by German Lopez
37 days ago
New anti-streetcar majority faces unknown costs, hit to operating budget with cancellation
City officials on Wednesday reasserted that it remains
unknown how much it would cost to cancel the $133 million streetcar
project, and city spokesperson Meg Olberding and project
executive John Deatrick agreed the unknown costs are a big concern.
Voters on Tuesday elected John Cranley to the mayor’s office
and six council members — out of nine total — who oppose the streetcar
project, giving streetcar opponents enough votes to cancel the project
once the new government takes power on Dec. 1.
But, as first reported by CityBeat on Oct. 9,
cancellation could carry all sorts of costs with $94 million tied to
contractual obligations, including supply orders and other expenses
from contractors and subcontractors, and $23 million already
sunk on the project.
If the city were to cancel, it would also need to return
nearly $41 million in grants to the federal government, according to a
June 19 letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Canceling the project would cost jobs as well. About 150
laborers are currently working on the project, according to Deatrick. He
says there’s also management positions involved, but he couldn’t offer
an estimate for those jobs and whether they’re working on the project
full- or part-time.
Deatrick says that it’s difficult to pin down how much
cancellation would ultimately cost because the issue would likely
be worked through litigation as the city tries to minimize cancellation
costs and developers — such as Messer Construction, Prus Construction,
Delta Railroad and CAF USA — attempt to maximize what they recoup from the
Another concern, according to Olberding, is cancellation’s impact on the operating budget. She says the roughly
$2 million in federal grant money already spent on the project would have
to come out of the operating budget, and litigation costs would come from the operating budget as well.
The capital budget, which is financed through bonds and
other forms of debt, pays for capital projects like the streetcar. The
operating budget typically goes toward day-to-day operations, including
police, firefighters and human services.
The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced
since 2001. If millions in litigation costs and repayments to the
federal government are added to it, the city could be forced to cut services and jobs or raise taxes.
There are also concerns about how the federal government and
Cincinnati’s business partners would react to the cancellation of such a
major project. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Cranley’s opponent in the
mayoral race, previously told CityBeat that pulling back on a
commitment could break the faith developers and the feds placed in
Cincinnati when they agreed to take on the streetcar project.
Cranley and other anti-streetcar elects argue the long-term costs — the $88 million in the capital budget for the current
phase of the project, the cost of future expansion and $3-4 million that
it would cost to operate the streetcar annually — outweigh even the
costs of cancellation.
Cranley previously told CityBeat that he would help developers involved in the project find other work in the
city to recoup the revenue lost from the project’s cancellation. He says
Messer and Prus in particular are based in and already work heavily in
Cincinnati, so it’s unlikely they would try to cut ties with the city.
Streetcar supporters aren’t convinced. If the city pulls out of such a
big commitment, officials argue both the federal government and
developers could be compelled to look for a more reliable source for
Meanwhile, Deatrick says current construction work is
progressing on time and within budget. He expects the track on Elm Street to
be laid down between 12th and Henry streets by the end of the year.
As for the next phase of the project, Deatrick says
there’s still no estimated cost. He attributes much of the project’s current
political problems to construction bids coming in over budget earlier in
the year — a turn of events that led City Council to put another $17.5
million to the streetcar project — so he says the city needs to be
really careful with future estimates if it decides to expand the
Despite the fresh political threats, the city still
intends to conduct meetings with businesses on Nov. 14 and 18 about the
benefits of the streetcar. Deatrick says those meetings should show the
economic benefits of the rail line that go beyond the streetcar’s use as
a transit network.
Supporters of the streetcar often point to those benefits as
their reasoning for backing the project. Citing a 2007 study from
consulting firm HDR that was later evaluated and supported by the
University of Cincinnati, supporters say the streetcar project would produce a three-to-one return on investment.
Deatrick acknowledges those projections are now outdated,
given all the changes the project has gone through since 2007. He says
the city has people working on updating the numbers and looking at
other economic effects the HDR study may have missed.
