0 Comments · Thursday, December 26, 2013
Why 2013 was a lot of the same bullshit.
by German Lopez
Mayor and council sworn in, streetcar supporters rally, streetcar builder warns mayor
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in
yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his
appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing
legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without
controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for
the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a
Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of
the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris
Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both
supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley
for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.
Among the new city government’s first priorities is
canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of
the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar
supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park
and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity.
They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel
the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding
measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go
into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November
Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter
to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs
if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the
sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull
back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur
further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that
canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and
subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such
lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays
for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a
capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar,
according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release
from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter
confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is
important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for
Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five
necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also
raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes
in the past few years.
Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months,
according to an index from the Federal Reserve of
Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’
A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using
the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid
expansion to boost the local government fund,
but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate
intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of
the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.
More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.
The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.
Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Letter comes on eve of council vote on streetcar project
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in."CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.The letter was first posted on the Cincinnati Streetcar Facebook page. Its validity was confirmed in an email to CityBeat from former Mallory staffer Jason Barron.On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk
costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in
close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that
would be lost if the project were terminated.Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.Read the full letter below:Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 05:12 PM | Permalink
Federal Transit Administration letter confirms previous warnings
Cincinnati could lose up to $45 million in federal funds
if it cancels the $133 million streetcar project, according to a new
letter from the Federal Transit Administration released on Thursday by
Mayor Mark Mallory.
The letter confirms much of what was stated in a previous
June 19 letter to Mallory, and it presumably acts as a warning to
Mayor-elect John Cranley, who intends to permanently cancel ongoing
construction on the streetcar project once he takes office in December.Cranley previously said he could lobby the federal government to re-appropriate the money to other projects, but the FTA letter unequivocally states the money is only for the streetcar project.
“FTA’s oversight contractor for the Project informs me
that the City’s expenditures plus committed costs on the Project as of
this date exceed $116 million, which is approximately 88 percent of the
total project cost,” wrote FTA administrator Peter Rogoff. “These commitments include many
construction activities that cannot be easily reversed — the City has
relocated utilities, embedded rail in City streets, and purchased
streetcars. Should the City choose to prematurely terminate the Project,
all cost associated with closing down the project, including any claims
from the contractors, will not be eligible for any federal
The letter confirms that, as CityBeat originally reported, canceling the streetcar project carries its own costs.
Should the city cancel the project, it would first need to
return nearly $41 million in federal grant money. The remaining
$4 million in federal funds would fall under the discretion of Gov. John
Kasich, who could shift the money to other parts of Ohio.
City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat
the city already spent $2 million of the federal funds. Olberding said the $2 million in repayments would need to come out of the operating budget
that pays for cops, firefighters and human services instead of the
capital budget that’s currently financing the streetcar project. Since
the operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, adding
millions in costs could force the city to cut additional services or
Upon cancellation, the city would also need to pay back
some of the $94 million in standing contractual obligations for the
streetcar project. In many cases, the obligations reflect supply orders
and other expenses contractors and subcontractors already took on but
haven’t officially billed to the city. If the project were canceled, city
officials say the already-spent money would need to be paid back, along
with extra costs to close the project — to repave torn-up streets, for
Project executive John Deatrick previously told CityBeat
that paying back the contractual obligations could involve litigation,
which would also be paid for through the operating budget, as the city
tries to minimize cancellation costs and private contractors try to
recoup as much as they can from the project.
All of that is on top of the $23 million that’s already
been billed to the project as of September, which should grow by $1.5 million each month as contractual obligations are turned into official
bills, according to Deatrick.
The final decision on the streetcar project rests on City Council. Cranley told The Cincinnati Enquirer
on Thursday that he’ll pursue a 30-to-90-day time-out on the project as
the city conducts a full accounting of cancellation costs, completion
costs and the potential return on investment of the project, following
requests from Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and incoming council members
David Mann and Kevin Flynn — three crucial swing votes in the newly
elected council of nine — for more information before placing a final vote on the project.
The talk of cancellation already spurred some Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses to launch a campaign to save the streetcar.
Cranley insists it’s too expensive and the wrong priority for the city,
but supporters tout independent studies and their own experiences to
argue it would spur economic development. The pro-streetcar group will
meet on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St.
#1100, downtown Cincinnati.The full letter:
City Hall continues underfunding human services despite historical goals and pressing needs
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Since 2004, the city has failed to meet its own goals for human services funding, leaving some agencies behind.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:44 AM | Permalink
Previous study linked high savings to economic mobility
Mayor Mark Mallory announced on Thursday that the Bank On
Greater Cincinnati initiative during its first two years reached 1,700
residents previously without a bank account, which could help boost
their economic mobility. The residents kept an average of $701 in their
The initiative connects local residents with traditional
financial services so they’re less reliant on check cashing and payday
lending businesses. The average user of payday lending services spends
$900 a year in fees, according to the mayor’s office.
