by German Lopez
Streetcar gets path forward, redistricting reform under works, federal budget deal approved
In what could be another chance of survival for the $132.8 million streetcar project, Mayor John Cranley on Thursday announced he's willing to continue the project if private contributors cover annual operating expenses that would hit an already-strained operating budget. Although Cranley gave private-sector leaders and streetcar supporters only one week to get a legally binding plan together, Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation said he is quite confident that private contributors could pull together some assurances for the 30 years in operating expenses in the short time span. The potential operating costs have long been a concern for opponents of the streetcar project, even though supporters insist that they would be more than made up by the economic development spurred by the streetcar.Commentary: "Cincinnati's Impoverished Continue to be Underserved and Undercovered."A constitutional review panel seems to agree on a few key points regarding redistricting reform, which could fix a system that's long been abused by politicians on all sides of the aisle to give their political parties an advantage during elections. The panel agreed to create a seven-member board that would redraw Ohio's congressional and legislative districts after the next census is taken in 2020, but it's undecided how much power the minority party should hold on the board. In the last round of redistricting, Republican leaders redrew Ohio's political maps to deemphasize demographics that typically support Democrats and provide stronger spreads for demographics that typically support Republicans. CityBeat covered the issue and its potential impacts in greater detail here.House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, was the only federal legislator from the Cincinnati area to approve a budget deal that will avoid the threat of future government shutdowns. The deal replaces some of the controversial, blunt budget cuts known as "sequestration" with revenue from hiked fees and savings from cuts elsewhere. Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both Republicans from Cincinnati, voted against the deal because it makes cuts over a long period of time. But many economists agree long-term cuts are necessary to avoid the negative effects of budget cuts on today's already-weak economy. The Washington Post ran through the budget deal in further detail here.Weigh in on the Eastern Corridor project here.An Ohio House bill would eliminate the license requirement for carrying a concealed handgun in the state.Health Care Access Now, which helps low-income people in Ohio and Kentucky get health care, obtained a $600,000 grant that could reach 4,500 more patients in the Cincinnati area.Drug abusers might be intentionally injuring their pets to obtain painkillers.Expect more snow tonight, according to The Weather Channel.The University of Cincinnati filed a lawsuit against Crayola
that claims the toy company uses technology invented and patented by UC
without the university's permission.A former Miami University president is now warning of the potential issues caused by recruiting too many wealthy, out-of-state students.A public memorial will be held for William Mallory Sr., a prominent
local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory's father, at the Cincinnati
Museum Center on Sunday. RSVP here.The Cincinnati Parks Foundation received a $1.5 million gift from the Anderson Foundation to underwrite the pavilion in Smale Riverfront Park.A climatologist argues nuclear power is the only way to curb global warming.Scientists created a pen that allows doctors to 3-D print bones right onto patients.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Streetcar announcement today, streetcar decision nears, interim city manager appointed
Mayor John Cranley, Councilman Kevin Flynn and four union representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police, Firefighters Local 48, AFSCME and CODE will make a “major announcement” regarding the streetcar project today at 9 a.m., according to the mayor’s office. Local 12 reported last night that the announcement will be an offer from a private contributor to underwrite the streetcar’s operating costs for 30 years, but Councilman Chris Seelbach tweeted that the rumor is “not true.” If the report checks out, it could significantly increase the streetcar project’s chances of survival by alleviating a major budget concern. (Update: The announcement wasn’t as expansive as stated by Local 12, but Cranley said he’s open to private contributions. Read more here.)Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann could decide the fate of the streetcar project by Dec. 20, a deadline set by the federal government for up to $44.9 million in grants funding roughly one-third of the project. It’s a precarious position for Flynn, who in 2009 and 2011 campaigned in support of the project but completely changed his position during his 2013 campaign. Both Flynn and Mann say they will only support the project if the costs of cancellation are close to the costs of completion, but Flynn says he’s also concerned about the costs to operate the streetcar. Read more about the two council members and their pivotal roles here. City Council yesterday appointed Scott Stiles as interim city manager, but only after heated debate over Stiles’ compensation package left three council members voting “no.” The package gives Stiles a raise if he isn’t appointed as permanent city manager and returns to his previous position as one of two assistant city managers, which some council members called unfair to other city workers, including the other assistant city manager, who wouldn’t get comparable pay increases. Council members estimated the search for another city manager will take six months. Former City Manager Milton Dohoney is among five final candidates for the city manager job in Dallas.The Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s unofficial third political party, yesterday picked Colin Groth as its new leader.Number crunchers will release a preliminary financing plan for the $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge project by the end of the month, according to Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear. The