by German Lopez
Streetcar faces $22.7m budget gap, bill would restrict sex education, councilman resigns
In a memo to the mayor and City Council members last night, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed the streetcar is facing a $22.7 million shortfall because construction bids were way over budget. The memo says $5.3 million of that budget gap could be brought down through cuts, but fixing the rest requires $17.4 million in additional funds. The memo comes at a time the city is attempting to balance its operating budget by laying off cops and firefighters. But as John Deatrick explained when the city moved to hire him for the streetcar project, the streetcar is part of the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget and can't be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.The budget bill heading to the Ohio House floor would ban comprehensive sex education, defund Planned Parenthood and fund crisis pregnancy centers that pro-choice groups consider "anti-choice." Citing "gateway sexual activity," the bill would open teachers to up to $5,000 in fines for explaining the use of condoms and other birth control to students, and it also bans the distribution of any birth control on school grounds. The bill takes its anti-contraceptive measures to promote an abstinence-only education program. Research has found abstinence-only programs to be generally ineffective, while birth control programs ultimately save money by avoiding costly pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection treatment.Councilman Cecil Thomas is stepping down, and he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas. The appointment has raised questions about how council members are replaced upon resignation, but Thomas says he's just following the rules. Under the current system, designees appoint successors to council seats, but the designees give great weight to the incumbent's input.JobsOhio repaid $8.4 million to Ohio yesterday — fulfilling a promise it made in March that it would fully repay the state for public funding received since it opened on July 5, 2011. The sum is much higher than the $1 million state officials originally said would go to the agency. JobsOhio's finances came under criticism after it was revealed that Gov. John Kasich was redirecting public funds to the agency, prompting a closer look from State Auditor Dave Yost. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republicans established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.In light of the Boston Marathon bombings, Flying Pig Marathon organizers are evaluating security measures, but they're not sure whether additional measures are needed just yet. The Flying Pig Marathon is expected to draw more than 20,000 participants on May 5 — close to the 23,000 who typically attend the Boston Marathon. Still, only about 150,000 spectators are expected at the Flying Pig Marathon, while about 500,000 typically spectate the Boston Marathon.City Council is expected to vote today in support of expanding mobile food vending in the city and make the program, which is handled by 3CDC, permanent. The new mobile vending spots will be near nightlife areas in Over-the-Rhine and during the day at Washington Park.TriHealth and Mercy Health are among the top 15 hospital systems in the United States, according to a new ranking from Truven Health Analytics.When renewing its contract with Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Kroger asked the company to move its center from Des Moines, Iowa, to Cincinnati, bringing an estimated 55 new jobs to the city.New surgical tape works like a parasitic worm for extra stickiness.For the first time, scientists are being allowed to study psychedelics for potential medical treatments.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 10, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee on April 8 moved forward with two controversial measures that
will create an executive project director position for the streetcar
project while allowing the city to rehire retirees while still paying
by German Lopez
Local casino tops revenue, streetcar could get new director, Medicaid expansion to fail
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino topped state casino revenues last month,
translating to $1.4 million in casino tax revenue for the city in
March. If the trend holds — a huge if, considering March was opening
month for the Horseshoe Casino — the city would get $16.8 million a
year, which would be above previous estimates from the state and city
but below estimates presented in mayoral candidate John Cranley’s budget plan.
Cranley and other city officials say casino revenue could be used to
avoid laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, but the
city manager’s office says it wouldn’t be enough.Two City Council decisions yesterday will allow the current project manager for The Banks to take over the streetcar project.
The two 5-4 decisions from City Council came in the middle of a tense
budget debate that could end with the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. But John Deatrick, who could be
hired as executive director of the streetcar project as a result of the
measures, says his salary would come from the capital budget, which is
separate from the general fund that needs to be balanced in light of
structural deficit problems.