Of course, the initiative benefits banks as well by
connecting them to more potential customers who otherwise might forgo
traditional banking services.
Bank On Greater Cincinnati is a partnership between
Cincinnati, Covington, Newport, SmartMoney, the Cincinnati branch of the
Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and 13 participating banks.
SmartMoney now manages Bank On in conjunction with Greater
Cincinnati Saves, which encourages individuals to make a pledge to grow
their savings. In the seven months that both initiatives worked
together, 490 people took the pledge, a 220-percent increase over
previous years, according to the mayor’s office.
“We are helping move people into the financial mainstream
so they can begin to save and build assets,” Mallory said in a
statement. “I want to thank all of our partners that help make this
initiative so successful. Bank On will continue to help families
establish bank accounts and receive strong financial education to help
them manage their money.”
A November 2009 study from the Economic Mobility Project found
a connection between savings and economic mobility. According to the
study, high personal savings can greatly benefit both an individual
during his or her lifetime or the individual’s children.
“Seventy-one percent of children born to high-saving,
low-income parents move up from the bottom income quartile over a
generation, compared to only 50 percent of children of low-saving,
low-income parents,” the study found.
The improvement could add up for Cincinnati, which is
still mired in troubling economic indicators despite some economic
progress in the past few years. More than half of the city’s children lived in poverty
in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another study released in
July by economists at Harvard University and University of California,
Berkeley, found Cincinnati ranked 650 among 728 markets analyzed for
upward economic mobility.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Museum
at 08:57 AM | Permalink
Mallory touts city's turnaround, museum could get off taxes, county gets break on legal bill
During his final state of the city address yesterday, Mayor Mark Mallory touted Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, which began during his eight years as mayor. He also fought back
against the neighborhoods-versus-downtown rhetoric that has permeated on
the campaign trail in the past year; he pointed out that throughout his past
two terms the city government both invested $529 million in
neighborhoods and oversaw the revitalization of downtown and
Over-the-Rhine. Looking to the future, Mallory said the city should use
its federally mandated overhaul of the sewer system as an opportunity to
bring in private investment that could revitalize the West Side and
help build a bridge from the West Side to Kentucky, near the airport.
A new report found the Museum Center could wean itself off taxes,
but the report says it should first more than triple its endowment and,
perhaps by applying for historic tax credits, rebuild its crumbling
Union Terminal home. The report comes at the request of county
commissioners, who are discussing whether they should allow a property tax levy
on the May ballot to help the museum. It finds that if Union
Terminal is repaired and restored, the museum could afford to operate
without taxpayer help.
If county commissioners agree to make the payment today, Hamilton County could get a 4-percent break
on its $920,501 legal bill to Democratic Juvenile Court Judge Tracie
Hunter and her legal team. The Hamilton County Board of Elections racked
up the bill for the county after the board decided to contest Hunter’s
legal challenge to count more than one-third of previously discarded
provisional ballots, which were enough to turn the juvenile court
election in Hunter’s favor. Hunter’s opponent at the time, Republican
John Williams, eventually won a seat on the juvenile court through a
City Council candidates have raised $2 million in the ongoing election cycle.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted says that his office, with the help of county boards of election, has virtually eliminated duplicate voters from the rolls.
Traffic deaths in Ohio could hit a record low in 2013.
Graeter’s plans to open an ice cream parlor in Over-the-Rhine.
Here are seven gorgeous images of space from NASA.
Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here.
Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are
extended. If you don’t vote early, you can still vote on Election Day
(Nov. 5). Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
First streetcar tracks set, homeless to sue county, Medicaid expansion expected to pass
Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.Cincinnati yesterday laid down the first two streetcar tracks,
putting the project on a clear path to completion after years of
financial and political hurdles. The $133 million project is now
expected to continue its construction phase over the next three years, with a goal
of opening to the public on Sept. 15, 2016. City officials, including
Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, celebrated the
milestone and thanked supporters for remaining committed to the project. Meanwhile, former
Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against
streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for
laying down the tracks instead of delaying the project until a new mayor
takes office in December. Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project
if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be
laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal
money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition yesterday announced it’s suing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department
over a new policy that attempts to remove homeless people from
courthouse steps with the threat of arrest. The sheriff’s office says it
still intends to redirect homeless people to housing and other
services, but it told WVXU that clearing out the courthouse is necessary
to invoke a “type of immediacy” to encourage homeless residents “to
seek housing and a better situation.” Advocates call the policy
dangerous and unfair. A press conference will be held later today to
discuss the lawsuit.
State Senate President Keith Faber says he expects Gov.
John Kasich’s proposal for a two-year, federally funded Medicaid
expansion to gain approval from a seven-member legislative oversight panel
known as the Controlling Board. Faber, a Republican who opposes the
expansion, says it’s now time for the legislature to consider broader
reforms for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income and
disabled Ohioans. After months of wrangling with legislators in his own
political party to approve the expansion, Kasich, a Republican, on
Friday announced he would bypass the legislature
and instead ask the Controlling Board to approve federal funds to
expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans for two years.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.
