by German Lopez
98 days ago
Streetcar pause looms, feds freeze funds, foundation threatens contributions to city
Mayor John Cranley and a majority of City Council appear ready to pause the $132.8 million streetcar project
on Wednesday after moving forward yesterday with 11 ordinances that
aren’t susceptible to referendum. The bills allocate $1.25 million to
stop contracts tied to the project and hire expert consultants to study
what it would cost to continue or suspend the project — information a majority
of council plans to use to gauge whether the project should continue
after the pause. Streetcar supporters planned to hold some sort of
referendum on the pause ordinances, but Cranley, who previously spoke in
favor of the “people’s sacred right of referendum,” now says that the
city shouldn’t be required to continue spending on the project until
voters make a final decision in November 2014, as would be required
under a traditional referendum.
Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration yesterday announced it froze $44.9 million in federal grants for the streetcar
until Cincinnati agrees to move ahead with the project. The decision shows
Cranley and other opponents of the project were in the wrong when they
claimed they could lobby the federal government to reallocate the grant
money to other projects. But the decision should also come as little
surprise to the new mayor and council, considering federal officials
warned of the consequences of canceling the streetcar project on three
separate occasions in the past six months.
The Haile U.S. Bank Foundation also joined the fray
yesterday with an email to city officials plainly stating that the
streetcar project’s cancellation “will definitely cause us to pause and
reconsider whether the City can be a trusted partner” and endanger
contributions to the carousel in Smale Riverfront Park, the shared-use
kitchen at Findlay Market and the renovations of the Globe Building and
Music Hall. The email also offered to pay for a study that would
evaluate the costs of the streetcar project going forward. But Cranley
brushed off the letter as a threat and argued the Haile U.S. Bank
Foundation “can’t be a passive-aggressive dictator of legislative
Although his nomination to the city manager spot was initially met with praise, some are beginning to raise questions
about Willie Carden’s refusal to live in Cincinnati and his history,
including an ethics probe that found he was wrongfully taking pay from
both the city and private Parks Foundation. Councilman Chris Seelbach
said he’s also worried about the process for Cranley’s pick, which
didn’t involve a national search and never put any other candidates in
front of council.Democrats on the Hamilton County Board of Elections have asked state officials to investigate Republican Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters for improperly voting.
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati plans to introduce
on Wednesday a new version of his overhaul of the state’s renewable
energy and efficiency requirements. The new version will dampen a plan
that would have allowed Canadian hydroelectric power facilities to
satisfy Ohio’s renewable energy requirements, but it will also allow
decades-old hydro plants along the Ohio River to fulfill the
requirement. Seitz and other supporters of the overhaul argue it’s
necessary to make the requirements friendlier to businesses and
consumers. But opponents of the bill, including businesses and
environmentalists, argue it would effectively ruin Ohio’s energy
requirements and, according to a study from the Ohio State University
and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition, cost Ohioans $3.65
billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered the proposal in greater detail here.
Ohio schools can now tap into a $12 million program
to make their facilities safer through various new measures, including a
radio system directly connected to emergency responders, cameras and
intercoms. “Naturally, after Sandy Hook, I think we were all just
extremely upset about that, and you want to be able to do something,”
Republican State Sen. Gayle Manning told StateImpact Ohio.
A report found staff weren’t at fault for the high-profile prison suicides of Billy Slagle, whose case CityBeat covered in further detail here, and Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his home for nearly a decade.
Popular Science argues Amazon’s plan for delivery drones isn’t realistic.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
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
Human services, parks among programs getting funding restorations
A motion proposed by a majority of City Council today would use leftover
revenue from the previous budget year to undo cuts to various programs,
including human services, parks and the Health Department. The restorations mean no city workers will be laid off as a result of the operating budget passed in May. Previously, 60 positions had been cut, but many employees remained in different offices while the budget situation was worked out.
The cuts were previously approved with the 2014 budget
before council members knew final revenue numbers for fiscal year 2013,
which ended June 30. Council had to pass the budget 30 days early
because the city’s use of emergency clauses, which eliminate a waiting
period on passed laws, was being held up in court.