plan will include a mix of federal funding, state funding and tolls, Beshear explained. Ohio, Kentucky and federal officials largely agree the project is necessary to fix the functionally obsolete bridge, but the project stalled over the years as Northern Kentucky officials resisted using tolls for funding.More than 31,000 Ohio students are using private-school vouchers this year, up 4,600 from the year before. Supporters say the vouchers allow more Ohioans to attend otherwise inaccessible schools, but opponents argue the vouchers effectively siphon money away from the public school system.The new federal budget deal received support from Republican Speaker John Boehner, but Republican Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, both from Cincinnati, say they’re unsure which way they’ll vote. The deal increases spending levels established after across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration”; the increased spending is balanced out by cuts elsewhere and hiked fees. The Washington Post gave a succinct rundown of the deal here.Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are among the least healthy states in the nation, according to a report from the United Health Foundation. Ohio legislators yesterday approved an expanded “Move Over” law that “requires motorists to slow down and, as conditions permit, shift to an adjacent lane when approaching construction, maintenance and public utilities commission vehicles that are parked on the roadside with flashing, oscillating or rotating lights,” according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. Previous law only requires slowing down and shifting lanes when approaching police and other emergency vehicles, including tow trucks.The Ohio House approved a bill that could give student trustees voting power on public university boards, which could allow some students to help set tuition levels.An anonymous $3 million gift created a scholarship fund for University of Cincinnati engineering students.Here are the nominees for the 2014 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.OpenTable ranked Cincinnati restaurant Orchids at Palm Court as the seventh best in the nation for 2013. Cincinnati-based Boca also made the top 100 list.Miami University and Cincinnati will host the 2016 NCAA hockey tournament.The coldest place on Earth — in Antarctica, obviously — can reach -135.8 degrees Farenheit.A one-way, manned mission to Mars got closer to reality after Mars One announced a deal with Lockheed Martin and SSTL to develop technology to colonize the planet by 2025.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Haile Foundation working with private-sector leaders to find solution
The streetcar project’s chances of survival grew on Thursday after Mayor John Cranley announced he’s willing
to allow the $132.8 million project move forward if the
annual operating costs for the streetcar are underwritten by private
contributors.But streetcar supporters might have as little as one week
to provide assurances to Cranley that the operating costs can be
underwritten by the private sector, given the federal government’s Dec.
20 deadline for up to $44.9 million in grants financing roughly
one-third of the project.Still, a representative of the Haile Foundation, a major private contributor to city projects, said private-sector leaders are already working on meeting Cranley’s offer and solving the issue.
The concern for Cranley — and even some streetcar
supporters — is that annual operating expenses for the streetcar would
hit the city’s already-strained operating budget, especially if the
annual operating expenses are higher than the previous estimate of $3.4-$4.5 million.
Although the city wouldn’t need to pay for the full operating costs until the
streetcar opens for service in 2016, Cranley and some council members
are concerned finishing the project now would force the city to make
payments it won't be able to afford in the future.
“We know the streetcar is a very expensive project,”
Cranley said. “This community cannot afford a new, ongoing liability
that goes on forever.”Streetcar supporters argue Cranley’s view misses the streetcar’s potential for economic development, which could bring in more city revenues as more people move and work in the city. The streetcar project would produce a 2.7-to-1 return on investment, according to a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later verified by the University of Cincinnati.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of the two potential swing votes on council, said Cranley’s offer could provide “a way forward.” He previously told CityBeat
that the operating costs remain a prominent concern for him because
they could translate to cuts in the city’s budget, particularly to
police and firefighters.
Eric Avner, vice president and senior program manager of
community development at the Haile Foundation, called the deal “an olive
branch” to streetcar supporters. He said he’s “very, very confident”
the private sector will be able to find a solution.
“I don’t think we can solve it in a week. What I heard is he needs assurances,” Avner said.
Cranley said he doesn’t expect someone to come to city
leaders next Wednesday with a check paying for 30 years of
operating costs, but he said the commitment has to be serious
and long lasting for the city to move forward with the streetcar.
Avner discussed bringing together a commission of private-sector leaders with some long-term assurances.
In what he described as an “organic” movement, Avner said
he’s heard from various private-sector leaders that they want to keep
the project going, but he claimed most of them don’t want to engage in a
public “food fight” that could hurt their relations with the mayor and
other city officials.
For Avner, it’s a matter of sticking to a project that’s already well into development and construction.
“We don’t have the luxury to waste that kind of money in this town,” he said.
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 told
council members that canceling the streetcar project could save only
$7.5-$24.5 million in capital costs after accounting for $32.8 million
in estimated sunk costs through November, $30.6-$47.6 million in
close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grants that would be
lost if the project were stopped.
