CityBeat Blogs - News http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34.html <![CDATA[New Bikeway Proposal Could Cost Additional $110,000]]>

The city’s cost of a long-planned piece of cycling infrastructure could more than double if City Council approves a motion Vice Mayor David Mann planned to introduce on April 23. 

Mayor John Cranley successfully paused the Central Parkway Bikeway Project for public discourse in response to a handful of business owners and residents taking exception to it, and a spokesman for Mann shared his suggested compromise with CityBeat today.

In response to an April 21 special Neighborhoods Committee meeting, Mann seeks to alter the bike route to appease people who don’t want to see parking spaces removed, but the updated plan will cost an additional $110,00 on top of the $82,600 the city would pay under the original plan, which would create the beginning of a cycling corridor running from Elm Street downtown to Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. The project was supposed to break ground next month and could lose $330,400 in federal money if the contract isn’t awarded by May 1. 

“We routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a city to create new jobs in our community,” Mann said in a statement. “We should not approve a new project that places 60 newly created jobs in jeopardy when such a sensible accommodation is available.”

The planned bikeway is an innovative piece of cycling infrastructure meant to better protect cyclists along a critical thoroughfare that would connect a number of inner-city neighborhoods and business districts. The lane will be protected, meaning cyclists will have their own lane with a buffer separating them from traffic; in some areas plastic bollards will separate the bike and automobile lanes. The street will not be widened, so traffic lanes will be impacted through restriping, and parking will be restricted during peak traffic hours in the morning and evening. 

Opponents of the project are concerned about losing public, on-street parking for parts of the day as well as potentially encountering traffic issues from shaving lanes from Brighton Place to Liberty Street. They also worry the bollards will become a blight issue and emergency vehicles will be impeded during one-lane hours.

Mann’s motion supports an alternative plan for a section running from Ravine Street to Brighton Place that would preserve 23 parking spaces full-time, alter 4,300 square feet of greenspace and remove 15 trees at an estimated cost of $110,000. The parking spaces would benefit a building owner and his tenants at 2145 Central Parkway. 

City Councilman Chris Seelbach and others demonstrated frustration with the administration’s interest in stepping in at the 11th hour. 

“I think we have reached a new era in Cincinnati: two steps forward, pause, lots of long meetings, two steps forward, and I’m convinced after the pause and lots of long meetings, we will continue to go two steps forward today,” Seelbach said at the April 21 meeting. 

Mayor Cranley requested City Manager Scott Stiles delay awarding a contract after meeting with local business owner Tim Haines, who purchased a vacant building located at 2145 Central Parkway in 2012 for $230,000. His building now houses 65 employees from 12 different businesses including his own, Relocation Strategies. Haines has become a mouthpiece for the opposition to the bikeway — though he adamantly states he is not against the lane; he is just against the project’s current incarnation as it affects Central Parkway near his business, which utilizes 500 feet of on-street, unmetered parking, which translates to 30 parking spaces.

“If parking wasn’t an issue, I would open up my arms and welcome the bike path,” Haines says. “Parking for my 65 tenants is in jeopardy. As a business owner I have to fight for my tenants. … Could they park and walk a quarter of a mile? They could, but that’s not what they signed up for when they moved in.”

Haines has a 16-space parking lot adjacent to his building that some of his tenants use and also owns a parking lot across the street that is in disrepair. Haines says he already cleared it of underbrush to cut down criminal activity and disposed of dozens of tires and beer bottles. He says it would cost up to $300,000 to upgrade the lot. 

During the April 21 presentation, Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore presented the committee with an alternative recently developed with Cranley’s office that he said would appease Haines and his tenants but would cost more money. Moore pushed the notion that the alternative creates a more balanced bikeway plan.

The original plan, passed by council last year, restricts parking in front of Haines’ building from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Moore’s alternative, which Mann is on board with, is to ramp the bike lane over the curb adjacent to a sidewalk where there is currently a tree-lined area in front of Haines’ building and another business in order to preserve public parking full-time. 

At the meeting, council member Young took exception to the suggestion of changing the project at this point.  

“For the life of me, I don’t see where the reasonableness and the balance is with people who come so far after the fact that want us to make these changes and the dollar amount it’s going to cost the taxpayers to get it done,” Young said. “I am appalled that people can come after the fact and tie up all these people down here to simply want accommodations for them.”

Mann shared another perspective.

