by German Lopez
City has until Dec. 19 to make decision on project
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will allow Cincinnati to keep $44.9 million in federal grants for the $132.8 million streetcar project until midnight on Dec. 19 while the city reviews the costs of canceling or completing the project, Mayor John Cranley announced on Facebook on Friday.The FTA's decision gives the city two weeks to assemble a team and conduct its audit, which a slim majority of City Council agreed to do on Wednesday when it put the streetcar project on pause.Without the federal grants, the streetcar project would have lost one-third of its funding and presumably died, even if a majority of City Council decided it wants to continue with the project.The city is currently working to hire KPMG, an audit, tax
and advisory firm, for the audit, according to Jay Kincaid, Cranley's
chief of staff.Council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn in particular asked for the review before they make a final decision on the streetcar.Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick previously warned the costs of completely canceling the streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion
after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through
November, $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million
in federal grants.Mann and Flynn were among a majority of council members who voiced distrust toward Deatrick's estimates, hence the need for an independent review.But the review might not matter if Cranley decides to veto any ordinance continuing the streetcar project, which Kincaid said Cranley would do if he deems the project too costly following the audit. A mayoral veto would require both Flynn and Mann to help provide a supermajority — six of nine council votes — to save the streetcar. That could prove a considerably higher hurdle than a simple majority of five council members.Update: Added who the city plans to hire for the audit.
by German Lopez
Streetcar pause looms, feds freeze funds, foundation threatens contributions to city
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project
on Wednesday after moving forward yesterday with 11 ordinances that
aren’t susceptible to referendum. The bills allocate $1.25 million to
stop contracts tied to the project and hire expert consultants to study
what it would cost to continue or suspend the project — information a majority
of council plans to use to gauge whether the project should continue
after the pause. Streetcar supporters planned to hold some sort of
referendum on the pause ordinances, but Cranley, who previously spoke in
favor of the “people’s sacred right of referendum,” now says that the
city shouldn’t be required to continue spending on the project until
voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required
under a traditional referendum.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration yesterday announced it froze $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar
until Cincinnati agrees to move ahead with the project. The decision shows
Cranley and other opponents of the project were in the wrong when they
claimed they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the grant
money to other projects. But the decision should also come as little
surprise to the new mayor and council, considering federal officials
warned of the consequences of canceling the streetcar project on three
separate occasions in the past six months.
The Haile U.S. Bank Foundation also joined the fray
yesterday with an email to city officials plainly stating that the
streetcar project’s cancellation “will definitely cause us to pause and
reconsider whether the City can be a trusted partner” and endanger
contributions to the carousel in Smale Riverfront Park, the shared-use
kitchen at Findlay Market and the renovations of the Globe Building and
Music Hall. The email also offered to pay for a study that would
evaluate the costs of the streetcar project going forward. But Cranley
brushed off the letter as a threat and argued the Haile U.S. Bank
Foundation “can’t be a passive-aggressive dictator of legislative
Although his nomination to the city manager spot was initially met with praise, some are beginning to raise questions
about Willie Carden’s refusal to live in Cincinnati and his history,
including an ethics probe that found he was wrongfully taking pay from
both the city and private Parks Foundation. Councilman Chris Seelbach
said he’s also worried about the process for Cranley’s pick, which
didn’t involve a national search and never put any other candidates in
front of council.Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have asked state officials to investigate Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for improperly voting.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati plans to introduce
on Wednesday a new version of his overhaul of the state’s renewable
energy and efficiency requirements. The new version will dampen a plan
that would have allowed Canadian hydroelectric power facilities to
satisfy Ohio’s renewable energy requirements, but it will also allow
decades-old hydro plants along the Ohio River to fulfill the
requirement. Seitz and other supporters of the overhaul argue it’s
necessary to make the requirements friendlier to businesses and
consumers. But opponents of the bill, including businesses and
environmentalists, argue it would effectively ruin Ohio’s energy
requirements and, according to a study from the Ohio State University
and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, cost Ohioans $3.65
billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered the proposal in greater detail here.
Ohio schools can now tap into a $12 million program
to make their facilities safer through various new measures, including a
radio system directly connected to emergency responders, cameras and
intercoms. “Naturally, after Sandy Hook, I think we were all just
extremely upset about that, and you want to be able to do something,”
Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning told StateImpact Ohio.
A report found staff weren’t at fault for the high-profile prison suicides of Billy Slagle, whose case CityBeat covered in further detail here, and Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade.
Popular Science argues Amazon’s plan for delivery drones isn’t realistic.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Clarification necessary as mayor-elect discusses canceling project
Although it has already been explicitly stated in two
letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration
(FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the
$132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be
transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money
to any project in Ohio.
The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John
Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into
pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he
will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even
though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not
going to happen.Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal
technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government
would react to such circumstances.
According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would
break the city’s agreement with the federal government and
lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds,
ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the
Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.
“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”
But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that
the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were
canceled.President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.