Balanced budget, pension reform among tough tasks facing incoming council members hoping not to raise taxes
1 Comment · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
of newly elected council members say they’re committed to structurally
balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget — a promise repeated by
Mayor-elect John Cranley on the campaign trail and following the Nov. 5
by German Lopez
Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project
It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar
But hours before City Council expects to make a decision,
it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to
overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar
The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite
Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private
entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that
deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.
The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David
Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young.
Three council members have long opposed the project:
Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher
It's a big financial decision for the city.
If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost
$53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy
should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from
consulting firm KPMG.
If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million
in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for
those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future.
Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2
p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.
by German Lopez
Supporters hold town hall-style meeting in effort to stop cancellation of project
Supporters of the $133 million streetcar project on Thursday night packed Mercantile Library and Fountain Square to start a two-week campaign that seeks to prevent the incoming mayor and City Council from canceling the ongoing project.Turnout was particularly strong as supporters reached the 200-person capacity at Mercantile Library before the event started. Another 200 watched the event from the Jumbotron screen at Fountain Square, according to the event's organizers.In attendance were several Over-the-Rhine business owners and residents; council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young; and several supporters of the project from around the city.The goal of the event was to organize supporters and begin a lobbying campaign to convince the three perceived swing votes in the incoming council — Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — to support continuing the project. All three have spoken against the streetcar in the past, but they told CityBeat they want to fully account for the project's cancellation costs, completion costs and potential return on investment before making a final decision.Speakers urged supporters to contact the nine newly elected council members and raise awareness about the streetcar's benefits before Mayor-elect John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and the new City Council take office in December.Ryan Messer, a lead organizer of the effort to save the streetcar, spoke about the advantages of the streetcar project for much of the event. "This is a good economic tool that helps all of Cincinnati," he repeatedly stated.Supporters have some empirical evidence to base their claims on. A 2007 study from consulting firm HDR found the streetcar project would generate a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years. The HDR study was later evaluated and supported by the University of Cincinnati.Project executive John Deatrick acknowledges the 2007 study is now outdated and the city is working on updating the numbers. But he says the streetcar project is supposed to be viewed as an economic development vehicle, not just another transit option.Supporters also warned of the potential costs of canceling the streetcar project. Hours before the gathering, Mayor Mark Mallory released a letter from the Federal Transit Administration that explicitly stated the city would lose nearly $41 million in federal grant dollars if the project were canceled, and another $4 million would be placed in the hands of Gov. John Kasich to do as he sees fit.City spokesperson Meg Olberding previously told CityBeat that the city already spent about $2 million of the federal funds. If the project were canceled, she says the money would have to be repaid through the operating budget that funds police, firefighters and human services instead of the capital budget currently financing the streetcar project.The operating budget has been structurally imbalanced since 2001, so adding millions in costs to it could force the city to cut services or raise taxes.The FTA letter might already be playing an influence for at least one of the swing votes on City Council. On the elevator ride up to Mercantile Library, Sittenfeld told Seelbach and CityBeat, "I will say that today's news is a big gain in the pro-streetcar column."Another threat for the city is potential litigation from contractors, subcontractors, taxpayers and Over-the-Rhine residents and businesses who invested in the project or along the streetcar line with the expectation that the project would be completed. Litigation costs would also come out of the operating budget, according to Olberding."As a trial lawyer, this is actually appealing," said Democratic attorney Don Mooney. "For the city, not so much."Supporters also outlined the potential damage that pulling from the project could do to the city's image, given that developers, businesses and the federal government have put their support and dollars toward the streetcar."Is Cincinnati that city that will dine you and wine you and leave you alone at the altar?" Young asked.But if the lobbying effort, cancellation costs and threat of litigation aren't enough, supporters also presented one more option to save the streetcar: a ballot initiative. Mayor-elect John Cranley on Thursday told The Cincinnati Enquirer that he would be open to allowing some sort of streetcar referendum on the ballot.The ultimate goal for supporters of the streetcar, beyond ensuring sustainable growth in the urban core, is to connect all of Cincinnati through a vast transit network, much like the streetcar lines that ran through Cincinnati before the city government dismantled the old system in the 1950s.That provides little assurance to opponents of the streetcar project. Cranley and at least three hard-liners in the incoming City Council — Amy Murray, Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman — claim the project is too expensive and the wrong priority for Cincinnati. Discussing more phases makes the project appear even costlier to opponents who are already concerned with costs.In its comprehensive plan for 2040, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments put the cost of various extensions — to the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Broadway Commons area near the Horseshoe Casino — at more than $191 million, or $58 million more than the estimated cost for the current phase.But if Cincinnati never completes the first phase of the streetcar project, supporters say it could be decades before other light rail options are considered.
0 Comments · Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Councilman Wendell Young and five other council members signed a motion Oct. 30 that asks the city administration to budget $2 million to address racial disparities in Cincinnati.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 23, 2013
There’s a good reason Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls picked Wendell Young as her top choice for vice mayor.