“There’s a gentleman who has brought 60 jobs to the city, including some folks who have Parkinson’s and use the building, and the proposal that’s being made seems to me to represent balance,” Mann said. “We spend millions of dollars, typically, to support development, to support jobs, and you’re saying that the proposal that was originally approved by this council without a hearing like this is so pristine that it cant be adjusted in any way, and if it’s adjusted that is a statement of imbalance? I just don’t follow that.”

For the past year and a half, DOTE conducted surveys, sought public input and developed plans for the bikeway. After a strong consensus, the department chose the protected bikeway plan. The bikeway is estimated to add just three seconds of motorist commute time by 2030, though some naysayers suggest that delivery trucks will clog the lanes and the turn left from Ravine Street will create an even longer lag. 

Community outreach for the design began in March of last year with eight community council meetings. Letters were mailed to residents, businesses and property owners, but Haines and several other business owners stated they didn’t receive any and weren’t aware of the project until late last year. 

A website designed for public feedback also garnered about 600 messages mainly supporting the bikeway project. DOTE held an open house last September and the Over-The-Rhine and Northside community councils, Findlay Market and Northside Business Association endorsed the project. 

Simpson expressed frustration with halting progress for a last-minute meeting.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate process,” she said. “Really, technically you can go over everything over the past two years. The reality is we need to look forward. If we want to be less auto-focused and more focused on other types of transit, we’re going to have to ruffle a couple of feathers.”

Supporters — some who biked to the April 21 meeting and utilized a bike valet setup in front of City Hall — represented various groups of the community from health and community councils to business owners and cyclists. Their number doubled opponents — mainly business owners along Central Parkway in the West End and the West End Community Council, though some West End residents and business owners supported the original bikeway plan.

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<![CDATA[Ohio Ranks Poorly in Government Transparency ]]> Ohio scored fifth-worst in a nationwide government transparency survey conducted by a national consumer group focused on investigating and advocating for American citizens against powerful interest groups.

The group gave Ohio a “D-” ranking after its government spending transparency website earned 51 points out of 100 in U.S. Public Interest Research Group's fifth annual “Following the Money” report. 

“Ohio’s been kind of sinking through the ratings year by year,” says Phineas Baxendall, a U.S. PIRG senior policy analyst and co-author of the report released on Tuesday. “It used to do much better, which doesn’t mean they’re dismantling their transparency systems. It just means our standards get tougher each year and they’re more staying in place while other states are improving.”

Ohio’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t offer certain customizable search options including bid award recipients, keywords, agency and bulk download searches. Ohio’s poor score follows three years of ranking in the bottom half of the study.  

Researchers look for transparency websites to be comprehensive, one-stop and offer simple search formats. 

The nation as a whole is moving toward a more transparent approach to documenting government spending. Since PIRG began the study, all six categories it uses to compile rankings have shown an increase in states performing specific duties. The largest leaps in the past five years involve showing how a project benefits from taxpayer subsidies, which has seen an increase from two to 33 states, and how tax money is spent with an increase from eight to 44 states. All states now have ledger listings for transactions of any government spending on a website, compared to only 32 five years ago. 

Ohio’s score doesn’t reflect Cincinnati’s efforts to be transparent. In a 2013 study in transparency of the 30 largest cities in America, Cincinnati scored a “B+” for providing ledger listings for spending information, allowing Cincinnatians to view where money is spent, specific recipients of tax subsidies and the existence of a service request center allowing residents to notify officials about quality of life issues. 

Suggestions for improvement included making checkbook-level spending information searchable by the vendor who received the money and developing a comprehensive transparency website.

“We feel strongly that this isn’t a partisan issue, and the fact that states that do best in our rankings show no political pattern, with Texas and Massachusetts standing side-by-side, sort of speaks that this is one of those issues that should not be politicized,” Baxendall says. “We look forward to advancement in transparency in Ohio regardless of who is in office.”

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<![CDATA[OTR Foundation to Host Property Rehabilitation Series]]> The Over-the-Rhine Foundation will host a series of upcoming workshops aimed at educating people interested in downtown living on how to rehabilitate properties.

Part of the nonprofit’s mission is to engage community members in the neighborhood’s future as a compliment to larger development companies’ efforts, which have largely shaped the neighborhood’s resurgence in recent years. This effort is specifically targeting those interested in moving to OTR, the Brewery District or Pendleton. 