But opponents of the streetcar project say it’s simply too
expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Still, the potentially
high cost of cancellation could prove a bigger fiscal concern.
Either way, Cincinnati should find out the full consequences to the project in December.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Parking
at 02:01 PM | Permalink
City says it's reaching "pressure point" for budget cuts
Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler announced today that he will be extending the restraining order on the city's parking plan until April 3, potentially delaying any ruling on the city's plan to lease its parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority for another two weeks.Winkler's office told CityBeat
that the judge has been focusing on a murder case, and the delay will
give him more time to review the details of the parking plan's case
before giving a ruling. The delay does not necessarily mean a ruling is
delayed until April 3, and it's possible Winkler could rule within the
next two weeks, according to his office.Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the city is approaching a "pressure point" with the latest delay."We respect the court's right to do that (the extension), and know that every day that we cannot make the parking deal happen is a day that we are closer to having to lay people off," she says.Olberding says the city is so far unsure what the exact effect of the delay will be. The city has repeatedly warned that extending the legal conflict for too long will force the city to make cuts to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.City Council passed the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary restraining order from Winkler after he received a lawsuit from Curt
Hartman, an attorney who represents the Coalition Opposed to Additional
Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of local activists who oppose the
plan and argue it should be subject to referendum.The legal dispute is centered around City Council's use of emergency clauses, which remove a 30-day waiting period on approved legislation, and the city claims they also remove the possibility of referendum.In a hearing presided by Winkler on March 15, Hartman argued
the city charter's definition of emergency clauses is ambiguous, and
legal precedent supports siding with voters' right to referendum when
there is ambiguity.
Terry Nestor, who represented the city, said legal
precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law
is not contradicted in the city charter.Cincinnati's city charter does not specify whether
emergency legislation is subject to referendum, but state law explicitly
says it's not.Opponents of the parking plan say they’re concerned the
plan will give up too much control over the city's parking meters, which
they say could lead to skyrocketing parking rates.
The city says rates are set at 3 percent or inflation, but the rates can
change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval
from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The
special committee would comprise of four people appointed by the Port Authority
and one appointed by the city manager.
The city is pursuing the parking plan to help balance the
city's deficit for the next two fiscal years and enable economic
development projects, including the construction of a downtown grocery store ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).
by German Lopez
City says official details, contracts will be ready before City Council vote
City Hall will host public hearings about the city manager’s
parking and economic development plan today, but the hearings will take
place before the public knows all the official details. Meg Olberding,
city spokesperson, says the legal documents and contracts for the deal
aren’t ready to be released yet, but they will be ready before City
Council holds a vote.
“We’re still finalizing the documents,” Olberding says.
“These are long, complicated documents, so we want to make sure they’re
done right, and we’ll put them online as soon as they’re available.”
When the documents are released, they will include
Cincinnati’s deal with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development
Authority, but they will not divulge specifics on the Port Authority’s
contracts with AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim — the four private
companies partnering with the Port Authority to manage city’s parking
Without the full details, mayoral candidate John Cranley,
who opposes the parking plan, says he’s concerned the public is going
into the deal blind: “Why are they having public hearings before giving
the contract to the public and giving us the exact details? What they do
is sit back and selectively give information.”
The lack of details has already led to some surprises since the parking proposal was announced to the public. On Feb. 21, Olberding told CityBeat
the city will be able to bypass the so-called cap on parking meter rate
increases through unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from
the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by
the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower the cap in case of changing economic needs, says Olberding.Under the initial plan, parking meter rates will be
set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a
compounded basis, with any increases coming in 25-cents-an-hour increments. That
should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for Downtown and
every six years for neighborhoods, says Olberding.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his parking
proposal on Feb. 19, promising $92 million upfront and an additional $3
million a year to pay off the city’s budget deficits for 2014 and 2015,
build a 30-story high-rise Downtown with a grocery store and 300 luxury
apartments, renovate Tower Place Mall and complete the I-71/MLK
Interchange project (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20).