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.
by German Lopez
Medicaid expansion vote stalls, Lunken Airport mismanaged, streetcar spurs campaigns
Republican lawmakers say they won’t hold any votes on the Medicaid expansion until October or later,
even though state officials say the expansion must be approved by
October to have it in place by 2014. Implementing the expansion at the start of 2014 would coincide with the implementation
of other major programs in Obamacare. Gov. John Kasich supports the
expansion, but he’s had trouble convincing his fellow Republicans to
join him. The expansion would be mostly funded by the federal
government, which would pay for the entire policy for the first three
years then phase down to indefinitely paying for 90 percent of the cost.
Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an
analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a
million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next
decade. Michigan, which is also dominated by Republicans, on Tuesday approved its own Medicaid expansion.
An internal audit found the city of Cincinnati has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone toward improving the city-owned Lunken Airport through poor management and technology problems. In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach wrote on Twitter, “Lunken oversights
completely unacceptable. Meeting w/ City & Lunken Mngr to work on
detailed correction plan later this week.” The city is planning on
making changes that should avoid losing revenue in the future.
Streetcar supporters plan to hold a fundraiser
today for mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls and City Council candidate
Wendell Young. The fundraiser shows the extra steps now being taken by
streetcar supporters, who have been proudly flaunting their support
every month through “streetcar socials,” the latest of which Mayor Mark Mallory attended. Ever since its inception, the streetcar has been mired in controversy and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
A central Ohio lawmaker is renewing a legislative push
for attaching drug tests to welfare benefits. The measure is meant to
lower costs and ensure welfare money isn’t going to drug dealers. As CityBeat previously covered,
the testing requirement can actually increase the cost of welfare
programs: In Florida, the state government’s program had a net loss of
$45,780 after it reimbursed all falsely accused welfare recipients of
their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9
percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana,
according to The Miami Herald.
Heavy construction and improvements that will modernize and widen Interstate 75 are expected to continue for the next decade.
Much of the work is being funded by Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan, which
sells bonds that will be repaid with excess Turnpike polls.
Jeff Ruby yesterday responded to a lawsuit
filed on Monday against his restaurant chain. Ruby says his servers “are
highly compensated — averaging $65,000 a year, with shifts that average
seven hours a day.” The lawsuit alleges that management at Ruby’s
restaurants took tips from three employees, which supposedly left them
earning less than minimum wage.
United Way of Greater Cincinnati plans to raise $62.8 million with its campaign this year. The organization supports Cincinnati’s human services, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Google Glass could be used to improve surgeries in the future.
by Andy Brownfield
DNC causes first week's cancellations, Council to resume Sept. 19
After taking a two-month summer break — with a week for
some committee hearings and a council meeting — Cincinnati City Council
has canceled its meetings for the first half of September.
The council meetings for Sept. 6 and 12 have been
canceled, along with all committee meetings for the first week of
September and the Job Growth Committee meeting for Sept. 10.
Jason Barron, spokesman for Mayor Mark Mallory, said the
council meetings were canceled due to the Democratic National
Convention, which is occurring in the first week of September. Barron
said many of the Democratic officials in the city are delegates to the
Asked why the City Council meeting was canceled for the second week of September, Barron said he didn’t know.Council did meet once in August, where they approved a ballot measure to lengthen council terms from two to four years, as well as a plan to undo the sale of the Blue Ash airport.
All of the committee meetings for the week of the DNC were
canceled as well. Strategic Growth Committee chairwoman Laure Quinlivan
is not a delegate to the convention, but is attending, an aide said.
Council members Roxanne Qualls and Cecil Thomas, who chair
the Budget and Finance and Public Safety Committees respectively, did
not respond to CityBeat’s requests for comment as of Friday afternoon.
A special meeting of the Rules and Government Operations
Committee is meeting on Sept. 10 — the first committee meeting after the
summer break. An aide to committee chairman Wendell Young says the
committee is meeting to receive a report from a task force charged with
recommending ways to put grocery stores in so-called “food deserts” — neighborhoods where fresh food isn’t readily available.
The Livable Communities Committee and Major Transportation
& Infrastructure Sub-committee are meeting during the second week
of September, but the first full council meeting isn’t until the 19th.
Council still has a few big-ticket items it is expected
to deal with this year, including proposed budget cuts from City Manager
Milton Dohoney (expected to be laid out in November) and the approval
of a new city plan, which shifts development emphasis from downtown and
Over-the-Rhine to the city’s other 50 neighborhoods. More on that plan here.
0 Comments · Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Cincinnati City Council last week
approved a motion brought forth by the Cincinnati Taxicab Advisory
Commission that will implement changes to the design of the city’s
taxicab industry, some of which will be seen as soon as July 1.
CityBeat’s endorsements for Cincinnati City Council
11 Comments · Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Some powerful special interest groups know
a secret that the average Cincinnati voter doesn’t: If you want to make
your votes for City Council truly matter and have the greatest impact,
don’t use all nine of them. That’s right: Even though you can cast nine
votes in the council race, you really shouldn’t.