The people, budgets and controversies CityBeat covered while writing about the streetcar all year
0 Comments · Thursday, December 26, 2013
Just like it was a big year for Cincinnati and Ohio, it was a big year for the CityBeat news team.
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.
1 Comment · Wednesday, October 16, 2013
A Ludlow, Ky., branch of a local entity
operating transitional housing facilities for recovering addicts across
the Greater Cincinnati area is facing criticism from the Ludlow Historic
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:14 PM | Permalink
Department of Job and Family Services cited for multiple errors
The Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services (HCDJFS) was reprimanded in a state audit released Thursday that uncovered inadequate protocols and failures to correct previous audits’ findings.
But HCDJFS spokesperson Brian Gregg says a lot of the
audit’s findings could be outdated because they’re based on data from 2011. “We’re working on information that is two years old
but was just presented to us,” he says.
HCDJFS, which handles the county’s social services and
welfare programs, was criticized for not keeping proper
documentation and failing to conduct various checks required to gauge whether
federal, state and local funds should be used for child support
Gregg blames the inadequacies on a bout of temporary chaos caused by funding reductions and layoffs, which he
pinned on state government cuts from 2008 that cost HCDJFS roughly half
its budget. Since then, he says the county has retrained staff to manage the agency’s smaller size.
Gregg also noted that the sampling size for the findings —
25 — was fairly low. “You can get a bad batch,” he says. “I don’t want
this to be indicative of the program.”
Instead, Gregg points to county-by-county data for child support that put
Hamilton County above all other metropolitan counties in Ohio for cost
effectiveness. The data, produced by the Ohio Department of Job and
Family Services in 2012, found Hamilton County is getting $28.52 in child support
for every $1 it pays staff to collect support. In comparison, Cuyahoga
County’s ratio was $8.56-to-$1 and Franklin County’s was $11.62-to-$1.
“We’re probably the best and most efficient metropolitan
county in the state when it comes to child support collection,” Gregg
The audit also found HCDJFS paid more than $330,000 in
excess rent in 2011, more than $24,000 of which was allocated to local
funds while the rest was charged to state and federal funds. A 2010
state audit found similar excess rent charges.
The agency told the state auditor’s office it will
continue working with the county budget office and prosecutor to correct
the lease agreement that led to the excess rent.
“That’s a result of a way the state interpreted a federal
law in 2010,” Gregg says. “We’ve had that lease from ’93 on. There was a
change in 2010, and we’re now working with the county to get in
HCDJFS employees were also found to be inadequately
tracking their working hours, which the agency says it’s now correcting by setting up a new computer system.
The new findings were heaped on top of old errors found in previous state audits, including several misused funds. Many of the old errors remain uncorrected.
But none of the new findings indicated that HCDJFS has to refund money to other government agencies.
“We feel good that there were no findings for recovery. We
don’t owe anything. These few things that they did find are managerial,
and we’ll work them out,” Gregg says.
The same didn’t apply to one case of overcharge — totaling
$2,400 — at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, which the Sheriff’s Office says led to an investigation and criminal
charges against the property officer supervisor as well as new policies to protect payment systems in the future.
by German Lopez
Homeless shelters report rise in calls, Cincinnati loses jobs, JobsOhio controversy continues
Greater Cincinnati homeless shelters are reporting a 31 percent increase in the number of families calling for help
— a sign that homelessness may be trending up.
Meanwhile, City Council managed to avoid cutting funding to human
services that help the homeless this year, but the local government has
steadily provided less funding since 2004, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.Cincinnati lost 4,000 jobs
from June to July, but it gained 14,000 between July 2012 and July this
year, far above the 3,000 necessary to keep up with annual population
growth, according to data released yesterday by the Ohio Department of
Job and Family Services. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was
at 7.1 percent in July, down from 7.3 percent in June and 7.4 percent
in July 2012. The labor force shrunk in comparison to the previous month
and year, which means the unemployment rate fell partly because many
people stopped looking for jobs. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally
unadjusted unemployment rate was 7.2 percent in July and the U.S. rate
was 7.4 percent.
More JobsOhio controversy: The state panel that approves
tax credits recommended by the privatized development agency has never
said no, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Gov. John Kasich and Republicans say the Ohio Tax Credit Authority is
supposed to be an independent watchdog on JobsOhio, but both JobsOhio
and the Ohio Tax Credit Authority have their boards appointed by the
governor. Democrats have been highly critical of JobsOhio for its lack
of transparency and privatized nature, but Republicans say both are good
traits for an agency that needs to move fast to land job-creating
Meanwhile, two Democrats in the Ohio House are pushing a ban
on Ohio officials, including the governor, receiving outside pay. The
proposal is largely in response to JobsOhio recommending $619,000 in tax
credits in 2012 and 2013 to Worthington Industries, a company that paid
Kasich through 2012 for his time on its board. The Ohio Ethics
Commission refused to investigate the potential conflict of interest
because it said Kasich made a clean break from Worthington when he was
Hamilton County taxpayers might have to put up $10 million
to give the Cincinnati Bengals a high-definition scoreboard, thanks to
the team’s lease with the county. Economists generally see stadiums as
one of the most over-hyped, unsuccessful urban investments, according to The Nation.