“Lots of people are really interested and excited about the idea of rehabbing one of the buildings to live-in in Over-the-Rhine,” says Marilyn Hyland, a board trustee for OTR Foundation. “Then they get into it and find it’s really complicated. This is an opportunity for people of both professional and personal perspectives to help people who really want to do this with their families and to have the wisdom of experience as they go forward with it themselves.”

The first of the three workshops — which take place at the Art Academy of Cincinnati on Jackson Street — will take place on April 12 and include a lecture from owners who rehabbed their homes, followed by an optional tour of renovated homes.

A second workshop on May 10 delves into selecting and purchasing a building, working with various contractors, hidden costs and navigating planning, zoning and other regulations. A third on June 14 dives into the financial aspect of renovation.

People can register for the workshop series by going to otrfoundation.org. The cost goes up from $35 to $50 starting April 4. Space is limited and will close once 80 people have registered.

“We as a foundation are committed to revitalizing the diverse OTR neighborhood, and a key objective is building community by encouraging and promoting owner-occupied development,” Kevin Pape, OTR Foundation president, said in a statement. “These workshops will help individuals gain access to the resources, expertise, and development tools needed to ensure the success of their community investments.”

More information is available at otrfoundation.org/3OTR.

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<![CDATA[Colerain Oil Pipe Back in Operation as Cleanup Continues]]> A pipeline that burst in a Colerain nature preserve last week spilling thousands of gallons of oil is back in operation after crews repaired a 5-inch-long crack in the bottom of the pipe.

Colerain Township Fire Department Captain Steven Conn says officials shut the pipe down shortly after the spill on March 17 and have temporarily repaired the crack. The entire pipe, which runs through the Glen Oak Nature Preserve, will eventually be replaced.

“Eventually they will come back in, stop production and remove that section of piping according to their plan,” Conn says. 

The cause of the crack remains unclear, and a Department of Transportation investigation will take weeks to test the pipe for any chemicals that could have caused a crack.

Crews cleaned up about 20,000 gallons of oil so far and anticipate cleaning for another five to six days. The preserve will remain closed, along with the nearby Obergiesing Soccer Complex, until a command center for officials working on the leak is relocated. Representatives from Sunoco Logistics, Mid-Valley Piping Company, the Environmental Protection Agency, Colerain Township and Hamilton County Parks will utilize the command center as they respond to the mess.

Twenty-four small animals have been treated after being covered in oil, and a wildlife organization from Delaware came to Cincinnati to help oil-soaked animals.

Officials say there are no reports of oil leaking into the Great Miami River. Conn says the area will be tested and monitored for at least a year after the cleanup is complete.

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<![CDATA[Health Insurance Deadline Approaching]]>

Enroll America, a nonprofit designed to help citizens who are uninsured wade through the insurance process, stopped by Cincinnati on Monday during a four-city Ohio tour meant to educate citizens on their health insurance options ahead of a March 31 deadline to sign up for coverage.

The Get Covered America campaign visited the Word of Deliverance Ministries for the World and WLWT, where it held a phone drive to help people sign up for health coverage.

“We have been particularly reaching out to young folks,” says Trey Daly, Ohio’s director for Enroll America.

Those who are uninsured making more than $16,200 a year or families of four making more than $32,913 have until the end of this month to sign up for coverage or face penalties.

One major source of information locally is the Freestore Foodbank on Liberty Street, which received federal grants to help with outreach and the enrollment process. Many people coming through the Foodbank, however, already qualify for Medicaid — individuals earning less than $16,200 and families of four bringing in less than $32,913 — which doesn't have a set deadline to apply. 

Next Tuesday, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College will host a free health insurance workshop. Enroll America's website lists other informational events offering details about the process and an online calculator that provides estimates of how much an insurance premium would cost, along with other insurance-finding tools. Local centers are also offering one-on-one help and can be found at enrollamerica.org or healthcare.gov. 

On Wednesday, Ryan Luckie, team leader for the Affordable Care Act at the foodbank, worked from Mercy Hospital in Anderson, where he said there was consistent traffic.

“It’s now picking up as we approach March 31,” Luckie says.

The centers are typically on a first-come first-serve basis, but there is also an option to call ahead to schedule an appointment.  Those still seeking health insurance after March 31 will have to wait until Nov. 15 when open enrollment begins, Luckie says. Those people who have experienced what’s known as a “life event," either loss of employment, recently married or recently birthed a child, may have their deadline extended, Luckie says.