After Cranley’s announcement, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson
questioned Cranley’s motives and said the solicitation might be very
difficult to meet in just one week.
Cranley said he’ll reach out to the Federal Transit
Administration to try to get an extension, perhaps until the end of the
year, on the deadline for federal grants.
“It’s obviously a huge, huge hurdle to try to pull this together in seven days,” Cranley said.
Cranley cautioned he wouldn’t be upset if his offer fell through. Flanked by union representatives for police, firefighters and
other city workers, Cranley reiterated that his
priorities still lie in basic city services.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld previously proposed setting up a
special improvement district to pay for the operating costs. But
Cranley called the approach unworkable because it would
require property owners to opt in — an effort that would presumably take
much longer than one week.
Cranley’s announcement came as streetcar supporters move
to place a city charter amendment in support of the streetcar project on
the ballot. The campaign vowed to gather 12,000 signatures by the end
of the week.
by German Lopez
Compensation package remains controversial after changes
City Council on Wednesday officially appointed Scott
Stiles as interim city manager, but only after a testy exchange over the
compensation package left three of eight present council members as
“no” votes.The package gives Stiles a raise if he returns to his previous role as one of two assistant city managers, which three council members said is unfair to lesser-paid city
workers, such as trash collectors, and the other assistant city manager, David Holmes, who won’t get comparable pay increases.
The package appoints Stiles to the city’s top job at a
salary of $240,000 a year, less than the previous city manager’s
If the city appoints someone other than Stiles as
permanent city manager, Stiles will be placed back in the assistant city
manager role with a $180,000 salary, roughly $33,500 more than the
other assistant city manager.
If a permanent city manager decides to relieve Stiles of
the assistant city manager position, the city will be required to make a
good faith effort to find Stiles some form of employment within the
city until 2018, which would allow Stiles to collect his full pension
payment upon retirement.
Council Members David Mann, Charlie Winburn, Amy Murray,
Kevin Flynn and Christopher Smitherman voted in favor of the appointment
and package, while Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young
voted against it. P.G. Sittenfeld was absent.
Simpson and Seelbach said they have no problem giving
Stiles a $240,000 salary while he’s in the interim city manager
position, but both argued it’s unfair to other city workers to give only
Stiles a raise if he’s reappointed as assistant city manager.
Simpson pointed out that the package would also increase
the city administration budget if the new permanent city manager decides
to keep Stiles and Holmes as assistant city managers at the agreed-upon
Mayor John Cranley argued Simpson, Seelbach and Young were
trying to introduce a new standard that wasn’t present in the previous
council, where Simpson, Seelbach and Young were in the majority
“I would have appreciated long-term thinking when I was
saddled with a $255,000 severance payment,” he said, referencing a
severance package the previous council gave to former City Manager
Milton Dohoney after Cranley announced Dohoney would resign on Dec. 1.
Simpson argued the severance package wouldn’t have been
necessary if Cranley agreed to keep Dohoney on the job until a permanent
replacement was found.
“It’s our job to protect the taxpayer,” Simpson said.
Vice Mayor Mann pointed out that if the city doesn’t fill
the assistant city manager role while Stiles presides as interim city
manager, the city will actually save money by leaving a salaried
administrative position vacant for six months.
Cranley previously said the city will conduct a national
search for a permanent city manager. Council members at Wednesday’s
meeting estimated the effort should take six months.
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Cincinnati’s winter shelter opened on Dec. 10, days after a winter storm caused the city to declare a snow emergency, and will remain open through February.
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
A City Council committee voted
to rescind council’s support for a 99-unit
supportive housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically
homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
0 Comments · Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Local leaders could once again prove how little they care about homelessness and poverty if they rescind their support for a housing project in Avondale.
by German Lopez
Commons at Alaska in Avondale snared by controversy
A City Council committee on Tuesday voted to rescind
council’s support for state tax credits going to a 99-unit supportive
housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless,
disabled and low-income individuals.But since National Church Residences already obtained tax credits for the project from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in June, it’s possible the project could continue even if council stands in opposition, according to Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Still, the decision from the Economic Growth and Infrastructure
Committee comes in the middle of a months-long controversy that
has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates in a heated
dispute. (CityBeat first covered the issue in greater detail here.)
Independent Christopher Smitherman and Republican Amy
Murray, the two present members of the committee, both voted to pull support from the project. The issue will now
go to a nine-member City Council, which consists of five Democrats, and
Democratic Mayor John Cranley.
Smitherman, chair of the committee, claimed the project’s issues spawned from a lack of community engagement.
“I want everybody to take a pause,” Smitherman said.
“Respecting our city, in my opinion, means that you do the community
engagement at the level that reflects the magnitude of what you want to
Smitherman’s comments followed testimony from neighborhood activists who oppose the facility and homeless advocates who support it.