Mayor Mallory says the Millenium Hotel’s owners agreed to conduct a feasibility study to see what kind of renovations the market will support for the hotel. Mallory told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the agreement is the first sign of progress since discussions about overhauling the shabby hotel began.
To tackle concerns about second-hand smoking, one state senator proposed a bill
that would ban smoking in a car when a young child is present. It’s the
second time in two years State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus)
introduced the bill.
Allegiant Air will offer low fares
to fly to Florida from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International
Airport (CVG), ending months of speculation over whether the airline
would pick CVG or Lunken Airport.
A state audit released on Tuesday found a local water worker was paid $437 in 2001 for work that wasn’t done.
Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel was named the No. 1 hotel in the country and tied for No. 11 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
Scientists found a way
to block the dopamine rush associated with THC and make marijuana un-fun
to help people with a psychological dependence on the drug.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:06 PM | Permalink
Project moves forward despite political and financial hurdles
Standing in front of roughly 40 supporters, city leaders gave the order on Tuesday to lay down the first two streetcar tracks.
The milestone has been years in the making for the $133
million streetcar project — ever since City Council approved the streetcar plan in 2008 and the project broke ground in February 2012.
“This is another great day in our great city,” proclaimed Mayor Mark Mallory, a major proponent of the streetcar. “This is the project that will not stop.”Political and financial hurdles snared the massive project in the past five years, but city officials say the construction phase is so far within budget and on time, putting it on track to open to the public on Sept. 15, 2016.
Until then, City Manager Milton Dohoney
asked for patience as construction progresses.
But not everyone was happy with the milestone. Ex-Councilman John
Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar
supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for not
delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December.
“The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the
people of Cincinnati from the beginning,” Cranley said in a statement.
“To lay track for a project that can’t be completed for three years
right before an election that will serve as a referendum on the project
is a slap in face to the voters.”Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out
by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied
to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.
Multiple streetcar supporters at the event told CityBeat
that Cranley’s demands are ridiculous. They say that delaying a project
with contractual obligations and deadlines for two months because of a
political campaign would cripple the city’s ability to take on future
projects as weary contractors question the city’s commitments.
Streetcar supporters back the project as both another
option for public transit and an economic development driver. Previous
studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati found
the Over-the-Rhine and downtown loop will produce a three-to-one return on
Opponents say the project is too costly. They argue the
project forced the city to raise property taxes and forgo other capital
projects, such as the interchange at Interstate 75 and Martin Luther
The project already went through two referendums in 2009 and 2011
in which voters effectively approved the streetcar. Gov. John Kasich
pulled $52 million in federal funds from the project in 2011 after he won the 2010
gubernatorial election against former Gov. Ted Strickland, whose administration
allocated the money to the streetcar.
Earlier in 2013, City Council closed a $17.4 million
budget gap after construction bids for the project came in higher than
Despite the hurdles, city leaders remain committed to the project. They estimate the first section of the track —
on Elm Street between 12th and Henry streets — will be finished in
by German Lopez
Federal government shuts down, Obamacare opens for enrollment, Qualls picks vice mayor
Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.
The federal government shut down
today for the first time in 17 years after House Republicans, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, refused to
pass a budget bill that didn’t repeal, delay or otherwise weaken
Obamacare, the controversial health care law that Senate Democrats and
President Barack Obama strongly support. Federal law requires government
agencies to largely shut down and furlough non-essential employees if
lawmakers fail to pass a budget that funds government services. The
showdown is the latest in Republican efforts to repeal or weaken the
president’s signature health care law. Republicans claim Obamacare is an
example of government overreach that burdens the economy, while
Democrats say the law will help millions of Americans receive health
insurance and clamp down on rising health care costs.
Mayor Mark Mallory and other community leaders yesterday jumpstarted a six-month effort to get as many people signed up for Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which opened for enrollment today at www.healthcare.gov.
At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,”
or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax
credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a
month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers.
Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent
of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and
$45,960, will be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes
getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the
largest. Various local groups, including the Public Library of
Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Freestore Foodbank, will participate
in the outreach campaigns, which will attempt to enroll as many Ohioans
as possible despite Republican legislators’ attempts to obstruct the efforts.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says she would pick Councilman Wendell Young as her vice mayor
if she’s elected mayor this November and Young wins re-election. Qualls
is running for mayor against fellow Democrat and ex-Councilman John
Cranley. Although Qualls and Cranley agree on a host of issues, they are
completely divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of
which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The issues took much of the spotlight during the first post-primary mayoral debate.
Ohio and Ky. officials say they expect to break ground on the Brent Spence Bridge project in 2015,
but no funding plan is yet in place. Officials agree tolling will be
part of funding the $2.5-billion project, but motor fuel taxes,
subsidies and a loan from the federal government could also play a role.
The project is nationally recognized as necessary because of the
current bridge’s deteriorating condition.
The Cincinnati Reds set an attendance record this season.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still extremely sure humans are causing global warming.