People seeking help with their insurance should bring proof of income for the last 30 days and social security numbers and date of birth for everyone seeking coverage within a household.

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<![CDATA[Lt. Governor Candidate Blasts Kasich's Tax Cut Proposal]]> Lt. Governor-candidate Sharen Neuhardt held a press conference on the City Hall front steps today to lament a tax cut proposed by Gov. John Kasich, claiming that it furthers his agenda to help Ohio’s top 1 percent.

Kasich has proposed to cut income tax 8.5 percent across the board by 2016, which would help drive Ohio’s top tax rate below 5 percent. The governor claims single mothers making $30,000 would save an extra few hundred dollars on taxes every year as part of his proposed tax cut, a claim Neuhardt called “despicable and wrong.”

During the press conference, Neuhardt said Kasich is using the plight of single mothers to propagate a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s upper echelon.

“I want to really emphasize pay equality is always an important issue,” Neuhardt said.

Neuhardt doesn’t have a plan to square the $11,600 pay disparity between genders in 2012 that she cites, but she did say that her administration would need to reverse everything Kasich’s administration has done in order to get Ohio’s economy moving forward, should she and her running mate, gubernatorial candidate Ed Fitzgerald, win office in November. 

“We need Ohio’s working class to have money in their pocket,” Neuhardt said.

Kasich’s previous budget took the first steps toward pushing the state’s top tax rate below 5 percent by lowering income tax across the board and raising sales tax, a combination that disproportionately favors the wealthy. CityBeat covered that plan here and Kasich’s early 2013 budget proposals here and here.

Council members P.G. Sittenfield and Yvette Simpson spoke about pay disparity before Neurhardt took the podium on Tuesday.

Simpson stated women on average are earning 27 percent less than men in Ohio and Latin American women are earning 57 percent less.

“In the year 2014, that’s unacceptable,” Simpson said.

She also stated that Cincinnati has a 50-percent single mother rate and that 53 percent of children are living in poverty.

Sittenfield said the way toward eliminating pay disparity is through “meaningful reforms,” not tax cuts.

“Wage equality is not just a women’s issue — it’s a family issue and it’s an Ohio issue,” Sittenfield said.

Kasich proposed the cuts as part of a mid-biennium review intended to lay out administrative goals for next year.

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<![CDATA[City to Continue Using Green Energy]]> Interim City Manager Scott Stiles today announced his intention to keep Cincinnati’s electricity green after City Councilman Chris Seelbach rallied a majority of council to oppose Stiles’ earlier plan to go back to using conventional fossil fuels to light and heat the city.

Instead, Cincinnati will continue using 100-percent renewable-backed energy from First Energy Solutions.

The city signed on with First Energy in 2012, making Cincinnati the largest metropolitan are in the country to use 100-percent renewable energy.

Stiles was expected to sign the three-year contract with First Energy Solutions today, according to city spokeswoman Meg Olberding.

Sellbach and other council members convinced Stiles to change his mind about the contract, Olberding says.

She also added that First Energy told Stiles it would allow any customer who wants to save the additional $5.63 annual savings of conventional energy to opt-out of the green energy agreement.

The green energy plan is estimated to save customers $43.58 compared Duke’s standard service.

About 65,000 households and small businesses will continue using First Energy unless they choose to retain another energy supplier.

Stiles will also institute a green energy fee of $.006 on each electric bill as part of a program he’s developing that will help local business owners and residents equip their homes or offices with energy-saving solutions. The program will be run by the Office of Environment and Sustainability.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley is trying to find a compromise over whether early voting will move out of downtown after the 2016 general election, as some Republicans in the county government have suggested. Cranley called for a meeting with Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman and Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Alex Triantafilou, Cincinnati NAACP President Ishton Morton and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel. The meeting will aim to “discuss alternatives the City of Cincinnati can offer to accommodate early voting downtown after the 2016 elections. (Cranley) believes that such a discussion is consistent with the recommendation of the secretary of state that there be an effort to find a nonpartisan solution to the existing disagreement.”

With a $12 million price tag in mind, Cranley remains worried Cincinnati is paying too much for a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. But the project is truly one of a kind, claims The Business Courier: The tower would boast nearly twice the number of luxury apartments of any other project underway in Over-the-Rhine or downtown. And it would replace a decrepit garage and establish the first full-scale grocery store downtown in decades.

