CityBeat Blogs - County Commission http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-61.html <![CDATA[Cranley, Portune Propose City-County Shared Services Taskforce]]>

Mayor John Cranley and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune are proposing a task force that could help the city and county governments share services. The idea has been proposed in the past with little progress, however, due to politics and an unwillingness to cut departments. But Portune and Cranley point to city-county cooperation on The Banks riverfront development project as proof the two governments can coordinate.

Portune acknowledged that the idea has been floated many times in the past. The Democrat commissioner sent a proposal to former Mayor Mark Mallory about the idea in 2011. Republican Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also discussed shared services many times with city officials, but again nothing ever came of the talks. 

Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel has also expressed interest in shared services, pointing out situations where the city relies on the state, such as hospital inspections, as possible places where the city and county could work together. He says the county could do those inspections.

Hartmann has said coordinating services between the two bodies is a matter of political will, not necessarily further study. He’s on the fence about supporting the effort.

Past failures don’t mean cooperation isn’t possible or necessary, Portune said. He said The Banks project, which is finally seeing fruition after more than a decade of work, is a great example of what the city and county can do together.

“Just go about 12 blocks south of here and you look at the magnificent things that are happening on the city and the county’s central riverfront,” Portune said. “All of the new development at The Banks, all of that was planned and envisioned and decided through a joint city and county effort.”

He said a similar arrangement could work on a more permanent basis, helping both the city and county save valuable resources.

“In this day and age of lower revenues and resources, of squeezed budgets, of the state and federal government giving greater unfunded mandates on local governments,” Portune said, “we have to do more and more with less and less annually.”

Cranley and Portune will introduce matching proposals at Cincinnati City Council and board of commissioners meetings Wednesdays asking both bodies to create a group that would study ways the city and county could share some services for greater efficiency. The group would meet at least quarterly with commissioners and council members.

“We have to try all things,” Cranley said. He said dwindling resources and looming changes in state business taxes could take a bite out of local government funds. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of such changes by the state but said he sees shared services as a good idea either way. “Just because we think it’s fair and right that the state government stop attacking local government doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue shared services.”

Under the shared services arrangement, some departments in both governments, such as the county’s permitting departments or the city’s Environmental Services Office, could eventually see reductions as two offices are folded into one.

Cranley said a few areas spring to mind as possible places for sharing services, including the city prosecutor’s office. But he said that doesn’t mean the office will close up shop.

“I think the city is going to maintain a prosecutorial function,” Cranley said, noting that he thinks the city is better suited to pursue some cases, such as negligent property owners. “I think our efforts will be ramped up in some cases, not reduced.”

But Cranley also said that some prosecutions are duplicated by the two courts and that some criminal cases could be better handled by the county.

Portune said the effort could lead to wider cooperation among local governments. There is great interest in pooling resources and sharing services among the area’s 48 municipalities and other jurisdictions, he said.

“This effort should not be limited to just the city and the county,” he said. “It’s going to start out this way. But ... there’s a tremendous appetite with the other 48 local jurisdictions. Some of that has happened, but there’s an awful lot more that could and should.”

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<![CDATA[City Offers Another Concession on MSD Contracting Rules]]>

Councilman Chris Seelbach on Oct. 3 announced another concession in the ongoing city-county dispute over contracting rules for the jointly operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD).

At the heart of the issue is a federal mandate requiring Cincinnati to retrofit and revamp its sewer system. The project is estimated to cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, making it the largest infrastructure undertaking in the city’s history.

But Hamilton County commissioners have put most of the project on hold until the county resolves its conflict with City Council, which unanimously passed in June 2012 and modified in May “responsible bidder” rules that dictate how MSD contractors should train their employees.

Critics say the law’s apprenticeship program and pre-apprenticeship fund requirements put too much of a burden on nonunion businesses. Supporters claim the requirements help create local jobs and train local workers.

The city law requires bidders to follow specific standards for apprenticeship programs, which are used by unionized and nonunion businesses to teach an employee in a certain craft, such as plumbing or construction. It also asks contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help teach applicants in different crafts.

The concession announced on Oct. 3 would replace a mandate with an incentive program.

The mandate tasked contract bidders to prove their apprenticeship programs have graduated at least one person a year for the five previous years.

The incentive program would strip the mandate and replace it with “bid credits,” which would essentially give a small advantage to bidders who prove their apprenticeship programs are graduating employees. That advantage would be weighed along with many other factors that go into the city’s evaluation of bidders.

Seelbach says the concession will be the sixth the city has given to the county, compared to the county’s single concession.

The city has already added several exemptions to its rules, including one for small businesses and another for all contracts under $400,000, which make up half of MSD contracts. The city also previously loosened safety training requirements and other apprenticeship rules.

Meanwhile, the county has merely agreed to require state-certified apprenticeship programs, although with no specific standards like the city’s.

