letter. Council members Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, and Charlie Winburn, a Republican, were notified of the letter Thursday, but they did not agree to sign.

In-person early voting will begin on Oct. 2 and run until Nov. 2. If hours are not extended, polls in Hamilton County will only be open on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. If the Board agrees to Sittenfeld's recommendations, early voting will be extended to 8 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday mornings.

The letter brings home a political controversy that has recently gained national attention. In recent weeks, Democrats have accused state Republicans of extending in-person early voting in predominantly Republican counties and keeping shorter in-person early voting hours in predominantly Democratic counties.

Democrats typically point to Warren County and Butler County — two predominantly Republican counties with extended in-person early voting — and the recent actions of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. In the predominantly Democratic counties of Lucas, Cuyahoga, Summit and Franklin, Husted had to break ties in Boards of Election on the issue of in-person early voting hours. In every case, Husted voted against extending in-person early voting hours.

Jerid Kurtz, spokesperson for Ohio Democratic Party, says the move follows a clear Republican trend: "Every opportunity that presents itself, Republicans take away the right to vote."

Kurtz is referring to Republicans' initial push to end in-person early voting in Ohio. In 2011, Republicans passed two laws — H.B. 194 and H.B. 224 — that ended in-person early voting in the state. After Democrats managed to get enough petition signatures to put the early voting issue on the November ballot, Republicans repealed H.B. 194. However, by not repealing H.B. 224, Republicans have made it so all non-military voters are still disallowed to vote the Saturday, Sunday and Monday before Election Day. Democrats and President Barack Obama have filed a lawsuit to restore those early voting days for all voters, including military personnel and families.

Democrats like Kurtz argue that in-person early voting is necessary to maintain reliable, efficient elections. In 2004, Ohio did not have in-person early voting in place, and the state drew national attention when its long voting lines forced some people to wait as long as 10 hours to vote. After the debacle, a Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Bob Taft, also a Republican, passed laws allowing in-person early voting.

But now Republicans seem skeptical of their own laws. Republicans say the measures are meant to cut costs and stop voter fraud, but Democrats say the measures are all about suppressing the vote. In a moment of honesty, former Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer told MSNBC that the measures are about disenfranchising demographics that typically side with Democrats. Even Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has stepped in to criticize Republicans for what he sees as disenfranchisement.

Husted told reporters at Cleveland's The Plain Dealer that he is considering establishing uniform rules. With such rules, every county would have the same in-person early voting hours.

But Kurtz says the talk about a uniform rule is "pure silliness." He says counties have differences, so they need different voting times. Instead of worrying about uniformity or what counties can afford, Kurtz says Husted should worry managing elections and "empowering people to vote."

The calls for extended early voting come a time when Hamilton County is facing budget issues. With a $20 million budget shortfall projected for next year, affording more early voting hours might be difficult. No official estimate has been released on how much the extended hours would cost.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections will meet Thursday at 9 a.m. to discuss extending in-person early voting hours.