House Republicans are poised to reject
Gov. John Kasich’s proposed Medicaid expansion. The expansion, which
was part of Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget proposal, would have saved the
state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health
Policy Institute of Ohio. But it would have done so mostly with federal
funds, which state legislators worry will not be there years down the
line. The Medicaid expansion was one of the few aspects of Kasich’s
budget that state Democrats supported. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
PolitiFact Ohio gave Kasich a “Pants on Fire” rating
for his claim that his transportation budget and Ohio Turnpike plan “would make sure we have lower tolls than we’ve had through the history
of the turnpike.” PolitiFact explains: “Yes, the bill aims to keep tolls
from rising faster than the pace of inflation -- a practice that would
stand in contrast to KPMG’s findings from the past 20 years. And, yes,
the bill freezes tolls for 10 years on a small, targeted cross-section
of turnpike users. But not only are higher tolls a part of Kasich’s
plan, they are integral to the concept. The increased revenue will allow
the state to issue bonds to finance other projects. Furthermore, the
inflation cap is not written into the law, and the state has an out from
the local EZ-Pass freeze.”
Melissa Wegman will be the third Republican
to enter the City Council race. Wegman is a first-time candidate and
businesswoman from East Price Hill. She will be joining fellow
Republicans Amy Murray and incumbent Charlie Winburn.The struggling Kenwood Towne Place will be renamed Kenwood Collection as part of a broader redesign.
One program in President Barack Obama’s budget plan would task NASA with pulling asteroids to our moon’s orbit,
where the asteroids could then be studied and mined. The Obama
administration says the program will only involve small asteroids, so
big, killer asteroids will not be purposely hurled towards Earth.
New evidence suggests some two-legged dinosaurs were strong swimmers, further proving that unless we have extra asteroids to cause an extinction event, we might want to leave them dead.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:26 PM | Permalink
City Council committee passes measure allowing “double dipping”
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee moved forward
with two controversial measures in two 5-4 votes today that will allow the
city to rehire retirees while still paying their pensions and create an
executive project director position for the streetcar project.One of the measures repeals the city’s ban on “double dipping,”
which means rehired retirees will be able to
simultaneously cash in a salary and pension payments. The measures will allow the city to hire John Deatrick, the
current project manager for The Banks, to head the streetcar project.
The city could not previously hire Deatrick because he formally retired
from the city and is currently receiving pension payments.
The city says Deatrick has the experience and expertise
necessary to help bring the streetcar project’s costs in line, but
critics say the city should not be hiring someone for the streetcar
project when the city is considering laying off 344 employees, including
189 cops and 80 firefighters, to balance the budget.
Deatrick says the layoffs are unfortunate, but he
emphasizes that they are occurring through the general fund. If he was
hired, Deatrick’s salary would be paid through the capital budget, a
completely separate fund that the city uses for major development
projects. Because of legal and traditional constraints, capital budget funds generally can’t be used to balance the general fund.
“The capital budget generates projects that bring money into the general fund,” Deatrick says.
Deatrick’s point is similar to an argument often touted by City Manager Milton
Dohoney Jr., who says the city needs to economically grow out of structural budget
deficits. Dohoney and other city officials say the true cause of Cincinnati’s
structural budget imbalance has been the city’s dwindling population in
the past decade, and bringing people back to Cincinnati through economic
development projects, including the streetcar, is a better approach than austerity that would cause more
layoffs and economic pain.
Others, particularly Democratic mayoral candidate John
Cranley, aren’t convinced. In a press statement that used vocabulary that often comes from streetcar opponent COAST (Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes), Cranley said, “Since day one the
streetcar has been a poorly conceived, poorly managed boondoggle that is
now costing the city even more money. The fact that this being done
while police officers and firefighters are facing layoffs is a slap in
the face of those who risk so much to make sure that our city is safe.”
But the city says Deatrick’s involvement could help bring
the streetcar project’s costs down, and Deatrick seems to agree. “That’s
been my whole ‘shtick,’ ” Deatrick says, before citing numerous aspects
of the streetcar project he would be interested in looking at to
bring costs in line.Opponents have pointed to the streetcar’s multiple problems, including unexpected costs and delays, as proof the project has been doomed from the start. But Deatrick says it’s normal for big projects to deal with hurdles, and he cautions he would expect to deal with more rising problems if he takes the job.