The five-year graduation requirement was the biggest sticking point in the city-county dispute. It’s now up to commissioners to decide whether the concession is enough to let MSD work go forward. If not, the dispute could end up in court as the federal government demands its mandate be met.

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<![CDATA[City, County Work Out Compromise on Sewer Projects]]>

Cincinnati and Hamilton County today announced a compromise that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects, allowing the projects to move forward. As a condition, the city will have to rework and repeal the controversial laws that incited county commissioners into approving the hold in the first place.

As part of the deal, Commissioner Chris Monzel will ask the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners to immediately repeal a hold on Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.

On the city's side, Councilman Chris Seelbach will ask City Council to immediately repeal so-called "local hire" and "local preference" rules, which require a certain percentage of contractors' workforce be local residents.

The city, county and their partners will then work on changing the city's responsible bidder ordinance before new rules are officially implemented on Aug. 1.

In May, City Council modified the responsible bidder ordinance originally passed in June 2012. The changes were supposed to trigger in August, but the compromise may alter those changes altogether.

Under the current language, the ordinance forces MSD contractors to establish specifically accredited apprenticeship programs and put money — based on labor costs — toward a pre-apprenticeship fund.

The city argued the programs will help create local jobs and train local workers, but the county criticized the rules for supposedly favoring unions and imposing extra costs on MSD projects.

Meanwhile, MSD is facing pressure from the federal government to comply with a mandate to retrofit and replace Cincinnati's sewers. MSD estimates the project will cost $3.2 billion over 15 to 20 years, making it one of the largest infrastructure projects in Cincinnati's history.

But the project was effectively halted by the county commissioners' funding hold, which forced the city and county to hastily work out a compromise.

CityBeat covered the county-city conflict in further detail here.

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

Is the race for Ohio secretary of state already underway? Ohio Sen. Nina Turner, who is considering a run against Secretary of State Jon Husted in 2014, says she will introduce legislation to protect voters against Republican efforts to limit ballot access. She also criticized Husted for how he handled the 2012 election, which CityBeat covered here. Husted responded by asking Turner to “dial down political rhetoric.”

Build Our New Bridge Now, an organization dedicated to building the Brent Spence Bridge, says the best approach is private financing. The organization claims a public-private partnership is the only way to get the bridge built by 2018, rather than 2022. But critics are worried the partnership and private financing would lead to tolls.

The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners threw out a Metropolitan Sewer District competitive bidding policy yesterday. The policy, which was originally passed by City Council, was called unfair and illegal by county commissioners due to apprenticeship requirements and rules that favor contractors within city limits. Councilman Chris Seelbach is now pushing for compromise for the rules.

Believe it or not, Cincinnati’s economy will continue outpacing the national economy this year, says Julie Heath, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center.

Three Cincinnati-area hospitals are among the best in the nation, according to new rankings from Healthgrades. The winners: Christ Hospital, Bethesda North Hospital and St. Elizabeth Healthcare-Edgewood.

Democrat David Mann, former Cincinnati mayor and congressman, may re-enter politics with an attempt at City Council.

In its 2013 State of Tobacco report, the American Lung Association gave Ohio an F for anti-smoking policies. The organization said the state is doing a poor job by relying exclusively on federal money for its $3.3 million anti-tobacco program. The Centers for Disease Control says Ohio should be spending $145 million.

The Air Force is gearing up for massive spending cuts currently set to kick in March. The cuts will likely affect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Dennis Kucinich, who used to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, will soon appear on Fox News as a regular contributor.

For anyone who’s ever been worried about getting attacked by a drone, there’s now a hoodie and scarf for that.

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

Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget plan is on the horizon, and it contains “sweeping tax reform,” according to Tim Keen, budget director for Kasich. Keen said the new plan will “result in a significant competitive improvement in our tax structure,” but it’s not sure how large tax cuts would be paid for. Some are already calling the plan the “re-election budget.” Expectations are Kasich’s administration will cut less than the previous budget, which greatly cut funding to local governments and education.

Chris Monzel is now in charge of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. Monzel will serve as president, while former president Greg Hartmann has stepped down to vice president. Monzel says public safety will be his No. 1 concern.

City Council may vote today on a plan to build the first freestanding public restroom, and it may be coming at a lower cost. City Manager Milton Dohoney said last week that the restroom could cost $130,000 with $90,000 going to the actual restroom facility, but Councilman Seelbach says the city might be able to secure the facility for about $40,000.

Tomorrow, county commissioners may vote on policy regarding the Metropolitan Sewer District. Commissioners have been looking into ending a responsible bidder policy, which they say is bad for businesses. But Councilman Seelbach argues the policy ensures job training is part of multi-billion dollar sewer programs. Board President Monzel and Seelbach are working on a compromise the city and county can agree on.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections is prepared to refer five cases of potential voter fraud from the Nov. 6 election. The board is also investigating about two dozen more voters’ actions for potential criminal charges.

