by Nick Swartsell
45 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
City to add more cops, bill enables needle exchanges, Portune drops gubernatorial bid
Mayor John Cranley, Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffery Blackwell and several other local leaders expect to announce a $1 million plan to add more cops, including a new recruit class, to help fight a local rise in homicides and violent crime. Besides the additional officers, the plan will also restart a unit focused on gangs and put more emphasis on "hot spots" of potential crime. The announcement follows a rough start to the year that's already experienced higher-than-normal levels of violence. CityBeat will cover the announcement in further detail as the news breaks.A bill in the Ohio legislature could enable more clean needle exchanges. The bill wouldn't supply state or federal funding, but it would let any local health authority establish a syringe-exchange program without declaring a health emergency. Although some conservatives take issue with providing needles to drug users, officials say the program in Portsmouth, Ohio, cut countywide hepatitis C rates, nearly eliminated the number of needles found in parks and on sidewalks, and provided addicts a legally safe resource for help. CityBeat previously covered attempts to establish a local needle-exchange program in further detail here.Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Friday officially dropped his long-shot bid for governor. Although Portune received a lot of attention from local media, he never mounted a credible campaign and drew harsh criticisms from fellow Democrats, who accused Portune of complicating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.While some in the media focus on the horse race and fundraising goals, political scientists say partisan ties, national politics and the state of the economy play a much bigger role in deciding elections.Southwestern Ohio should expect light snow today and a winter storm tomorrow.Young women who take the HPV vaccine are not more likely to have sex or take part in unsafe sexual practices, a study from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found.Denver Broncos fans yesterday got a taste of what it's like to support the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.Philip Seymour Hoffman died of an apparent drug overdose.January birthed a few cute zoo animals.A study found 1,300 airborne microbes in Beijing's smog.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
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
Supposed gubernatorial candidate continues leading on Ohioans
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune on Thursday
declined to announce whether he will challenge gubernatorial candidate
Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary after all, despite previously
telling The Cincinnati Enquirer he already made a decision.
While CityBeat will certainly cover Portune’s
announcement once it finally comes, it’s all with the acknowledgement
that his chances of getting the Democratic nomination are slim to
none. Portune has no credible organization, his name recognition is low
outside southwest Ohio and he apparently can’t find a candidate for
lieutenant governor, which all gubernatorial candidates must do prior to
collecting and filing 1,000 signatures before a February deadline.
The weak indicators surrounding Portune’s campaign help
explain why, when asked by reporters, FitzGerald said he’s not worried
“I respect him. He’s an elected official. He’s been an
elected official for a long time,” FitzGerald said. “I think he’s not
being entirely realistic. It’s very difficult to run a legitimate
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern put it more forcefully in his comments to media outlets.
“Every two years, we get excited about the Cincinnati Bengals and Todd Portune talks about running for an office,” he told WVXU.
Still, Portune continues clinging on to his gubernatorial ambitions.
“To end it now would be inconsistent with the message I
have given around the state, which is to not give in the diversity,”
Portune told The Enquirer. “And while it may appear improbably today… I can’t say it’s impossible.”In the meantime, FitzGerald will keep running a serious statewide campaign to defeat Republican Gov. John Kasich this November.
Following promises of miracles, Ohio’s weakening economy could hurt Gov. John Kasich’s re-election bid
0 Comments · Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Ohio’s weakening economy could damage Gov. John Kasich and other Ohio Republican incumbents’ chances of reelection in 2014.