A study found Ohio teens’ painkiller abuse dropped by 40 percent between 2011 and 2013. State officials quickly took credit for the drop, claiming their drug prevention strategies are working. But because the Ohio Youth Risk Behavior Survey only has two sets of data on painkillers to work with — one in 2011 and another in 2013 — it’s possible the current drop is more statistical noise than a genuine downturn, so the 2015 and 2017 studies will be under extra scrutiny to verify the trend.

Similarly, fewer Ohio teens say they’re drinking and smoking. But 46 percent say they text while driving.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent in January, down from 7.3 percent the year before. The numbers reflect both rising employment and dropping unemployment in the previous year.

To prove his conservative bona fides, Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell touted a rifle when he walked on stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference.

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, will headline a Hamilton County Republican Party dinner.

Researchers studied a woman who claims she can will herself out of her body.

Personal note: This is my last “Morning News and Stuff” and blog for CityBeat. After today, I will be leaving to Washington, D.C., for a new journalistic venture started by bloggers and reporters from The Washington Post and Slate. (CityBeat Editor Danny Cross wrote a lot of nice things about the move here, and my last commentary touched on it here.) Thank you to everyone who read my blogs during my nearly two years at CityBeat, and I hope I helped you understand the city’s complicated, exciting political and economic climate a little better, even if you sometimes disagreed with what I wrote.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Flaherty & Collins, the developer that wants to tear down a garage as part of its downtown grocery and apartment tower project, offered to pay for a tenant’s move to keep the deal moving forward. The tenant, Paragon Salon, recently announced its intent to sue the city after Mayor John Cranley’s refusal to pay for the salon business’s move left the development project and Paragon in a limbo of uncertainty. With Flaherty & Collins’ offer, the development deal should be able to advance without extra costs to the city.

But Cranley says he still wants 3CDC to review the downtown development project to set the best path forward.

Federal money will help Cincinnati keep and hire more firefighters. The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant provides nearly $8.1 million — about 2 percent of the city’s $370 million operating budget — to pay the salaries and benefits of 50 firefighters for two years. Afterward, the city will need to pick up the costs, which could worsen an operating budget gap that currently sits at $22 million for fiscal 2015. The move would increase the Cincinnati Fire Department’s staffing levels from 841 to 879 and help prevent brownouts, according to the firefighting agency.

The Cincinnati Board of Health defied Mayor Cranley by unilaterally pursuing a $1.3 million grant that will provide preventative and primary care services to underserved populations. Rocky Merz, spokesperson for the board, says the grant application complies with guidance from the city’s top lawyer. Cranley opposes the grant because the extra services it enables could push up costs for the city down the line.

Hamilton County officials will look for outside legal help in their fight against the city’s job training rules for Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the rules, known as “responsible bidder,” in further detail here.

Smale Riverfront Park will receive $4.5 million in federal funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control erosion and prevent flooding.

Crime around Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino never materialized, despite warnings from critics prior to casinos’ legalization in Ohio.

Ohio’s prison re-entry rate declined and sits well below the national average, according to a study from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The study found 27.1 percent of inmates released in 2010 ended up back up in prison, down from 28.7 percent of individuals released in 2009. In comparison, the national average is 44 percent.

Hundreds of Ohio school districts plan to test out the state’s new online assessments for math, language arts, social studies and science.

The cold winter is pushing up natural gas prices, according to Ohio’s largest natural gas utility.

A second baby might have been cured of HIV, the sexually transmitted disease that causes AIDS. Even with the potential successes, doctors caution it’s still very much unclear whether the treatment provides a definitive cure for the deadly disease.

Meanwhile, a first-of-its-kind intravaginal ring could prevent pregnancy and HIV.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even though the developer involved plans to invest another $60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.

Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”

Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million, largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and service cuts.

Commentary:Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.

Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting politics over the city’s needs.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.

Kathy Wilson:Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”

Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.

At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Headline:Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”

“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program. While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.

With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels, Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau established the organization to reach out to national journalists and continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years. “Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work for companies based here.”

The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and chemicals alone. . The rest of the costs come through increased snow plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy salt when it’s cheap.

Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati neighborhoods.

Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.

The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.

Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.

Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.

There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls asleep.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s operating budget and pension system.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring, would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the plan to voters this November.

Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”

The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.

Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.

Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.

The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.

More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.