King’s Island is taking job applications for 4,000 full- and part-time positions.

Ohio may soon link teacher pay to quality. Gov. John Kasich says his funding plan for schools will “empower,” not require, schools to attach teacher compensation to student success. A previous study suggested the scheme, also known as “merit pay,” might be a good idea.

An economist says Ohio’s home sales will soon be soaring.

Debe Terhar will continue as the Board of Education president, with Tom Gunlock staying as vice president.

Equal rights for women everywhere could save the world, say two Stanford biologists. Apparently, giving women more rights makes it so they have less children, which biologists Paul R. and Anne Ehrlich say will stop humanity from overpopulating the world. 

Ever wanted to eat like a caveman? I’m sure someone out there does. Well, here is how.

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<![CDATA[County Commissioners Reduce Property Tax Rollback]]> Hamilton County homeowners can expect a larger bill come tax time. The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday voted to halve the property tax rollback promised to voters as part of the package to build the two downtown sports stadiums.

The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every $100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.

The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.

“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same thing we are doing today,” Portune said.

Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to 6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10 years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the first five. 

Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.

Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund stable in years to come.

Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow the tax increase to expire.

Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.

Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with either choice.

“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.

Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for the rollback reduction.

Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change, a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make to help out with the stadium funding burden.

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<![CDATA[Qualls to Announce 2013 Mayoral Run]]>

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls will be formally announcing her run for the top spot in Cincinnati on Thursday.

Qualls’ campaign site has been up for some time already, and the vice mayor’s team had a meeting with political writers and bloggers on Nov. 26.

The vice mayor will be joined by current term-limited Mayor Mark Mallory, implying his support for her mayoral run. The event is taking place at 10 a.m. at Core Clay, Inc., a small women-owned business in Walnut Hills.

Qualls, who is endorsed by both the Democratic Party and Charter Committee, previously served as mayor from 1993-1999 after serving in Cincinnati City Council from 1991-1993. She returned to council in 2007.

Former city councilman John Cranley, also a Democrat, is also running for mayor. Cranley served on council between 2001 and 2007. His campaign will officially launch in January and former mayor Charlie Luken will serve as the honorary chair.

Republican Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann is also considering a run for mayor, but hasn’t made a formal announcement.

Cincinnati has an open mayoral primary, which means that the top two vote-getters will run against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

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

Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel is hiring political workers and friends at his job again. His latest hires are Joe Aquilino, former campaign political director to Mandel’s U.S. Senate campaign, and Jared Borg, former campaign political coordinator. During the 2010 campaign for the state treasurer’s office, Mandel said, “Unlike the current officeholder, I will ensure that my staff is comprised of qualified financial professionals — rather than political cronies and friends — and that investment decisions are based on what is best for Ohioans.” Mandel’s spokesperson defended the hires by touting the treasurer’s accomplishments in office.

With a vote set for tomorrow, it’s still unsure how the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will solve the stadium fund deficit, but it seems like both options require tax increases. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, proposed increasing the sales tax by 0.25 percent. Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, presented an alternative plan that reduces the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he also said he’s not sure how he’ll vote. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he wants to find a plan that doesn’t raise taxes.

Either parking services are privatized or 344 city employees are laid off. That’s how City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. framed budget talks to City Council yesterday. The city has already made drastic cuts since 2000, laying off 802 employees. Dohoney also pushed for repealing the property tax rollback promised as part of the stadium deal in 1996, but City Council does not want to raise taxes in the middle of a slow economy. The fact is any form of austerity will be painful, so City Council should be as cautious of spending cuts as tax hikes. A public hearing on the budget will be held Thursday at 6 p.m.

The city of Cincinnati’s plan to buy Tower Place Mall and the adjacent Pogue’s Garage in downtown is moving forward. The city offered to buy the mall and garage for $8.5 million in order to spur economic development in the area. The parking garage and half-empty mall are currently in foreclosure.

Cincinnati State is looking to expand.

The Horseshoe Casino has begun its final round of hiring. The casino is set to open in spring 2013. A Washington Post analysis found casinos bring jobs, but also crime, bankruptcy and suicide.

One year later, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hasn’t followed up on a court order to compensate flooded landowners.

The State Controlling Board approved three programs that will provide transitional housing and other services to the homeless. As part of the initiative, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio will receive $200,000, the Homeless Crisis Response Program will receive $12,680,700 and the Supportive Housing Program will receive $9,807,600 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

Great numbers from November from auto companies could mean more hires.

The U.S. Supreme Court is delaying action on same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered gay marriage in Ohio and whether Ohioans are ready to embrace it in a Nov. 28 cover story.