by German Lopez
City could raise rate cap, Cranley's website against parking plan, superintendent pays up
While fact checking an interview, CityBeat
discovered it will be possible to circumvent the parking plan’s cap
on meter rate increases through a multilayer process that involves
approval from a special committee, the city manager and the Port of
Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. The process adds a potential
loophole to one of the city manager’s main defenses against fears of
skyrocketing rates, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says raising
the cap requires overcoming an extensive series of hurdles: unanimous
approval from a board with four members appointed by the Port Authority
and one selected by the city manager, affirmation from the city manager
and a final nod from the Port Authority. Olberding says the process is
necessary in case anything changes during the 30-year time span of the
parking deal, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley launched DontSellCincinnati.org to prevent the city manager’s parking plan, which
semi-privatizes the city’s parking assets. The website claims the plan
gives for-profit investment companies power over enforcement, guarantees
3-percent rate increases every year and blows through all the money
raised in two years. The plan does task a private company with
enforcement, but it will be handled by Xerox, not a financial firm, and
must follow standards set in the company’s agreement with the Port
Authority. While the plan does allow 3-percent rate increases each year,
Olberding says the Port Authority will have the power to refuse an
increase — meaning it’s not a guarantee.
Arnol Elam, the Franklin City Schools superintendent who
sent an angry letter to Gov. John Kasich over his budget plan, is no
longer being investigated for misusing county resources after he paid $539 in restitution. CityBeat
covered Elam’s letter, which told parents and staff about regressive
funding in Kasich’s school funding proposal, and other parts of the
governor’s budget in an in-depth cover story.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio’s oil lobby is still against Kasich’s tax plan, which raises a 4 percent severance tax on oil and wet gas from high-producing fracking wells and a 1 percent tax on dry gas.
Local faith leaders from a diversity of religious backgrounds held a press conference
yesterday to endorse the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom
Amendment, an amendment from FreedomOhio that would legalize same-sex
marriage in the state. Pastor Mike Underhill of the Nexus United Church
of Christ (UCC) in Butler County, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple
Sholom, Pamela Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values and Mike
Moroski, who recently lost his job as assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School for standing up for LGBT rights all attended the event. CityBeat covered the amendment and its potential hurdles for getting on the 2013 ballot here.
Vanessa White, a member of the Cincinnati Public Schools board, is running for City Council.
White is finishing her first four-year term at the board after winning
the seat handily in 2009. She has said she wants to stop the streetcar
project, but she wants to increase collaboration between the city and
schools and create jobs for younger people.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) policy on providing driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants remains unclear. Since CityBeat
broke the story on the BMV policy, the agency has shifted from internally pushing
against driver’s licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
(DACA) recipients to officially “reviewing guidance from the federal
government as it applies to Ohio law.” DACA is an executive order from
President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to
qualify for permits that enable them to remain in the United States
without fear of prosecution.
A survey from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments found locals are generally satisfied with roads, housing and issues that affect them everyday. The survey included 2,500 people and questions about energy efficiency, infrastructure, public health, schools and other issues.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine revealed 7,000 Ohioans
have received more than $280 million in consumer relief as part of the
National Mortgage Settlement announced one year ago. The $25 billion
settlement between the federal government and major banks punishes
reckless financial institutions and provides relief to homeowners in the
aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Ohio received a $3 million federal grant to continue improving the state’s health care payments and delivery programs.
Cincinnati home sales reached a six-year high after a 27-percent jump in January.
CityBeat’s Hannah “McAttack” McCartney interviewed yours truly for the first post of her Q&A-based blog, Cinfolk.
Crows have a sense of fairness, a new study found.
Local journalists discuss environmental coverage
0 Comments · Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Like any field, environmentalism has its own jargon that's easily understood by advocates but can be incomprehensible to the average person. That dichotomy can be a major challenge for newspapers, television programs, radio stations and Web sites that want to broaden the public's knowledge about green issues. The topic was discussed among five panelists (including myself) who took part in a media roundtable Oct. 16 on coverage of the environmental movement and related issues.