0 Comments · Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The recent Hamilton County Commissioners’
quarter-cent sales tax dust-up that booted Music Hall from the original
package deal is a perfect storm of class, political finger-pointing and
by Nick Swartsell
55 days ago
County Commissioners leave 136-year-old landmark out of renovation funding plan
Hamilton County Commissioners voted today to axe Music Hall from a proposed sales tax increase designed to pay for renovations to that structure and Union Terminal. Now, only Union Terminal will benefit from the potential tax hike, which county voters will decide on in November. Voters won't get a chance to decide whether a similar hike will pay for Music Hall. Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council are not happy about the change-up.“As mayor of this city, I’m deeply offended when we’re treated as second-class citizens in our own county,” Cranley said during a vote approving the city’s contribution to renovations at today’s council meeting. “We have done our part. We will pay the tax if it is passed. In no other jurisdiction, not even Hamilton County, is being asked to cut its budget … for these institutions.” Cranley said asking city taxpayers for more money represents a kind of double taxation, since they would also be paying the county sales tax increase. Ostensibly, council was voting to approve annual payments toward upkeep of both Union Terminal and Music Hall for 25 years. The $200,000 yearly commitment to each building adds up to $10 million. Cranley floated the plan last week as a demonstration of the city’s commitment to the landmark buildings. Council approved that money unanimously, but that vote is mostly symbolic now that the fragile plan to fund both renovations with a tax hike, first proposed by a cadre of area business leaders called the Cultural Facilities Task Force, has fallen through. Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel said the proposed contributions, which the city already makes, don’t represent a renewed effort to fix the buildings. The city has also pledged another $10 million toward Music Hall repairs. Those contributions weren’t enough for Hartmann, who had been the swing vote on the three-member commission. He signaled he would not vote for the original 14-year, .25 percent sales tax increase designed to raise much of the $331 million needed to repair the buildings. Instead, he voted with fellow Republican Monzel today for an alternate tax measure that left Music Hall out of the deal, raising $170 million over five years for renovations to Union Terminal only. Democrat Todd Portune, who supported the original plan, voted against the new deal.Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald, who led the task force designing the original deal, said the new plan jeopardizes more than $40 million in private donations, as well as historic preservation tax credits. "The idea that somehow there’s going to be more money falling from space
or that this money will be put forward for an alternate plan is a
fallacious assumption," McDonald told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "That money has been committed to us personally
for this plan.”Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called the development “frustrating.”“I’m not here to add gasoline to the fire, but I think logic is a fair expectation of our elected leaders, and after people have said repeatedly that plans haven’t been vetted, that questions haven’t been answered, they’ve now moved forward with something that has no vetting,” Sittenfeld said, referring to criticisms of the original plan by anti-tax groups like COAST. “I hope people don’t forget what happened eight blocks from City Hall anytime soon.” Monzel said that the plan's details would
be worked out in the coming weeks, and that he wants to keep the county
from overextending itself. “If we limit the scope and focus on the one building that we do have a
history with and limit it to five years, we limit our exposure and can
be able to handle some of these other issues down the road,” he said. Council members said that the city has stepped up to take care of the buildings in the past. “Going back through the real-estate records, it’s clear that time and time again the city has stepped forward,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He highlighted the city’s rescue of Union Terminal from a failed plan to turn it into a mall in the 1980s. The city bought the building from a developer after the plan crashed and burned. Flynn also said the city has made significant contributions to 136-year-old Music Hall's upkeep since the 1800s.