A dissolving nanofabric could soon replace condoms for protecting against pregnancy and HIV.

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<![CDATA[Hartmann Considers Reducing Property Tax Rollback]]> The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners held a public meeting today to discuss options for balancing the stadium fund. Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, on Nov. 28 proposed a 0.25-percent sales tax hike. At the meeting, Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, suggested reducing the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he said he was unsure which way he would vote.

Portune also gave ideas for possible adjustments to his sales tax proposal. He said commissioners could “sunset” the sales tax hike, essentially putting an expiration date on the tax increase. He also would like to see the sales tax hike reviewed on a regular basis to ensure taxpayers aren't being burdened longer than necessary. The idea behind possible time limits for both proposals is new revenues, perhaps from an improving economy or Cincinnati's new casino, could make changes unnecessary in the long term.

If anything came from the meeting, it’s that none of the commissioners like the position they’re in. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican, said he had been placed “between a rock and a hard place.” Hartmann echoed Monzel, saying it was an “unenviable position.” Despite being the one to propose the hike, Portune said, “We’re left with two options that none of us like at all.”

Commissioners mostly repeated previous arguments during most of the meeting. Hartmann continued saying he was unsure how he would vote, but he said the two options presented are the only options left. He called Portune's plan “bold.

Portune claimed the sales tax hike was more equitable because it spreads out the tax burden to anyone who spends money in Hamilton County, including visitors from around the Tristate area. In contrast, eliminating or reducing the property tax rollback would place the burden of the stadium fund exclusively on residential property owners in Hamilton County.

The property tax rebate and sales taxes are both regressive, meaning they favor the wealthy more than the poor. In simple terms, as income goes down, spending on goods and services take bigger bites out of a person’s income. A sales tax makes that disproportionate burden even larger.

One analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer found the wealthy made more money from the property tax rebate than they were taxed by the half-cent sales tax raise that was originally meant to support the stadium fund. For a previous story covering the stadium fund, Neil DeMause, a journalist who chronicled his 15-year investigation of stadium deals in his book Field of Schemes, told CityBeat the stadium fund’s problems stem from the county government making a “terrible deal” with the Reds and Bengals.

Monzel said he will continue to try to find alternatives to raising taxes. On Nov. 28, Monzel told CityBeat he would rather keep the stadium fund balanced for one year with short-term cuts, including a cut on further investments in The Banks development, before raising taxes. In the long term, Monzel says commissioners could see if revenue from the new Horseshoe Casino and a possible deal involving the University of Cincinnati using Paul Brown Stadium would be enough to sustain the stadium fund.

The commissioners will vote on the proposals on Dec. 5.

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<![CDATA[Portune Suggests Sales Tax Hike]]>

County Commissioner Todd Portune is proposing a 0.25 percent sales tax hike to stabilize the stadium fund and preserve the property tax rebate promised to voters in 1996. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners will have to approve the hike before it becomes law. It would raise the county sales tax from 6.5 percent to 6.75 percent.

Portune, the lone Democrat on the three-man board, says the county got to this point after years of problems with the stadium fund’s solvency culminated into one of two options: either the sales tax goes up or the property tax rebate is rolled back. He claims the two options are the only way to keep the stadium fund stable. 

Portune says the 0.25-percent increase on the sales tax will hurt low-income families less than rolling back the property tax rebate. He reasoned the impact of the property tax rollback would focus on Hamilton County residents, including low-income families, while any hike in the sales tax is spread out on anyone who spends money in Hamilton County, including visitors from around the Tristate area. He also pointed out that essentials like food and medicine are exempt from the sales tax, which gives some relief to anyone trying to make ends meet.

On support from other commissioners, Portune says Board President Greg Hartmann agreed either the rebate has to go or the sales tax has to go up, but Hartmann could not be reached by CityBeat for further comment. This story will be updated if comments become available.

Update (Nov. 29, 4:25 p.m.): Hartmann called CityBeat after this story was published. He says he has not made a final decision, but he echoed Portune's comments by saying the reality of the situation” demands choosing between a sales tax hike or property tax rollback. If the commissioners take the latter option, Hartmann says only a partial rollback will be necessary to draw enough funds. He also cautioned that any one-time sales and spending cuts will not be enough to stabilize the stadium fund in the long term.

Commissioner Chris Monzel says he would rather keep the stadium fund balanced for one year with short-term cuts, including a cut on further investments in The Banks development before raising taxes. After the year is up, Monzel says commissioners could see if revenue from the new Horseshoe Casino and a possible deal involving the University of Cincinnati using Paul Brown Stadium would be enough to sustain the stadium fund in the long term.

The property tax rebate and sales taxes are both generally considered regressive, meaning they favor the wealthy more than the poor. In simple terms, as income goes down, spending on goods and services take bigger bites out of a person’s income. A sales tax makes that disproportionate burden even larger.

One analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer found the wealthy actually made more money from the property tax rebate than they were taxed by the half-cent sales tax raise that was initially meant to support the stadium fund.

For a previous story covering the stadium fund, Neil DeMause told CityBeat the stadium fund’s problems stem from the county government making a “terrible deal” with the Reds and Bengals. DeMause is a journalist who has chronicled his 15-year investigation of stadium deals in his book “Field of Schemes.”

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<![CDATA[County Commissioners Approve 2013 Budget]]>

For the sixth year in a row, Hamilton County’s budget will be getting some cuts. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners today approved $14.4 million in across-the-board cuts in a 2-1 vote, with Democrat Todd Portune voting no and Republicans Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voting yes.

The budget’s cuts will affect every county department, but they will not raise taxes. The plan will likely result in layoffs, according to the county budget office. The sheriff’s office is the least affected by cuts.

With a few revisions and tweaks, the plan is basically what Board President Hartmann originally proposed. Previously, Hartmann touted the budget plan by praising its “austerity” — a word that has lost popularity in Europe as budget cuts and tax hikes have thrown the continent into a double-dip recession. 

Portune suggested an alternative plan that made fewer cuts and instead borrowed money against delinquent taxes.

By law, the county is required to balance its budget.

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<![CDATA[County Commissioners Delay Budget Vote]]>

A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget is being delayed a week at the request of the sole Democrat on the Board of County Commissioners.

Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board President Greg Hartmann at a Monday staff meeting to push back the vote a week to address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future financial stability.

Hartmann, who earlier denied Portune’s request to issue securities to raise millions to balance the budget, agreed. He said it was important that all three commissioners agree on the budget.

Portune told reporters he wanted to see more funding for juvenile courts. The proposed budget would cut about $3 million from the juvenile court’s 2012 appropriation. 

He said he also wants to see specific plans on how and where the county will invest in economic development. He and Hartmann disagree about whether that kind of planning belongs in a budget.

Hartmann had the proposal developed after commissioners rejected three plans from County Administrator Christian Sigman, two of which would have raised taxes. The $192 million budget under consideration cuts about $14 million from the 2012 appropriation levels without raising taxes.

The proposed budget makes a number of what Hartman calls “modest cuts” in almost every county department.

All three commissioners have stated that public safety funding is a priority. The Sheriff’s Department would see a small reduction of $27,033, bringing its budget to almost $57.5 million.

However, the department would also face an additional $4.3 million in expenses next year, giving incoming Sheriff Jim Neil an effectively reduced budget.

The Emergency Management Agency would get a nearly 40 percent increase in the proposed budget, up to $400,000.

The Board of Elections would see its budget slashed 36.2 percent to $6.9 million. However, its expenses would also be lower in 2013 because there is no presidential election as there was in 2012.

The proposed budget would bring the Department of Job and Family Services’ appropriation to $832,900 — a reduction of $10,360. However, that funding level is dictated by the State of Ohio and not the county.

The Hamilton County Prosecutor would also see a small increase of $37,597 intended to hold level its funding from 2012, as the department went over-budget. The prosecutor has the ability to sue the county over its budget appropriation, so the department typically maintains level funding.

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

Election Day is today. Find your correct polling booth here. Check out CityBeat’s endorsements here.

After a year of campaigns, the race between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is almost over. All eyes are on Ohio to decide the presidential election. In aggregate polling, Obama leads Romney by 2.9 points in Ohio and 0.7 points nationally. FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times’ electoral forecast model, gives Obama a 91.4 percent chance to win Ohio and a 91.6 percent chance to win the election. The New York Times also has an interactive flowchart to gauge both Obama's and Romney's paths to victory.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown leads Republican challenger Josh Mandel by 5 points in aggregate polling. CityBeat covered the policy and campaign differences between the two candidates in coverage of the first, second and third debate and a cover story.

Gov. John Kasich has taken a noticeable shift to the center and considered less divisive ideas in recent months, and some of that might be to help Romney’s electoral chances in Ohio. In the past two years, Kasich went from supporting SB 5, which would have limited collective bargaining for public employees, to focusing almost entirely on jobs.

While we focus on voting on Earth, astronauts in space also vote.

Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, laid out his budget plan yesterday. Hartmann touted “austerity” as a prominent theme in the budget. Austerity measures actually led Europe into a second recession, according to prominent economist Robert Reich. This matches the opinion of other economists, such as Nobel-winning Paul Krugman, who argue governments should try to make up for shortfalls in the private sector through increased spending during recessions. Recently, the International Monetary Fund admitted it underestimated the bad economic impact of austerity measures. Still, Hamilton County is required to balance its budget, so the commissioners don’t have many options. Todd Portune, the lone Democratic commissioner, says he will unveil his plan later.

