by German Lopez
136 days ago
Behind the parking plan drama, state budget cuts local funding, bridge to get federal bump
Being one of the first to discover a critical memo put Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at the center of an ongoing drama
regarding the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and
garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The memo criticized
the financial details of the lease, but it was kept from the Port, City
Council and the public for nearly a month. Ever since the controversial
parking plan passed City Council and was upheld in court, concerned
citizens, business leaders and critics like Sittenfeld have been calling
on the city and Port to rework or halt the deal. So far, the city and
Port have stuck to their support. The city will get a $92 million lump
sum and at least $3 million a year from the lease, which it currently
plans to use to help balance city budgets and fund development projects,
such as the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The latest state budget secured more cuts to city and county governments,
putting local governments at a $1.5 billion shortfall in the next two
years compared to 2010 and 2011, according to a new report from
progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio.
Republican Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislators slashed local
government funding in 2011 to help fix an $8 billion budget hole. But
the latest state budget, which Kasich signed into law in June, was awash
in extra revenues because of Ohio’s economic recovery — so much so that
legislators passed $2.7 billion in tax cuts. For Cincinnati, the
original cuts cost the city more than $22 million in revenue.
The Brent Spence Bridge was bumped up in a federal funding priority list
through a successful amendment from Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio
Republican. The amendment prioritized $500 million for obsolete and
structurally unsound bridges, but it’s so far unclear how much of the
money will go to the Brent Spence Bridge project, which state officials
estimate will cost $2.7 billion. Currently, Ohio and Kentucky officials
plan to pay for the bridge project by enacting tolls.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor this
year, is calling on the city manager to produce a plan that would
structurally balance Cincinnati’s operating budget by 2016. “To build on
the momentum Cincinnati is now experiencing, we must set a course now
for a fiscally sustainable future,” Qualls said in a statement. “That’s
why I’m urging that we have a plan to reach structural balance by 2016,
restore reserves and increase the city’s pension contribution, minimize
using the parking lease payment to restore budget cuts and continue to
invest in neighborhoods and jobs to grow revenue.” The announcement
comes more than one week after Moody’s, the credit rating agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating
and criticized the city for its exposure to unsustainable pension
liabilities and reliance on one-time sources to fix budget gaps.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley, who’s also running for mayor,
is rolling out his jobs plan today. The initiative will provide a job
training program for individuals facing long-term unemployment or
underemployment, which the Cranley campaign estimates will result in 379
individuals per year obtaining full-time, permanent jobs. The
program will be mainly paid for by pulling funds from the city’s Office of
Environmental Quality, Department of Finance, travel and the state
lobbyist. “My deepest conviction is that there is dignity in work. I
believe all able-bodied adults should work and be self-sufficient. And I
believe society has an obligation to ensure the opportunity to work
exists,” Cranley said in a statement.On Second Thought: “Facts vs. Perceptions in Trayvon Martin Coverage.”
Police yesterday shot and killed
Roger Ramundo, an allegedly armed Clifton resident. Officers had
been called to the area of Clifton and Ludlow avenues by a mental health
provider, who said there was a person with mental health issues armed with a gun, according to interim Cincinnati Police Chief Paul
Humphries. Police said they tried to first subdue Ramundo with Tasers
during an ensuing struggle, but they were unsuccessful and the man
pulled out his gun and fired a shot. That’s when one officer fired two
shots that hit Ramundo, who was then taken to University Hospital, where
he was pronounced dead.
Gov. Kasich isn’t providing clemency
to a Cleveland killer who stabbed his victim 17 times, overruling a
rare plea for mercy from prosecutors but siding with a majority of the
state parole board. Billy Slagle will be executed on Aug. 7.
Ohio will take a hands-off approach
to promoting Obamacare, even though outreach will be crucial for the controversial
health care law. President Barack Obama’s administration estimates it
will have to enroll millions of young adults into health care plans to turn the law into a success.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County is investigating if Obamacare could result in lower property taxes by allowing the county to shift costs to the federal government.
A Cincinnati money manager is being accused of running an “elaborate Ponzi scheme”
that cost investors “tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars,”
according to a July 20 complaint filed in the Hamilton County Common
The average price of a flight from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport dropped, but the airport is still the second-most expensive in the nation.
CityBeat gave Internet cat-celebrity Lil Bub an in-depth look in this week’s issue. Find it online here.