by German Lopez
Officials push to keep early voting downtown, Portune flounders, Ohio joblessness rate falls
Mayor John Cranley yesterday offered free space to the
Hamilton County Board of Elections at the city-owned Shillito’s building
to keep the board’s offices and early voting downtown. The idea comes
in the middle of a debate between Democrats and Republicans on the
Board of Elections over whether they should move their offices — and early
voting — to a Mount Airy facility, where only one bus line runs, to
consolidate county services and avoid the cost
of rent. Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said there
won’t be enough occupancy at the Mount Airy location if the Board of
Elections decides not to move there. For the county, a certain amount of
occupancy must be filled at Mount Airy to financially justify the move
and the renovations it would require. Without the move, the county will
need to find another location or means to build a new county crime lab.Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune yesterday
refused to announce whether he will actually run against gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, even though he told The Cincinnati Enquirer
the day before that he already made a decision. At this point,
Portune’s lack of organization and name recognition means his chances of beating FitzGerald are slim to none.Ohio’s December unemployment rate dropped to 7.2
percent from 7.4 percent the month before. The amount of employed
and unemployed both increased compared to the previous year. The
state of the economy could decide this year’s statewide elections, even if state
officials aren’t to credit or blame for economic conditions, as CityBeat covered here.It is perfectly legal to forgive back taxes in Hamilton
County. Supporters argue the practice removes a tax burden that likely
wasn’t going to get paid anyway, but opponents worry it could be misused and take away
revenue from schools and other public services that rely on property
taxes.A Hamilton County court ruled against the legality of automated traffic cameras in Elmwood Place. Officials plan to appeal the ruling.More than 10,000 Ohioans lost food stamps this month after
Gov. John Kasich declined to request a federal waiver for work requirements.
Hamilton County officials estimate Kasich’s decision could affect 18,000
food stamp recipients across the county.A new Ohio House bill delays the transition from the Ohio
Graduation Test to new end-of-course exams. The delay aims to provide
more time to vet the tests and allow schools to better prepare for the
changes.Local home sales improved by nearly 21 percent during 2013, according to the Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors.The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
reported 3 percent more passengers and 9 percent more cargo traffic in
2013.Ohioans spent 5.8 percent more on liquor in 2013 compared
to the year before, reaching a new record in yearly purchases of liquor
across the state.The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards return this Sunday.Telling people they slept better than they did improves their performance on math and word association tests.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Board of Elections considering move to Mount Airy facility
Mayor John Cranley on Thursday offered the Hamilton County Board of Elections free space at the city-owned Shillito’s building to keep their offices and early voting
The offer comes in the middle of a contentious debate
between Democrats and Republicans on the Board of Elections over whether
the county should move the board to a former hospital at Mount Airy,
where only one bus line runs.The Board of Elections currently rents its offices from a private landlord. Moving to the Mount Airy facility would place the board on county-owned property and allow the county to avoid paying rent.
Along with the Board of Elections move, the county wants
to establish a new crime lab at the Mount Airy location. Consolidating
the crime lab and Board of Elections at the Mount Airy facility would
provide the critical mass necessary to financially justify the move and
the renovations it would require, according to county officials.
To solve the critical mass issue if the board moves to the
former Shillito’s building instead, Cranley, a Democrat, said he’s willing to look into
moving some city police services, including SWAT operations, to the
Mount Airy facility.But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, told CityBeat the offer probably won’t satisfy the county’s needs.
“Without the Board of Elections coming with the crime lab, that’s not enough occupancy,” he said. “There would be some good potential co-location opportunities with the city (at the Mount Airy facility), but not enough to take up 400,000 square feet.”Hartmann said it’s now up to the Board of Elections to accept or reject the Mount Airy facility. If the board declines to move to Mount Airy, Hartmann explained the county would likely drop the Mount Airy plan and the county coroner would go without a new crime lab.
For the city, Cranley’s offer raises questions about what other potential uses exist for the Shillito’s building, given the high property demand downtown. But Cranley said there’s
currently no credible attempt at marketing the facility for other uses.
“The building is vacant, and we spend over $100,000 a year
just to maintain a vacant building,” Cranley said. “I believe that
getting someone in there that takes a significant amount of space is
going to open up the rest of the building, which would be over 200,000
square feet, to make it more marketable. I think long-term it would be
better for the city financially.”
He added, “In the short-term I think there are some things
more important than money. And I think the symbolism of keeping the
Board of Elections and voting downtown is just worth it.”City Council appears to agree with the mayor. Shortly after Cranley announced his offer, council passed a symbolic resolution opposing the Mount Airy move.
From an electoral perspective, part of the issue is which
voting location would favor Democrats or Republicans. Democrats tend to
dominate in urban areas like downtown, while Republicans could benefit
from a facility in Mount Airy that’s closer to suburban voters.
State Rep. Alicia Reece, who joined Cranley for the
announcement, tried to defuse concerns that she, Cranley and other Democrats are
trying to keep voting downtown for electoral gains.
“The reality is the Board of Elections at its current
location has declared both Democrat and Republican winners of
elections,” Reece said. “I think the focus is to just make sure that we
have a facility that everyone can have access to, whether you’re driving
or whether you’re on the bus.”