The new Jungle Jim’s at Eastgate is having a large, positive impact on its neighbors. The exotic grocery store has apparently brought a lot of new paying customers to the area.

Cincinnati’s Oakley neighborhood might soon put its traffic problems in the past. City Council is expected to vote on a plan Wednesday that would block three streets in the neighborhood. Residents have complained traffic is out of control because of development at the Rookwood Exchange in Norwood, and traffic could get worse due to the holiday shopping season.

Workers injured during the construction of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino are looking for a way around workers comp rules. The exemption-seeking lawsuit filed by four workers against 13 defendants is typical in Ohio law, which generally prevents workers from suing employers over workplace injuries since Ohio’s compensation rules provide ways to obtain missing wages and other potential damages.

Time Warner Cable is hiring for more than 50 positions in Cincinnati.

A new partnership between the Memorial Hall Society, 3CDC and Hamilton County’s commissioners may revitalize Hamilton County’s Memorial Hall. The hall is one of Hamilton County’s architectural treasures, but a lack of renovations has left it behind modern developments, including air conditioning.

Some of Ohio’s exotic animal owners are not happy with a new law that requires registering and micro-chipping exotic animals, so they are suing the state.

A Cleveland woman that drove on a sidewalk to avoid a school bus that was unloading children will have to wear a sign that says, “Only an idiot drives on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.” She will have to wear the sign at an intersection for one hour a day for two days next week.

An Ohio woman broke into a family’s house, cleaned the house and left a $75 bill.

On Sunday, an amputee climbed 103 stories using a mind-controlled bionic leg. Oh, science.

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<![CDATA[County Commission President Lays Out Budget Plan]]>

The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.

Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said. 

He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.

Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000  or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.

Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.

Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.

Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.

Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.

“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.

The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.

He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.

“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.” 

Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.

Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.

“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”

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

Today is the last day to register to vote, and in-person early voting is underway. Register to vote and vote at your nearest board of election, which can be located here.

Hamilton County commissioners agree on not raising the sales tax. That effectively rules out two of three plans laid out by the county administrator. The one plan left would not cut public safety, but it would make cuts to the courts, criminal justice system, administrative departments, commissioner departments and the board of elections.

It seems other news outlets are now scrutinizing online schools. A Reuters report pointed out state officials — including some in Ohio — are not happy with results from e-schools. Even Barbara Dreyer, CEO of the e-school company Connections Academy, told Reuters she’s disappointed with performance at e-schools. A CityBeat look into e-schools in August found similarly disappointing results. 

Ohio Democrats are asking federal and state officials for an investigation into Murray Energy, the Ohio-based coal company that has been accused of coercing employees into contributing to Republican political campaigns. In the statement calling for action, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said, “Thanks to this report, now we know why coal workers and miners have lent themselves to the rallies, ads, and political contributions. They’ve been afraid.”

Councilman Chris Seelbach is following up on information obtained during public safety meetings. The most consistent concerns Seelbach heard were worries about loitering and young people breaking curfew.

The state auditor says the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) could save $430,000 a year if it moved its student information database in-house. Current law prohibits ODE from having access to the data for privacy reasons, but State Auditor Dave Yost says it’s unnecessary and “wastes time and money.”

It seems Duke Energy is quickly integrating into its recent merger with Progress Energy. The company's information technology, nuclear and energy-supply departments are fully staffed and functional.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is renovating and restoring the Art Academy on the building’s west side.

It might not feel like it sometimes, but parking in Cincinnati is still pretty cheap.

Scientific research is increasingly pointing to lead as an explanation for people’s crazy grandparents. Research indicates even small programs cleaning up lead contamination can have massive economic and education returns.

Kings Island is selling off pieces of the Son of Beast. The troubled roller coaster was torn down after years of being shut down.

The “Jeopardy!” Ohio Online Test is today. If you’re ever on the show, give a shout-out to CityBeat.

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<![CDATA[Mallory to Hartmann: We are Collaborating]]>

Mayor Mark Mallory was not happy with Hamilton County Commission President Greg Hartmann’s Tuesday letter criticizing him for failing to follow through with a city-county shared services plan. Mallory fired back today in his own letter, criticizing Hartmann for going to the media first and explaining why he no longer supports the City County Shared Services Committee.

“We have had a strong working relationship since you have become Commission President,” Mallory wrote. “So, I was surprised and disappointed that you sent the letter to the media instead of sharing your concerns with me directly; after all, you have my cell phone number.”

Mallory went on to point out that Hartmann is the fourth commission president he has worked with, and the previous three “never would have handled City/County relations in such a confrontational manner.”

The mayor also clarified why he no longer supports the City County Shared Services Committee, which was meant to consolidate county and city services to end redundancies and improve efficiency and competitiveness.