Robot suits could make mixed martial arts blood-free.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Universal preschool could save Cincinnati $48-$69.1 million in the first two to three years by ensuring children get through school with less problems and costs to taxpayers, according to a University of Cincinnati Economics Center study. The public benefits echo findings in other cities and states, where studies found expanded preschool programs generate benefit-cost ratios ranging from 4-to-1 to 16-to-1 for society at large. For Cincinnati and preschool advocates, the question now is how the city could pay for universal preschool for the city’s three- and four-year-olds. CityBeat covered universal preschool in further detail here.

Cincinnati leaders intend to adopt a domestic partner registry that would grant legal recognition to same-sex couples in the city. Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office says the proposal would particularly benefit gays and lesbians working at small businesses, which often don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships. Seelbach’s office says the registry will have two major requirements: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency. In a motion, the mayor and a supermajority of City Council ask the city administration to structure a plan that meets the criteria; Seelbach’s office expects the full proposal to come back to council in the coming months.

Mayor John Cranley plans to take a sweeping approach to boosting minority inclusion in Cincinnati, including the establishment of an Office of Minority Inclusion. The proposal from Cranley asks the city administration to draft a plan for the office, benchmark inclusion best practices and identify minority- and women-owned suppliers that could reduce costs for the city. The proposal comes the week after Cranley announced city contracting goals of 12 percent for women-owned businesses and 15 percent for black-owned businesses.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted eliminated early voting on Sundays with a directive issued yesterday. Husted’s directive is just the latest effort from Republicans to reduce early voting opportunities. Democrats say the Republican plans are voter suppression, while Republicans argue the policies are needed to establish uniform early voting hours across the state and save counties money on running elections.

The Butler County Common Pleas Court ruled Tuesday that the village of New Miami must stop using speed cameras. Judge Michael Sage voiced concerns about the administrative hearing process the village used to allow motorists to protest or appeal tickets.

Ohio officials expect to get 106,000 Medicaid applications through HealthCare.gov.

The first shark ray pups born in captivity all died at the Newport Aquarium.

Rising home prices might lead to more babies for homeowners.

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<![CDATA[City Pursues Domestic Partner Registry for Same-Sex Couples]]>

The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.

If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.

Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries, including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.

Seelbachs office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a will and other unspecified requirements.

“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.

If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city. Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic partner registries valued at 12 points.

Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Gov. John Kasich gave his State of the State speech last night, promising to combat Ohio’s heroin epidemic, cut taxes and create jobs across the state. The speech didn’t promise any new, huge proposals; instead, it focused on expanding the approach Kasich has taken to governing Ohio in the past four years. Democrats criticized the speech for failing to note Ohio’s recent economic struggles, with the state now among the worst in the nation for job growth. Meanwhile, a recent analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found Kasich’s proposed tax cut would benefit the wealthy.

Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released yesterday. The poll found 87 percent of Ohioans now support legalizing marijuana for medical uses, and 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. Meanwhile, half of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not. Whether the widespread support translates to ballot issues remains to be seen. CityBeat covered Ohio’s medical marijuana movement here and same-sex marriage efforts here.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) plans to alleviate parking problems in Over-the-Rhine by adding a parking meter to every parking space in the neighborhood and asking City Council to allow residential parking permits in neighborhoods that mix commercial and residential. (Today, the city code allows residential parking permits only in neighborhoods that are 100 percent residential.) The plan would add 162 metered spaces to the 478 currently metered spaces, and 637 spaces would be designated for residents.

City Council could move to officially dissolve the parking privatization plan as soon as Wednesday. What will replace the plan is still unclear, but CityBeat compared Mayor John Cranley’s proposal to the parking privatization plan here.

Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell says officers responded appropriately to an incident in which police shot and killed a suspect. Blackwell said police had to respond with deadly force when the suspect came out of his house with a rifle.

Cincinnati-based Kroger could buy supermarket rival Safeway.

An alarming video shows old arctic ice vanishing as a result of global warming, even though old ice is more resistant to melting.

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<![CDATA[Poll: Ohio Moving Left on Social Issues]]>

Ohioans are moving left on marijuana and same-sex marriage, according to a poll released Monday by Quinnipiac University.

The poll found an overwhelming majority — 87 percent — of Ohioans support legalizing marijuana for medical uses. About 51 percent support allowing adults to legally possess a small amount of the drug. And 83 percent agree marijuana is equally or less dangerous than alcohol.