Metro celebrates 40 years, looks ahead to new possibilities
1 Comment · Wednesday, August 21, 2013
As it commemorates its 40th anniversary,
Greater Cincinnati’s bus service is making changes it hopes will improve
a system that has dealt with funding shortfalls and service cuts in the
past few years.
by German Lopez
Another anti-abortion amendment, Kasich prevents JobsOhio audit, streetcar funds remain
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.The Ohio Senate proposed a budget amendment
yesterday that would ban abortion providers from transferring
patients to public hospitals. The rule continues a series of
conservative pushes on social issues in the ongoing budget process that began in the Ohio House. The
Ohio House budget bill effectively defunded Planned Parenthood and funded anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, while the Ohio Senate accepted those measures and added another rule that potentially allows the health director to shut down abortion clinics.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill
that will prevent a full public audit of JobsOhio, the private
nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators to
replace the Ohio Department of Development. The bill defines liquor
profits, which were public funds before JobsOhio, and private funds in a
way that bars the state auditor from looking into any funding sources
that aren’t owed to the state. Last week, Democratic gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Kasich to veto the bill,
claiming, “The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill,
which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable.”
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) says the $4 million going to the streetcar is a done deal.
Republican county commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann tried to
get OKI to pull the funds, but there now seems to be a general
consensus that the money is contractually tied to the Southwest Ohio
Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and, therefore, the streetcar
project. City Council is likely to consider a plan to plug the streetcar project’s budget gap later this month.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is handing out marijuana plants
at a campaign event today, even though the event may run foul of state
law. Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally
considered the top contenders in this year’s mayoral race, but Berns
has differentiated himself by putting marijuana legalization in his
platform. While drug prohibition policies are generally dictated at
state and federal levels, cities can decriminalize or legalize certain
drugs and force police departments to give prohibition enforcement lower priority.
Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is retiring July 1
following controversial remarks about “those damn Catholics,” the
University of Notre Dame and others. Gee, a Mormon, says he has regrets,
but the gaffes didn’t compel him to retire. In a statement, OSU
credited Gee with helping the school build an academic profile of a
“highly selective, top-tier public research institution.”
Local officials cut the ribbon yesterday for the Roebling Bridge, the latest piece of infrastructure to debut at The Banks.
Fort Hamilton Hospital has a new president.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has loaned more than any other big bank in the country, according to a new study.
How do mosquitoes survive storms? Popular Science has the answer.
Researchers unveiled a drone that can be controlled by thoughts. Next stop: the Iron Man suit.
As city and county clash on “responsible bidder” law, $3.2 billion sewer project looms
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Cincinnati's biggest sewer project in history is being threatened by a city-county conflict over how contracts should be awarded and whether job training is part of the government's role.
by German Lopez
Agreement will provide renovations
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners unanimously
approved a 40-year agreement with the Cincinnati Center City Development
Corporation (3CDC) that will lease the county-owned Memorial Hall and provide renovations
to the 105-year-old building.
County officials have long said the building, which is
used to host concerts, shows and speaking events, is in dire need of
upgrades, particularly overhauls to its roof, windows, facade work,
floors, air conditioning and bathrooms — all of which will now be
financed by 3CDC with the help of tax credits.
“The public-private partnership between 3CDC and Hamilton
County will result in the preservation of historic Memorial Hall without
the use of taxpayer dollars for the improvements,” Commissioner Greg
Hartmann, a Republican, said in a statement. “3CDC has an impressive
track record with development projects in downtown Cincinnati and will
be a great partner to manage this project.”
The partnership will also relinquish the county
government’s operational funding for insurance and utilities for
Memorial Hall, which cost the county about $200,000 annually.
In a statement, Hartmann’s office said the partnership
with 3CDC “extends only to the renovations at Memorial Hall,” and the
county will retain ownership and the final say over any increased
The city of Cincinnati has repeatedly partnered with 3CDC, a nonprofit company, for projects at Fountain Square, Washington Park, the
Vine Street streetscape project and ongoing developments throughout
by Andy Brownfield
Two-to-one vote cuts rollback in half for two years to make up stadium fund deficit
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
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
“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.
by Andy Brownfield
Mayor Mallory to join Qualls in official campaign kickoff
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.