No City Council member supports the tea party-backed pension amendment that would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city workers, excluding
cops and firefighters, contribute to and manage individual 401k-style
accounts. Currently, Cincinnati pools pension funds and manages the
investments through an independent board. City officials and unions
claim the measure will cost the city more than the current system and
hurt retirement gains for city employees. But tea party groups say the
amendment is necessary to address Cincinnati’s growing pension costs,
including an $862 million unfunded liability. CityBeat wrote about the amendment and the groups that could be behind it in further detail here.
Ohio is partnering up with the Jason Foundation to provide training and information
to teachers, coaches, other school personnel, parents and students
about suicide, the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds
after car accidents. The measure aims to curb down suicide rates.
Hamilton County and Cincinnati are pursuing joint funding
of technology upgrades for 911 services, and the two local governments are moving
permitting services to one location, according to a statement from
Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s office. Hartmann has long pursued more city-county collaboration so both can run more
efficiently and bring down costs.
The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati is now called Interact for Health.
The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) yesterday reported 2013’s first case of West Nile Virus.
A 72-year-old woman in Cuyahoga County is apparently being hospitalized for the disease. ODH Director Ted Wymyslo said in a statement that,
while Ohio has dealt with West Nile Virus since 2002, cases have dropped
in the past year.
The University of Cincinnati is set to break another record for enrollment this fall.
Dunnhumby USA yesterday unveiled the design for its downtown headquarters.
A new electric car can fold itself in half when parking.
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 31, 2013
A motion proposed by a majority of City
Council on July 30 would use leftover revenue from the previous budget
year to undo cuts to various programs, including human services, parks
and the Health Department.
by German Lopez
More JobsOhio controversy, Council undoing cuts, stadium improvements to cost millions
Six of nine JobsOhio board members have direct financial
ties to companies that have received tax credits and other help from the
agency and state government, an investigation from Dayton Daily News
discovered. The members are connected in various ways: Some are
employed by the companies, others sit on their boards and a few just own
stocks. The conflicts of interest that could undermine
JobsOhio’s goals. The privatized development agency was established by
Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators to replace the
Ohio Department of Development. Republicans claim JobsOhio’s privatized
nature allows it to move at “the speed of business” when luring
companies to the state. But Democrats argue that the agency is
unaccountable and draining state funds without any clear indication of
where the money is going.
Meanwhile, JobsOhio gave financial aid
to a company that simply shifted jobs from one city to another. The
agency gave Timbertech a 50-percent credit to create 85 jobs in
Wilmington, Ohio. The company is abiding, but it’s simultaneously
closing down a Columbus factory at the loss of 58 jobs.
Cincinnati will end up not laying off any city employees after City Council undoes $4 million in budget cuts
with leftover revenue from the previous budget year. The restorations
will reverse some or all of this year’s cuts to human services, parks,
the Health Department and other city programs. Council members called
the higher-than-projected revenue evidence that Cincinnati’s economic
strategy is working. But the reversals also raise questions about the
city administration’s original claims: When the 2014 budget was first
being considered, Mayor Mark Mallory and his administration said the
city would have to lay off 344 workers, including many cops and
firefighters, to balance the budget without the parking lease.
But without any of the parking money allocated, the city managed to avert all layoffs and undo a bulk of cuts, largely by using better-than-expected revenues from the past budget
Fixing up the Great American Ball Park for the All-Star Game could cost county taxpayers $5 million.
The All-Star costs are just one part of the $27 million taxpayers will
pay to improve stadiums in Hamilton County over the next five years.
Stadiums are often touted by local officials as a way to boost the
economy, but economists and urban planners have found that publicly
funded sports arenas don’t lead to sizable economic growth.
Ohio’s job growth is so slow that it will take nearly five years to recover all the jobs lost during the Great Recession.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is leading fundraising for this year’s Council campaigns.
The Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce is hosting two mayoral debates.
This year’s candidates are Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, ex-Councilman
John Cranley, Jim Berns and Sandra “Queen” Noble. Qualls and Cranley are
considered the two frontrunners.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is calling on community contributions to finish the second half of its renovations. The museum has raised $2.7 million out of the $6 million it needs.
Red Squirrel, a local restaurant chain, is closing down three of five eateries.
Internet-based psychotherapy apparently works.
by German Lopez
Cuts hit parks, human services, arts, outside agencies and other city programs
City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget."The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department. Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated. Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for
accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement
applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for
fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a
50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an
unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special
events.At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget."I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the
city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of
control."Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months
of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to
be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway. But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.