The city ended up with roughly $10 million more revenue
than projected in the past budget year. The Council motion uses nearly
$4 million to undo some of the $20 million in cuts carried out in the
latest budget. The rest of the extra revenue will be held until the city
manager makes further suggestions, but some of that money will likely
be saved for next year’s budget gap, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said at a
Human services funding is getting more than $510,000
restored, putting the program at 0.4 percent of the operating budget.
Cincinnati has historically set a goal of directing 1.5 percent of the
operating budget to human services, which flows through various agencies
that aid low-income and homeless Cincinnatians.
The Health Department is getting the largest restoration
at $900,000, allowing the city to bring back positions affecting junked
vehicles, rodent control, litter and weed response, infant mortality and
Parks will also get back $400,000 out of $1 million that
was cut in the previous budget. Another $312,000 is being used to
restore recreation funding, particularly to keep the Busch Center open.
Other programs getting money back: the Center for Closing
the Health Gap, Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Film Commission,
African American Chamber of Commerce, Urban Agriculture Program, Office
of Environmental Quality, Neighborhood Support Fund, Neighborhood
Business District Support Fund, Law Department and funding to 3CDC for
Fountain Square maintenance.
Qualls claimed the higher-than-projected revenues are evidence the city’s economic strategy is so far successful.
“Cincinnati’s strategy of investing in jobs,
neighborhoods, people is working,” she said. “We are seeing an increase
in revenue as a result of investments we are making.”
Qualls also acknowledged that the budget debate has felt
like a “roller coaster” for many citizens. Originally, Mayor Mark Mallory’s
administration claimed it would have to lay off police and firefighters
if the city didn’t lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the
Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. But when the parking lease
was held up in a court challenge, Council managed to pass a budget
without the public safety layoffs. Now, Council is undoing further cuts and moving forward with the parking lease.
After the press conference, Qualls told CityBeat that some of the unused revenue may also be used to finance a disparity study
that would gauge whether the city should change its contracting
policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses.
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.
by German Lopez
at 09:10 AM | Permalink
Tornado strikes Oklahoma suburbs, city holds budget hearing, U.S. driving boom is over
A tornado ravaged Oklahoma City suburbs
yesterday, leaving dozens dead and more injured. Two of the buildings
destroyed in the tornado’s path, which was one mile wide and 20 miles long, were elementary schools — one of which had children that may be trapped under the rubble. Public safety
officials are still on the scene.
Parks and public safety once again dominated discussion
in Cincinnati’s second public hearing for the fiscal 2014 year budget.
The city’s plan would reduce funding for parks, but the park board ultimately
decides what gets cut. Currently, the board is threatening closures at
multiple parks, even though the city manager proposed cuts that would
prevent such drastic measures. Meanwhile, public safety layoffs in the plan have
been reduced to 25 cops and zero firefighters.
A new report found the U.S. driving boom is over,
and that could have implications for local transportation projects like
the streetcar and MLK/I-71 Interchange project. The report shows
Americans are driving less and less Americans are driving, while
other means of transportation are being used more often. The findings
support mass transit projects like the streetcar while calling for a
review of highway projects like the MLK/I-71 Interchange project.
The White House announced yesterday that Councilman Chris Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council member, won the Harvey Milk Champion of Change award, joining nine other winners who will attend a ceremony at the
White House Wednesday for showing a commitment to equality and public
service. Since Seelbach took office, Cincinnati has extended health
benefits to all city employees, required anyone accepting city funds to
sign the city’s non-discrimination agreement and established a LGBT
liaison at the police and fire departments.
The tea party is discussing the possibility of fielding a third-party candidate
in the gubernatorial race, which could weaken Gov. John
Kasich’s chances of re-election. Lori Viars, vice chair of the Warren
County Republican Party, told Dayton Daily News that the tea
party is considering a primary challenge, a third-party candidate or
simply sitting out. Among other issues, the tea party recently
criticized Kasich for his support of the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The Ohio Senate is slowing down a measure that would have forced universities to decide
between $370 million in tuition revenue and providing out-of-state
students with documents required for voting. The provision will likely
be removed from the budget bill, but it’s possible the issue will pop up
in a standalone bill later on. CityBeat previously covered the measure, which was sneaked into the Ohio House budget bill, here.