Want to maximize your tan? Here is how close you could get to the sun and survive.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 12:49 PM | Permalink
Officials blame Moody’s downgrade on methodology changes, state policy
It might cost Cincinnati more to issue debt following a credit rating downgrade by Moody’s. In a report released on July 15, the credit ratings agency downgraded the city’s general bonds from Aa1 to Aa2 and revised the bonds’ outlook to “negative.”“The negative outlook reflects the expectation that the city will continue to face challenges in attaining structurally balanced operations, stemming from its unfunded pension liabilities and reliance on a number of one-time budgetary solutions in recent years,” the report reads.In a memo to the mayor and City Council, City Manager Milton Dohoney put the blame on Moody’s methodological changes that now account for state pension funds that Cincinnati has no direct control over. Specifically, Moody’s now looks at the state-managed Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) and Ohio Police and Fire Retirement System (OP&F) when scoring Cincinnati, instead of just the Cincinnati Retirement System (CRS), which the city directly operates.“It is important to note the Ohio Revised Code provides the percentage each employer pays into OPERS and OP&F as its contribution. The City has paid 100 (percent) of this contribution each year as required. The City has no ability to impact the unfunded liability of OPERS or OP&F,” Dohoney wrote in the memo.Still, some of the blame lies on the city’s pension fund, which is lacking a long-term strategy for sustainability, according to Moody’s. The CRS board is currently looking at scenarios to address the city’s long-term liabilities. Its next meeting is on Aug. 1, and it could produce changes that would be presented to City Council, according to the city manager’s memo.The report also takes issue with the city’s repeated use of one-time sources to fix budget gaps. Since 2001, the city’s annual operating budgets have used one-time sources instead of achieving structural balance with long-term cuts and sources of revenue.Critics argue the one-time sources only delay fiscal woes instead of permanently fixing the budget shortfalls. Supporters claim the one-time methods allow the city to balance its budget without taking austere measures that would lead to city layoffs and hurt growth while the economy is in recovery.Moody’s also claims the city has relatively weak socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates. The report from Moody’s does give Cincinnati some good credit, citing a “pressured but still satisfactory financial position,” the recent stabilization of earnings taxes, financial flexibility provided by an available but untapped levy authority, the city’s economically diverse population and an above-average debt position. Bonds are typically issued when the city needs a temporary infusion of funds for capital projects, such as the Cincinnati streetcar.Updated with more context.
by German Lopez
Port wants parking lease money, Ohio No. 2 for job losses, Kasich plans more tax cuts
New documents acquired by The Cincinnati Enquirer show the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority wants $27 million of the city’s $92 million parking lease.
The Port Authority, a city-funded development agency, says it would use
the money for various projects around the city. The request, which has
been supported by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, may explain why the Port
Authority inexplicably took four days to sign its lease agreement with the city:
It wanted some of the money for itself. The city is leasing its parking
meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which will then hire
various private operators from around the country to manage the assets.
The deal will provide $92 million up front and at least $3 million a
year afterward, which the city plans to use for development projects and
to plug budget gaps.
Ohio lost the No. 2 most jobs in the nation last month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That pushed the state unemployment rate to 7.2 percent in June, up from 7 percent in May, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services
found. The state lost 12,500 jobs in June, with the private sector
showing losses across the board. The month’s big losses mean the state
has only added 15,000 jobs in the past year, even though the state
actually topped job growth in May with more than 32,000 new jobs. In
June, Pew Charitable Trusts found Ohio was the No. 46 state for job growth between April 2012 and April this year.
Gov. John Kasich says he wants to further cut state taxes to reduce the bracket for the wealthiest Ohioans
to less than 5 percent. Such a cut could require raising regressive
taxes that put more of a burden on the state’s poorest, such as the
sales tax. The latest two-year state budget, which Kasich signed into
law, did just that, as CityBeat previously covered:
It cut income taxes in a way that favored the wealthy, then it raised
sales taxes in a way that forced the lowest-income Ohioans to pay more.
A report released yesterday suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs
if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation. The
Environment Ohio report finds the state’s regulations on “fracking,” an
oil and gas extraction process, require too little financial assurance
from drilling companies to dissuade dangerous risks. In Ohio, fracking
well operators are required to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well, but even those payments can be avoided through regulatory
loopholes. At the same time, damage caused by fracking can cost
communities and the state millions of dollars, and simply reclaiming the
well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters says he wouldn’t have prosecuted George Zimmerman,
the man who shot and killed an unarmed black 17-year-old last year in
Florida. Zimmerman was found not guilty of manslaughter and
second-degree murder by a jury on July 13 after he claimed self-defense.