by German Lopez
State cuts hit local budget, police explain homicides, Democratic primary heats up
If it were not for Republican-approved cuts to state aid for local governments, Cincinnati might not face an operating budget gap in 2015. The city has lost roughly $26 million in annual state aid since 2010, according to city officials, while the budget gap for 2015 is estimated at nearly $21 million. The reduction in state aid helps explain why Cincinnati continues dealing with budget gaps after years of council-approved spending cuts and tax hikes. Still, some council members argue Democratic council members should stop blaming Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature for the city's problems and face the reality of reduced revenues.Heads of the Cincinnati Police Department yesterday explained the local increase in homicides to City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee. Police officials said gang-related activity, particularly activity related to the Mexican drug cartel that controls the heroin trade, is to blame for the spike in crime in Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the west side of Cincinnati. In particular, it appears disruptions in criminal organizations and their territories led to turf wars and other violent acts. Police also cautioned, "Most of the homicides are personal crimes between two known victims. Very rarely are they random in nature."The Democratic primary election for governor heated up yesterday after Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune called Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's commitment to blacks "appalling" in an email obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Prominent Democrats at the state and local level responded to the criticisms as more evidence Portune shouldn't continue to run and threaten Democrats' chances of a clean gubernatorial campaign. Portune announced his intention to run last week, despite calls from top Democrats to stay out of the race. Cold weather led many area schools to close for another day. For developing weather
information, follow #cincywx on Twitter.The weather also slowed down streetcar construction.Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld: "Five Lessons From Cincinnati's Little Engine That Could."The Cincinnati Board of Education chose its veteran members to head the school board in 2014.Cincinnati-based Citigroup, Procter & Gamble, General Electric, Humana and U.S. Bank gained perfect scores in the Human Rights Campaign's index for gay-friendly companies.About 34 percent of Ohio third-graders could be held back if they do not improve their scores on the state's reading assessments. The chairs of the Ohio House and Senate's education committees argue the aggressive approach is necessary to improve the state's education outcomes. But the National Association of School
Psychologists found grade retention has "deleterious long-term effects" both academically and socially.Kentucky is spending $32 million for substance abuse treatment to tackle the heroin epidemic.Ohio Democrats named a new executive director for the state party: Liz Walters. The Silver Lake, Ohio, native began her political career with the Girl Scouts when she worked for the organization as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.Typically allies on other issues, liberals and the scientific community disagree on genetically modified crops.A pill normally taken as a mood stabilizer could help people acquire perfect pitch.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
LGBT groups debate ballot timing, Kasich gets tea party challenge, Portune's ethics disputed
Ohio’s leading LGBT groups still disagree whether same-sex
marriage should appear on the ballot in 2014 or 2016, but FreedomOhio
says it’s continuing with efforts to put the issue to a public vote
within a year. The debate could decide when gay couples in Ohio will get
the same rights already granted to couples in other states. In its defense, FreedomOhio cites polling that shows its
amendment has support from 56 percent of Ohio voters. But that same poll
also put Ohioans within the margin of error — 47 percent in favor and
48 percent in opposition — on the general question of same-sex marriage
legalization, which other LGBT groups point to as a sign Ohio needs more
time before it’s ready.
Clermont County tea party leader Ted Stevenot will mount a Republican primary challenge against Gov. John
Kasich. Stevenot has long criticized Kasich for his support for the
federally funded Medicaid expansion, which now allows anyone up to 138
percent of the federal poverty level to enroll for Medicaid. Stevenot
has also called on Kasich to support anti-union legislation commonly
known as “right-to-work.”
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune’s
challenge against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is
off to a rough start: A former law partner said Portune isn’t “ethically
… suited to be governor,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Portune on Monday announced his intent to challenge FitzGerald in a Democratic primary, despite opposition from various state
Commentary: “What to Watch in 2014.”
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm
warning, up from a winter weather advisory, for southwest Ohio today
between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. The region should get 3-5 inches of snow, with
most of it coming this morning and early afternoon.Three new local homeless shelters expect to start construction in 2014.Eighty local organizations across Ohio, including three in
Hamilton County, are receiving more than $26.3 million in state funds for homeless
prevention, emergency shelters and transitional and supportive housing
projects.The federal government awarded Ohio $10.8 million for getting low-income children health insurance.Check out The Onion’s best videos of 2013.
Here are the best astronomy and space pictures of 2013, according to Phil Plait of Slate.
Popular Science published its science predictions for 2014.CityBeat is hiring a full-time associate editor. Click here for more information.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Democrats worry announcement could compromise gubernatorial campaign
Democrats face a potential wrinkle in their campaign to
unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich following Hamilton County
Commissioner Todd Portune’s announcement Monday that he will run for governor of Ohio.
At a public press conference, Portune said he intends to
mount a primary challenge against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed
FitzGerald, who previously looked like the Democrats’ presumptive nominee.
In justifying his announcement, Portune claimed he had heard “some rumblings” from rank-and-file Democrats to offer more options in the governor’s race.
“This is an honest effort to give Democrats choice,” Portune said.
Some Democrats might appreciate the choice following a
scandal that threw FitzGerald’s choice for lieutenant governor, State
Sen. Eric Kearney, off the ticket. Kearney withdrew after multiple
reports uncovered he and his family owe hundreds of thousands in unpaid
But much of the Democratic establishment seems to have
responded with contempt by portraying Portune’s announcement as an
unnecessary hurdle in the 2014 election.
Likening the Democratic primary election to an internal
family discussion, Portune denied accusations that a primary campaign
would cripple the party’s chances of winning the gubernatorial election.
“Primaries allow you to talk about the issues. They generate momentum,” he said.
Several Democrats took to social media to publicly disapprove of Portune’s announcement.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern tweeted that he’s “excited about our endorsed Democrats,” meaning FitzGerald.
Cincinnati council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld also restated on Twitter that they will support FitzGerald for governor.