“Any time you try to build something — even out in the
middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated
issues,” he says. “These things happen, and that’s what project
management is all about.”
Deatrick says he has long supported the streetcar, and he
plans to expand the project up to the University of Cincinnati and the
rest of the uptown area if he’s put in charge.
While Deatrick has discussed heading the streetcar project with
city officials, no formal offers have been made yet. Still, City Council members
and Dohoney repeatedly named Deatrick as a potential candidate in the
special session of City Council today.
Some council members said they were concerned the double-dipping measure will be
used for more similar hires in the future, which could raise
hiring costs as the city pays for multiple employees’ salaries and
pensions at the same time.
Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure
Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young supported the
measures. Democrats Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican
Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman voted in opposition.
Deatrick’s resume shows experience going back decades.
Since June 2008, Deatrick has headed The Banks project, which recently
won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning
Excellence Award for Implementation (“Bank On It,” issue of Jan. 16).
Before that, he worked as deputy director and chief
engineer at the District of Columbia Department of Transportation from
May 2002 to August 2007, where he says he helped manage parts of the
D.C. streetcar, among other projects.
Prior to his work at D.C., Deatrick started his career as an urban development
technician at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering on September 1973. He helped with many projects around the city before eventually rising to the director position in
November 1999, where he remained until May 2002.
The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing Democratic
mayoral candidates Cranley and Qualls, making the 2013 mayoral race
another important election for the future of the project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should redirect funding from the streetcar to the MLK/I-71 Interchange, but the funding is specifically attached to the streetcar project.
by German Lopez
Federal grants tied to streetcar, transit projects
The MLK/I-71 Interchange project is supposed to be funded through the city’s parking plan, but mayoral candidate John Cranley, who opposes the parking plan and streetcar, says the city should instead use federal funding that was originally intended for the streetcar project.
Between 2010 and 2011, the streetcar project was awarded about $40 million in federal grants — nearly $25 million through
the Urban Circulator Grant, $4 million through the Congestion Mitigation
and Air Quality (CMAQ) Grant and nearly $11 million through TIGER 3. The grants are highly competitive and allocated to certain
projects. In the case of Cincinnati, the grants were specifically
awarded to the streetcar after it was thoroughly vetted as a transit, not highway, project.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website explains why the Urban Circulator Grant is only meant for transit projects like the streetcar:
“Urban circulator systems such as streetcars and rubber-tire trolley
lines provide a transportation option that connects urban destinations
and foster the redevelopment of urban spaces into walkable mixed-use,
The CMAQ Grant’s main goal is to fund projects that
curtail congestion and pollution, with an emphasis on transit projects,
according to the Federal Highway Administration.
The website explains, “Eligible activities include transit
improvements, travel demand management strategies, traffic flow
improvements and public fleet conversions to cleaner fuels, among
The DOT website says TIGER 3 money could go to a highway project,
but one of the program’s goals is promoting “livability,” which is
defined as, “Fostering livable communities through place-based policies
and investments that increase transportation choices and access to
transportation services for people in communities across the United
States.” TIGER 3 is also described as highly competitive by the DOT, so only a few programs get a chance at the money.When asked about the grants’ limitations, Cranley said, “I
believe … the speaker of the house, the senator, the congressman, the
governor and the mayor could petition and get that changed. Just because
that may have been the way they set the grants in the first place
doesn’t mean they can’t change it.”
The parking plan would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority and allocate a portion of the raised funds — $20 million — to the MLK/I-71 Interchange project, but the plan is currently being held up by a lawsuit seeking to enable a referendum.