Republican state legislators may take away driver’s license rights
from unauthorized immigrants who have been granted
amnesty by the federal government. After being pressured by multiple
advocacy groups, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles interpreted state law
and an executive order from President Barack Obama to grant the driver’s licenses. CityBeat broke the story surrounding the issue here.
Over-the-Rhine’s next generation of restaurants could be bigger.
Microsoft is expected to announce the next generation of Xbox today.
Scientists apparently have trouble replicating cancer studies, which could have implications for finding cures and treatments.
by German Lopez
Cincinnati Park Board ends allegedly discriminatory rules
The Cincinnati Park Board today voted to strike down signs enforcing rules in Washington Park. The vote ended Park Rule 28, which
allowed the Park Board to enact new rules by placing a sign on Washington Park grounds.
The signs, which the city could use to enforce any park rule as law, had recently come under fire by
homeless advocate groups. In a statement, Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, wrote, “Park Rule 28 allowed opening for the back-room creation of the special rules in Washington Park that were written by an employee of the Police Department, a couple of Park Board employees and 3CDC employees — completely without the input of the public or any legislative body or process.”Before the Park Board vote, homeless advocate groups
claimed the rules were being written away from public view — in part by
private companies. Jerry Davis, member of the Homeless Congress, cited 3CDC's involvement in the rule writing as an example: “3CDC is a private corporation that does not answer to the
Citizens of Cincinnati. This private group should not get to decide
what rules are created and enforced. 3CDC is saying to the Citizens of
Cincinnati, ‘You pay the bills and we make the decisions.' "
Three Over-the-Rhine residents, including Davis, sued the Park Board on
Sept. 4 to put an end to the signs. In a statement announcing
the lawsuit, Spring claimed the park rules “discriminate against
certain classes of people” — specifically, the homeless and poor.
The Washington Park rules were different than rules at other
Cincinnati parks in a few ways: They did not allow “dropping off food or
clothing,” “rummaging in trash and recycling containers” or the use of
any amplified sound. Homeless advocate groups claimed these rules were
contrary to broader park rules that allow the sharing of food, permit
inspecting and removing items from trash and recycling containers and
only prohibit amplified sound if it disturbs the peace or safety of the public.
Homeless advocate groups said the rules hurt others
as well. Spring wrote in the lawsuit’s press statement, “If a family
decides to picnic in Washington Park and the parents hand their children
food, they would be in breach of these rules, or if a friend hands a
jacket to her walking companion, she would have broken these rules.”
Cincinnati Police Department Captain Daniel Gerard admitted
the rules were targeting the homeless when, according to documents
revealed by homeless advocate groups, he said, “Until the Drop Inn
Center moves, the line about food and clothing drop off being prohibited
is absolutely needed.” The Drop Inn Center is a homeless shelter.Despite the Park Board vote, the lawsuit will continue. The city will file to dismiss the lawsuit, but the city claims the lawsuit should never have been brought forward.“The issue was brought to our attention, we took a look at it and decided to take down the signs, yet they inexplicably decided to file a suit anyway,” said Aaron Herzig, deputy city solicitor. “That's not how it should work. The city looks at a concern and decides to take action, and there's no need for a lawsuit at that point.”Jennifer Kinsley, the attorney representing the three Over-the-Rhine residents suing the city, defended the lawsuit and its continuance.“We congratulate the city on doing the right thing by repealing Rule 28, but the lawsuit covers a broader range of topics than just that rule,” she said, citing statutory damages. She also said she's worried the Park Board ruling will not overturn rules already enforced by the signs: “It may and it may not. We've seen that the Park Board, 3CDC and others are willing to bend the law in order to make special rules for that park, so the status of the rules for that particular area are unclear at the moment.”Herzig says the rules on the signs were not enforced after the signs were taken down “weeks before the lawsuit.” He says the only rules remaining are the rules officially published by the Park Board.
The Banks is beginning to look like the development many thought would never happen
0 Comments · Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Cartoonist Jim Borgman has taken his shots
at The Banks over the years. From Santa dumping coal on the project
site to comparisons with Northern Kentucky’s exploding development to
The Banks development being transformed into a golf course by five
middle-aged white guys — and we’ve all laughed along.