At the same time, 50 percent of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage, compared to 44 percent who do not.

A plurality of voters — 34 percent versus 26 percent — also disapproved of Gov. John Kasich’s handling of abortion. (In the latest state budget, Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the Ohio legislature imposed new restrictions on abortions and abortion providers.)

Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,370 registered Ohio voters from Feb. 12 to Feb. 17 for the poll, producing a 2.7 percent margin of error.

The findings indicate the state is moving left on the biggest social issues of the day.

In 2004, Ohioans approved a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Last year, a Saperstein Associates poll conducted for The Columbus Dispatch found 63 percent of Ohioans favor legalizing medical marijuana, but 59 percent said they oppose full-on legalization. (Given the different methodologies, it’s unclear how Saperstein Associates’ results compare to Quinnipiac University’s poll.)

Whether the liberal shift applies to ballot initiatives remains to be seen. This year, two groups aim to get medical marijuana and same-sex marriage on the Ohio ballot.

Contrary to what polling numbers might imply, it currently seems more likely same-sex marriage will end up on the ballot this year. FreedomOhio, which is leading the effort, says it already has the petition signatures required to get the issue on the ballot in November, even though other LGBT groups, including Equality Ohio, say the effort should wait until 2016.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Rights Group admits it doesn’t yet have the signatures required to get medical marijuana on the ballot. The organization has until July to gather 385,247 petition signatures, which in large part must come from at least half of Ohio’s 88 counties. In the very unlikely scenario the Ohio Rights Group gets all the petitions in circulation back with 36 legitimate signatures filled out on each, the organization would have about 246,000 signatures.

Still, with support seemingly growing, it seems unlikely medical marijuana and same-sex marriage will remain illegal in Ohio for much longer.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted on Friday ruled that the Hamilton County Board of Elections can move to a former hospital site at Mount Airy after the 2016 election, but whether early voting moves along with the Board of Elections needs to be resolved separately. The decision does little to resolve the dispute between local Democrats and Republicans about which location — downtown or Mount Airy — is better for early voters. Democrats argue downtown, as the central hub of local public transportation, best meets the need of most early voters. Republicans argue the Mount Airy facility is closer to the center of the whole county and provides free parking, which Republicans say should make up for the few bus routes that go to the neighborhood.

Gov. John Kasich on Friday signed two controversial election bills that reduce the time allotted for early voting by one week and restrict counties’ ability to send out unsolicited absentee voting applications. The reduction of early voting in particular raised claims of “voter suppression” from Democrats because the bill eliminates the Golden Week in which early voters can register to vote and actually vote on the same day. Republicans say the bills are necessary to establish uniform early voting hours and rules across the state. In general, both sides acknowledge Democrats benefit from more early voting access and Republicans benefit from less early voting access.

Income inequality rose in Ohio between 1979 and 2011, but Ohio fared better than most states, according to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute and the Economic Analysis and Research Network. Ohio’s top 1 percent make roughly 18.1 times the annual income as the bottom 99 percent. In comparison, the average nationwide rate is 24.4 and the rate in the two worst performing states — New York and Connecticut — is 40.

Contrary to faulty reports from Councilman Charlie Winburn and The Cincinnati Enquirer, the city extensively warned residents about its decision to decertify the flood levee around Lunken Airport. In fact, Winburn in 2010 actually voted in favor of an ordinance that supported the decertification. The decision means residents in the area need to purchase flood insurance.

Mayor John Cranley and other city officials plan to boost minority- and women-owned business contracts through aspirational inclusion goals set between the city and contractors. Since the city can’t force businesses to meet the goals, Cranley acknowledges the city could fail. But contractors who worked on the Horsehoe Casino said a similar policy was effective in boosting minority rates for that project.

Two people died in Walnut Hills today after a stabbing and police-involved shooting, according to Cincinnati Police.

Cincinnati plans to increase efforts to get more solar panels on city rooftops. A more specific announcement should come in the next few weeks. Just a couple weeks ago, the Solar Foundation ranked Ohio No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs.

Ohio gas prices continued rising this week.

Watch a robot 3-D print with metal here.

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<![CDATA[Income Inequality Rises in Ohio]]>

Income inequality vastly grew in Ohio and other states between 1979 and 2011, but Ohio actually fared better than most other states, according to a Feb. 19 report from the Economic Policy Institute and the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN).