The streetcar is one of the few issues in which Cranley
and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a streetcar supporter who is also running for mayor, are in stark contrast (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
Cranley’s opponents recently accused him of originally
supporting the streetcar when he was a council member through two 2008 City
Council motions, but Cranley says those motions,
which he co-sponsored, only asked the city administration to study the
merits of a streetcar plan, not approve of it. Cranley voted no on the
first streetcar resolution in October 2007 and the motion to actually
build the streetcar in April 2008.
“I’ve never said that I’m against the (streetcar) concept
in all circumstances,” Cranley says. “I wanted to know if there was a
way that they could pay for it in a way that wouldn’t take away from
what I thought were more important priorities.”
2 Comments · Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I’ve been a longtime supporter of the
streetcar project, but I have to admit I’m a bit worried after finding
out the streetcar might be delayed once again because construction bids
for the project were way over budget.
How the new streetcar’s story will differ from the one that ended 60 years ago
1 Comment · Wednesday, February 20, 2013
After signing a utility relocation
agreement with Duke Energy on Feb. 1, Cincinnati City Manager Milton
Dohoney, Jr. declared, “The streetcar is happening.”
by German Lopez
GOP questions Medicaid expansion, Qualls' streetcar concerns, council backs efficiency
State legislators, particularly Republicans, have a lot of questions regarding Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion.
Legislators are worried the state won’t be able to opt out of the
expansion if the federal government reneges its funding promise, raising
potential financial hurdles. As part of Obamacare, the federal
government pays for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion for the first
three years, and the share phases down to 90 percent after that.
Kasich’s budget includes a trigger — called a “circuit breaker” — in
case the federal government ever funds less than currently promised. A
study from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found
the Medicaid expansion could insure nearly 500,000 people and generate
$1.4 billion by raising revenue and shifting funding burdens from the state to federal
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a longtime supporter of the streetcar, is getting concerned
about some of the problems surrounding the project. In a memo to the
city manager, Qualls suggested putting the streetcar project through
“intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and
timetable back in line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major League
Baseball All-Star Game. The memo was in response to streetcar
construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a
setback that could cause further delays or more funding problems.
With Councilman Chris Seelbach’s strong support, City Council passed a resolution urging the state government to maintain its energy efficiency standards.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the Public
Utilities Committee, sent out a memo Feb. 1 that pledged to review the
state’s standards, causing much concern among environmental groups.
Tolls for the Brent Spence Bridge could be as low as $2,
according to financial consultants involved with the project. The tolls
will help pay for the massive rehabilitation project, which gained
national attention when President Barack Obama visited Cincinnati to support rebuilding the bridge.
State Democrats and Republicans have some questions
about the governor’s Ohio Turnpike plan. Some Democrats are concerned
the state government won’t actually freeze toll hikes at the rate of inflation for
EZPass users. Others are worried
about language in the bill. The plan leverages the Ohio Turnpike to fund a statewide construction program.
The man accused of dumping fracking waste into the Mahoning River in Youngstown was arrested and charged with violating the Clean Water Act.
Dayton wants to help
illegal immigrants who are victims of crime. The Dayton City Commission
approved a $30,000 contract with a law firm to help potential
victims. CityBeat previously covered the recent struggles of children of illegal immigrants in Ohio.
A Dayton Daily News report found Ohio overpays unemployment compensation claims by millions of dollars.
The University of Cincinnati is launching a technology incubator for mobile apps.
In his State of the County address yesterday, Commission President Chris Monzel said Hamilton County is “on the move and getting stronger.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine and officials from other states announced a $29 million settlement with Toyota over the unintended acceleration debacle. Ohio will get $1.7 million from the settlement.
A meteor flew over Russian skies and exploded with the strength of an atomic bomb Friday, causing a sonic blast that shattered windows and injured nearly 1,000 people.
Scientists engineered mice that can’t feel the cold. Certain people on CityBeat’s
staff would probably do anything for this superpower, but scientists
are probably going to use it to make better pain medication.
by German Lopez
Streetcar construction bids come over budget
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh
memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125
million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious
concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project,
everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public
dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the
project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to
support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through
“intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in
line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major
League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former
Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the
streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar
in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the
city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).