“Todd Portune has been a client and someone I've admired
for a long time,” Seelbach wrote. “But the last thing we need is a
by German Lopez
Portune could run for governor, city could host GOP in 2016, laxer regulations draw critics
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune will announce today whether he'll run for governor. If he decides to run, Portune will face off against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald to decide which Democrat should face off against Republican Gov. John Kasich next November. Until now, it has been widely assumed that FitzGerald would take the gubernatorial nomination without a primary challenge. But if Portune enters the race, it could lead to a primary process that could hinder Democrats' chances in a pivotal state election.Hamilton County Republican Party officials are looking into hosting the 2016 national GOP convention in Cincinnati, but they acknowledge their bid might come in too late. The 2016 convention would put the national spotlight on Cincinnati during a presidential election year, when presumably two new presidential contenders will have been picked by Democrats and Republicans to replace President Barack Obama. Hamilton County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou said Cincinnati would be a great location for the convention, given the region's electoral importance to both parties, but he wants to make sure Cincinnati actually stands a chance before using time and resources to file a formal application.Entertainment districts allow some businesses in Walnut Hills and nine other Cincinnati neighborhoods to receive their state liquor licenses more quickly and inexpensively, but some — particularly businesses facing new competition — are worried the increasingly popular economic designation will lead to more alcohol-serving establishments than Cincinnati can sustain.Local startup incubator SoMoLend got state hearings over allegations of fraud pushed to February and March. The once-promising crowdfunding incubator previously partnered with Cincinnati, but the city cut ties with the business once allegations of fraud surfaced.The Ohio Department of Health warned on Friday that flu activity is increasing across the state and Ohioans should get vaccinated.The Ohio State Highway Patrol last week launched an enhanced registry of people who have been convicted of drunk driving at least five times.Starting Jan. 1, regulations meant to crack down on puppy mills will require licenses for dog breeders and clean cages. The legislation enforcing the new rules was approved more than a year ago to curtail Ohio's reputation of being soft on large dog breeding operations.Ohio gas prices spiked at the end of the year.With the year drawing to a close, check out CityBeat's top stories of 2013.The question you probably never asked has now been answered: Can a human fall in love with a computer?Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by Hannah McCartney
Cincinnati infants are dying at an alarmingly high rate
Some parts of Cincinnati suffer from higher infant mortality rates than third-world countries. In the city as a whole, infants die at rates more than twice the national average. We’ve been asking, “Why?” for a long time; this mysterious plague wiping out our infants hasn’t been solved even as our hospitals are recognized worldwide and as it continues to be at the forefront of our public health discussions. Local politicians, hospitals, health experts and advocates are hoping the answer is one that's been lying in front of them the whole time: collaboration. Today marked the official conjoining of local politicians, health experts, advocates and Cincinnati’s top hospitals providing birthing services in hopes of working together to reduce the areas’ infant mortality rate to below that of the national average within the next five years. The new partnership is comprised of Hamilton Country Commissioners Todd Portune and Chris Monzel, who co-chair the effort; the Center for Closing the Health Gap; Mayor Mark Mallory; Councilmember Wendell Young; and hospitals including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital, Mercy Health, TriHealth, UC Health and the UC College of Nursing. While the hospitals are typically competitors, the disturbing, long-standing statistics Monzel described as an "embarrassment" have fueled area health providers to set aside competition and unite Cincinnati’s top health experts to bring Cincinnati's infant mortality levels below the national average within the next five years. “We’re checking egos and names and brands at the door,” said Commissioner Portune. "Enough is enough." Efforts to reduce infant mortality, Portune explained, have been active for years; however, because they've been fragmented — disconnected from one another — establishing best practices just hasn't been possible. Initial funding comes from an agreement that County Commissioners Portune and Monzel made with Jim Kingsbury, UC Health president and CEO, as part of the county's sale of Drake Hospital. Representatives plan to meet on a regular basis to share best practices, exchange ideas and report data. In February, Mayor Mark Mallory entered the city into the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a national competition to inspire city leaders to solve urban problems. His proposal involved the creation of the Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which would have followed new mothers in high-risk areas through pregnancy, creating a database of new mothers and monitoring pregnancies. In Mallory’s submission, he put the problem into perspective: “In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate.”Although Cincinnati was named one of the top 20 finalists out of more than 305 cities, it was not selected as one of the five to receive up to $5 million in funding to jump-start the initiative. Infant mortality rates are measured by the number of deaths of babies less than one year old per 1,000 live births. In Cincinnati, infant mortality rates are at 13.6; the national average is 6. Cincinnati’s black community is especially afflicted by infant mortality. In Ohio, black infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants. To look at a map of infant mortality rates in Greater Cincinnati by zip code or to read about some of the leading causes of infant mortality, visit the Cincinnati Health Department's website.