Ohio’s top 1 percent saw their inflation-adjusted income grow by roughly 70 percent between 1979 and 2011, according to Policy Matters Ohio’s analysis of the report. During the same time period, the bottom 99 percent actually saw their income drop by nearly 8 percent.

Still, Ohio’s income gap isn’t as bad as states like New York and Connecticut, where the top 1 percent make roughly 40 times as much as the bottom 99 percent.

In Ohio, the top 1 percent’s average income in 2011 was 18.1 times greater than the 99 percent’s average income, below the U.S. average of 24.4.

The findings show a trend reversal in incomes in Ohio and the rest of the nation. Between the late 1920s and mid-1970s, the income gap generally narrowed. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the wealthiest began outpacing the rest of the country.

“The levels of inequality we are seeing across the country provide more proof that the economy is not working for the vast majority of Americans and has not for decades,” Keystone Research Center economist Mark Price said in a statement. “It is unconscionable that most of America’s families have shared in so little of the country’s prosperity over the last several decades.”

Economists on both sides of the political spectrum blame various issues for rising income inequality, including the rise of globalization, poorly structured trade treaties, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the inflation-adjusted fall of the minimum wage, the United States’ weak social safety net and the stagnant economy.

In Cincinnati, the effects of income inequality are felt on a neighborhood level. While some local neighborhoods fall below a median family income of $20,000 per year, various neighborhoods’ median family incomes top $100,000 per year.

The massive income gap correlates with the city’s 20-year disparity in neighborhood life expectancies. In impoverished neighborhoods like Lower Price Hill, residents can expect to live to their mid-60s. In wealthy neighborhoods like Mount Adams, the average life expectancy is in the mid-80s.

Given the results, some advocates say its time to adopt a new nationwide approach to the economy.

“It’s clear that policies were set to favor the one percent and those policies can, and should, be changed,” EARN Director Doug Hall said in a statement. “In order to have widespread income growth, bold policies need to be enacted to increase the minimum wage, create low levels of unemployment, and strengthen the rights of workers to organize.”

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

City Council watered down Mayor John Cranley’s parking plan to just two proposals: upgrading parking meters and increased enforcement. Council and public opposition ultimately proved too much for increasing neighborhood rates and expanded evening hours at major hubs. The changes mean less revenue for the city but reduced parking costs for residents. Still, with the parking plan changing almost daily, it’s unclear whether the current iteration will be the final proposal that the Neighborhood Committee and City Council ultimately pass.

Compare: Cranley’s original parking plan versus the parking privatization plan.

Meanwhile, Xerox, the private operator that took over Cincinnati’s parking meters in the parking privatization plan, proposed its own version of a parking plan in which the company manages parking meters while City Council retains control over setting hours, rates and enforcement. Xerox says its plan will generate more revenue. But Cranley rejected Xerox’s plan weeks ago.

Commentary: “County Should Accept Responsible Bidder Law.”

Cranley yesterday announced he’s partnering with Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley to get a share of $1.3 billion in federal funds that would help attract manufacturing. The two cities will compete as one community for the federal Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The competition’s 12 winners will each receive part of the $1.3 billion pot. Even if Cincinnati and Dayton don’t win, Cranley said the competition will at least get them thinking about working together as a community for manufacturing jobs.

The Republican-controlled Ohio legislature yesterday approved controversial election bills that reduce the state’s early voting period by one week and restrict counties’ abilities to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications. Democrats say the measures are meant to suppress voters, but Republicans argue the changes are supposed to set uniform standards across the state. At least one top Ohio Republican previously admitted the measures were supposed to suppress voters, particularly “the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” Gov. John Kasich is now the only person that stands between the bill becoming law.

The city plans to undertake a pothole-fixing blitz in March.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority will begin its 14-neighborhood rehabilitation plan in Evanston, where the agency will target about 100 properties.

With a “virtual online menu” and access to vocational education in the seventh grade, Gov. Kasich says he wants to get Ohio students planning their careers much earlier.

The Ohio House approved a plan that will give schools four more calamity days — more popularly known as “snow days” — for the current school year. The bill now heads to the Ohio Senate and Kasich.

U.S. Sen Sherrod Brown wants to close a loophole in Medicare that costs seniors thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills.

Quinnipiac University’s most recent poll found Ohioans would choose Hillary Clinton over Kasich and other Republicans for president.

Whooping cough appears to be evolving in response to its vaccine.

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