Opponents insist they support policies addressing homelessness. But
they argue the “massive” facility would alter the neighborhood, worsen
Avondale’s problems with poverty and damage revitalization efforts.
Supporters claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that predominates so many supportive housing facilities.
“In our society, we have a tendency to say we don't want
‘those people’ in our neighborhoods. And history dictates to us that
conversations that start with ‘we don't want those people here’ don't
typically end well,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater
Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness
said the facility is part of his organization’s Homeless to Homes plan, which council
previously approved to address Cincinnati’s struggles with homelessness. Finn’s organization aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 in 2012 to roughly 3,500 in 2017.
The Avondale facility could also help reduce Cincinnati’s high levels of poverty. More than half of Cincinnati’s children and more than one-third of the city’s general population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.The full body of City Council could take up the issue as early as Wednesday. Smitherman advised both sides to attend the council meeting and state their cases.Updated with additional information from Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
by German Lopez
FitzGerald could replace running mate, streetcar supporters seek vote, winter shelter opens
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is
preparing to replace running mate Eric Kearney, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Kearney, a state senator from Cincinnati, has been under increasing
pressure to drop out of the race following multiple media reports that
uncovered he, his wife and his business owe up to $826,000 in unpaid
taxes. FitzGerald is running against Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2014.Streetcar supporters will seek a city charter amendment that would task Cincinnati with continuing the $132.8 million streetcar project. Supporters say the amendment will act as a
back-up plan if Mayor John Cranley and City Council decide to strike
down the project after completion and cancellation costs are reviewed
through an independent audit. But the Federal Transit Administration
says the city would lose up to $44.9 million in federal funding —
roughly one-third of the streetcar project — if the city government doesn’t agree
to continue with the streetcar before Dec. 19. If the charter amendment gets enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot, voters could decide on the issue as
late as May.Cincinnati’s winter shelter opened today and will remain
open through February, according to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless
Coalition. The opening comes after winter storms covered Cincinnati’s
streets in ice and snow and sparked a citywide snow emergency over the weekend. The colder conditions will continue into the week,
according to the National Weather Service. It was originally unclear
whether the shelter would be able to open for its traditional
two-to-three months, but a $30,000 contribution from City Council helped
pave the way forward.The woman who was struck by a police cruiser in
Over-the-Rhine last month filed a lawsuit alleging the officer deliberately deleted
the dashboard camera video of the collision and lied when he claimed his
emergency lights and siren were on. The camera stopped recording for about three minutes right
before Officer Orlando Smith hit Natalie Cole with his cruiser. Police say the camera malfunctioned. But
the incident was the second time Smith’s camera stopped working in the
past year; previously, the camera failed to record during a shooting
that left one suspect dead and another wounded. CityBeat covered the issues surrounding cruiser cameras in further detail here.Councilman Charlie Winburn says the city wastefully
purchased and dumped 2,000 tons of road salt. Although other council
members on the Budget and Finance Committee appeared cautious of
Winburn’s accusations, he asked the city administration to
investigate the issue.
Ohioans can now enroll in an expanded Medicaid program,
which covers anyone up to 138 percent of the poverty level, or an annual
income of $15,856.20 or less. In October, a seven-member legislative
panel accepted federal funds to pay for expanded Medicaid eligibility
for two years despite resistance from the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature.
The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber named a new president and CEO.
The rover Curiosity found a former lake on Mars.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Shelter to remain open through February
Cincinnati’s winter shelter for the homeless will open on Dec. 10 and
remain open through February, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition
announced on Friday.
The announcement preceded a winter storm that covered Cincinnati’s streets in ice and snow and sparked a citywide snow emergency over the weekend. The snow flurries and colder conditions will continue into the week,
according to the National Weather Service.
It was originally unclear
whether the winter shelter would be able to reach its $75,000
fundraising goal to open for its standard two-to-three months. But
concerns were allayed after the previous City Council appropriated
$30,000 to help the shelter open.
For its run during the 2012-2013 winter, the shelter housed roughly 600 people.
“It’s a relatively cheap program to run,” Josh Spring,
executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition,
previously told CityBeat. “To serve about 600 people with $75,000 is pretty good.”
Although the shelter now expects to be open through February,
it could still use additional contributions to remain open into March
in case the winter is particularly cold and enduring.
The shelter is made possible by the Greater Cincinnati
Homeless Coalition, Drop Inn Center, Strategies to End Homelessness,
Society of St. Vincent De Paul and Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition
of Cincinnati. It’s supported largely by private contributions.
Contributions to the winter shelter and Drop Inn Center can be made at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”