“As the scope of the proposed committee’s work was developed, it became clear to me that not only were we already collaborating at a high level, but that several new collaborations proposed by the City had met resistance from the County,” Mallory wrote. “I began to question the need for a committee to conduct a $400,000 study of future collaboration if there were already potential new collaborations sitting on the shelf.”

Mallory also said he “will never give away the ability of the citizens of Cincinnati to control crucial City functions.” He cited the examples of prosecutors and health clinics, which Mallory implied could have been given off to the county if the committee pushed through its recommendations.  

The mayor also pointed out that even if the city and county approved the committee and its recommendations, Hamilton County would still have serious budget problems: “You and I both know that the recommendations of the Shared Services Committee would never have resulted in close to enough savings to close the County’s budget deficit, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.” In other words, stop shifting the blame.

The rest of Mallory’s letter went on to point out Cincinnati and Hamilton County collaborate on a regular basis to “improve services, create efficiencies, and save money.” The mayor pointed to many programs for examples of the city and county working together: the Banks development, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Metropolitan Sewer District, emergency operations, the Port Authority, a $1.9 million city-county contract that has the county manage Cincinnati’s Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program Consortium. 

Mallory also claimed there have been cases in which the county declined to collaborate with the city, citing the Indigent Care Levy. The county’s consultant recommended Hamilton County give some of that levy to provide county residents access to primary care at the City Health Center System, but the county declined the potential partnership.

Mallory then said he was willing to work on collaboration with purchasing, fire hydrant maintenance and economic development — three areas Hartmann cited in his own letter to Mallory.

The letter finished with a call to end the politics of the back-and-forth: “I feel very strongly that it is time to take the politics out and leave the matter to the public sector professionals. The City Manager is ready to meet with the County Administrator to discuss any proposed partnership that would improve the lives of our citizens by improving service, increasing efficiency, or saving money.”

In his letter, Hartmann criticized Mallory for not keeping his promise to back the city-county committee, citing a previous letter from Mallory to the Ohio Department of Development that promised $100,000 for the new committee.

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

The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners yesterday voted to keep senior and mental health levies flat. As a result, senior and mental health services will lose funding. Commissioner Todd Portune, the Board’s sole Democrat, offered an alternative measure that would have raised funding to levels providers requested, before voting with the two Republicans. Portune’s measure would have increased property taxes by $5 for every $100,000 of property worth.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a new report detailing human trafficking in Ohio. The report found one-third of trafficking victims got involved in trafficking as minors. In all of Ohio, law enforcement officials topped the list of buyers for human trafficking. In Cincinnati, the most common buyers were drug dealers, factory workers and truckers. Forty percent of trafficking victims in Cincinnati reported being raped.

At the commissioners meeting Wednesday, a Jehova’s Witnesses group clashed with Harrison Township over land. The religious group wants to build a hall that they say will attract Jehova’s Witnesses to the area and bring in tax revenue, but Harrison Township is worried the building will cause too much disruption. The board will reach a decision in a few weeks, Commissioner Greg Hartmann said.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius praised Cincinnati Children’s accomplishments during a visit to a local medical center Wednesday. She also said the medical progress in Cincinnati “can now be mirrored across the country.”

The Ohio State Bar Association has declared opposition to the Voters First redistricting amendment. The association says it has “deep concerns” over getting the judicial system involved in the redrawing process.

Local political group COAST has been misinforming its followers about the Blue Ash Airport deal. The misinformation continues COAST’s campaign to stop anything streetcar-related.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is among the top choices for presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s vice presidential list, but a new analysis from the New York Times shows Portman might not benefit Romney much. Apparently, Ohio voters either don’t know Portman well enough or feel completely apathetic about him.

Ohio’s mortgage delinquency rates are falling. The rate fell from 4.73 percent to 4.54 percent. However, the average mortgage debt for individual borrowers went up in the second largest jump in the country. The average Ohio mortgage debt holder now owes $131,701, up from $126,503.

The number of swine flu cases in Butler County is still going up.

Ohio school levies apparently struggled in the special Aug. 7 election.

The U.S. trade deficit is at its lowest in 18 months.

Apparently, the Olympic Village is a giant orgy.

A new study is linking eyes to sexual orientation. ]]>
<![CDATA[Jehovah's Witnesses, Harrison Twp. Duke It Out Before County]]> The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners heard both sides Wednesday in an appeal that pits the Jehovah’s Witnesses against Harrison Township.

The dispute stems from a plot of land that, through some legal wrangling and a Joint Economic Development Agreement, Harrison Township officials say can only be used for industrial purposes that create jobs.

The Southwest Ohio Assembly Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses wants to build a massive assembly hall that they say would be a draw to the 28,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the region and create jobs in surrounding service sector businesses. 

The Hamilton County Rural Zoning Commission denied permission to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing fear over the impact to local businesses and traffic, causing the religious group to appeal the decision to the Board of County Commissioners.

Board President Greg Hartmann said commissioners would set a date in the coming weeks to arrive at a decision. 

Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes lawyer Chris Finney represented the Witnesses before the board. 

Finney argued that the Zoning Commission was wrong to deny permission to build the assembly hall. He pointed to the positive economic impact such halls have had in other states and brought witnesses to testify about the potential impact it could have on Cincinnati.

According to a slide show presented before the board, the hall could result in $1.19 million in annual tax revenue and create 421 jobs in the service industry surrounding the site.

Being a religious institution, the hall would be tax-exempt and would be staffed by volunteers.

Harrison Township officials argued that the area was created under a special agreement that requires industrial use and that any businesses located there create jobs and enhance economic development. 

Mayor Joel McGuire said the township had offered up other locations for the assembly hall, but the Witnesses were fixated on the one.

“That’s why we’re in the all-or-nothing situation we’re in because they insist on this particular spot as opposed to the many other locations where there’d be no problems at all,” McGuire said.

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<![CDATA[Commissioners Vote to Keep Senior, Mental Health Levies Flat]]>

Faced with the choice of raising property taxes or funding senior and mental health services at their current levels, the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners voted on Wednesday to approve a ballot measure that would effectively cut tens of millions of dollars from those services if passed by voters.

“It seems wrongheaded for us to ask citizens to pay more in taxes when their homes are worth less, when costs have gone up in their households and when in many cases their paychecks are down,” said Board President Greg Hartmann. “So we need to hold the line on those property taxes.”

The tax rate would be held at the levels passed by voters in 2008, which would be an effective reduction due to declining property values. If Hamilton County voters approve the levies in November, senior services would see a $7 million reduction in funding over the next five years — down to $97 million from $104 million — while funding for mental health services would fall $17 million from $187 million to $170 million, Hartmann said.

The money funds services such as meals on wheels, in-home care for seniors, counseling and drug and alcohol addiction and treatment services.

The board’s sole Democrat — Commissioner Todd Portune — made the symbolic gesture of submitting an alternate proposal which would have funded services at the levels providers had requested, but it failed without support from either of the board’s two Republican members.

Portune’s resolution would have increased property taxes by $5 for every $100,000 the property was worth. He said voters should be given the option to shoulder the additional tax burden. He later voted in favor of Hartmann’s resolution, saying the worst thing that could happen would be for voters to approve no levy.

Commissioners also approved a resolution to formally review all healthcare services provided by the county in hopes of saving money by eliminating any that were duplicated at the federal level under the healthcare overhaul.

Hartmann said he didn’t come to the decision to keep the levies at the current rate lightly and pledged to work with the recipients to manage the reduction.

Many of those providers appeared at three public hearings held in the last month and with near unanimity asked commissioners to approve the increased rates — which would have kept funding even by countering the money lost from decreased property values.

Patrick Tribbe, president and CEO of the Hamilton County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, didn’t outline specific cuts the agency would undertake, but told reporters after the commissioners’ vote that he would spend the next six months planning for the start of the next fiscal year, when the cuts would take effect.

The Tax Levy Review Committee had recommended that the property tax rate remain flat instead of increasing. It suggested that service providers reduce their administrative costs and find areas to increase efficiency. 

Many of the providers who spoke at the public hearings said they had already cut administrative costs about as deeply as they could and had very little room for to cut further.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]> Hamilton County commissioners will vote on levies today. If commissioners do not increase the money levies generate, mental health services could be severely cut in Hamilton County. On Aug. 1, Thomas Gableman, Mental Health and Recovery Services Board Chairman, told the commissioners, “I cannot tell you we can do more with less. We cannot do the same with less. We will do less with less.”

Republicans, including local state representative candidate Mike Wilson, have been pushing false information regarding a lawsuit filed by President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party to restore early voting. After releasing a misleading press release, Wilson clarified his position to CityBeat. Politifact rated Mitt Romney’s accusations “False.”

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is calling for new regulations on internet cafes. Internet cafes have been taking advantage of legal loopholes to hold contests, according to a press release from DeWine’s offices.

Ohio could finish the 2013 fiscal year with a $408 million surplus. The surplus could give more ground to Gov. John Kasich’s call for an income tax cut.

The swine flu outbreak in Ohio is being watched carefully by CDC officials. The CDC is worried the virus could mutate, making it deadlier or more contagious.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has a big announcement about elections tomorrow.

One reason for high health-care costs may be the fee-for-service model. The model encourages doctors to provide as many medical procedures as possible, even when they might not be necessary.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra saw attendance and subscriptions rise in the 2011-2012 season.

There are super PACs for everything. Even time travel.

The public may be excited about NASA’s current mission, but future missions could be in jeopardy due to funding reductions.

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