A lack of local access to healthy foods was linked to higher obesity rates
in a study released yesterday. That could be troubling news for
Avondale and other Cincinnati neighborhoods that are deemed “food
deserts,” areas that don’t have reasonable access to healthy foods. CityBeat covered the efforts of some city officials, including Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, to end food deserts here.
Cincinnati is looking for feedback on local bike projects.
The American Civil Liberties Union is asking Ohio to avoid shutting off electricity in state prisons,
calling the practice “dangerous” as temperatures approach 100
degrees. Ohio’s prisons have already shut down electricity twice in the
afternoon this week and relied on backup generators. The shutdowns are commonly deployed as part of a power
agreement that’s generated $1.3 million for the state since 2010.
Harris Teeter Supermarkets shareholders are suing to stop a planned acquisition from Kroger.
Detroit yesterday became the biggest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy.
An “invisibility wetsuit” hides people from sharks.
by German Lopez
Parking lease facing legal dispute, critical memo dismissed, mayor to attend streetcar social
In a letter to the city solicitor, a conservative organization is threatening more legal action
to stop the city’s plans to lease its parking meters, lots and garages
to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Coalition Opposed to
Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) claims the city manager exceeded his authority when he
made two “significant and material” changes to the lease agreement after
City Council approved the deal in March. If the city solicitor doesn’t
take up the legal challenge, COAST could sue the city by itself.
Supporters of the parking lease argue it’s necessary to fund development
projects in the city and modernize the city’s parking services, but
opponents say it gives up too much control over the city’s parking
meters, lots and garages and will hurt businesses downtown.
The Business Courier reports that a critical parking memo was supposed to provide a “strike point” for negotiations between the Port Authority and Xerox,
which will manage the city’s parking meters under a lease agreement.
But the city administration didn’t begin sharing the June 20 memo with
anyone else, including the Port Authority, until July 12, after council
members and media outlets began asking the city administration about it.
The memo suggested the city is getting a bad deal from the parking lease agreement and overpaying Xerox. Port and city officials argue the memo relied on outdated information and made technical errors.
Mayor Mark Mallory will today join fellow streetcar supporters
at Rhinegeist Brewery to discuss the streetcar project’s latest news
and future. The city on July 15 set an opening date of Sept. 15, 2016
after finalizing a construction contract with Messer Construction, Prus
Construction and Delta Railroad, which was made possible after City Council closed a $17.4 million budget gap in June. CityBeat recently debunked some of the misrepresentations surrounding the streetcar project here.
Commentary: “Zimmerman Reactions Overlook Broader Racial Issues in America.”
Public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting down
following city and state funding cuts. The organization’s demise is a
great loss to producers like Rufus Johnson, who used its resources for years. The city picked up Media Bridges’ funding after the
state eliminated a fund that was provided by Time Warner Cable, but even the local funding was fully cut in the budget passed in May. City officials
have justified the cuts by pointing to citizen surveys that ranked Media
Bridges poorly in terms of budgetary importance, but a CityBeat
analysis found the surveys were skewed against the low-income
Cincinnatians that benefit the most from public access programs like
State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, is facing multiple felony charges
related to securities fraud. A lawsuit filed in Hamilton County by
investors alleges that money invested at the request of Beck and others
was used for personal gain — specifically, Beck’s campaign — instead of a
business investment as originally intended. Beck has been in power
since 2009, and his current term is set to expire in 2014.
A former poll worker was sentenced to five years for voter fraud after she voted twice for herself and three times for her sister, who’s been in a coma since 2003.
The driver who last August accidentally hit and killed a local cyclist is awaiting his sentence.
Local bike advocacy groups are asking courts to give the maximum
penalty to the driver, who’s facing at most six months in jail and a
The local housing market is rapidly recovering in a
continuing good sign for the economy, with single-family home permits up
48 percent in June compared to the year before, according to the Home
Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Reds games are No. 3 for local TV ratings in all of Major League Baseball, behind only the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals.
Xavier University is laying off 31 employees and cutting 20 currently vacant positions.
A Miami University student is getting an astronaut scholarship, making him one of 28 students nationwide to receive the honor.
Entrepreneur says Cincinnati is an “unexpected hub for tech startups.”
A new self-aiming rifle would outshoot human snipers.
Popular Science has a guide for arguing against anti-vaccine crazies here.
Cincinnati loses a major outlet for community voices with closing of Media Bridges
2 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Rufus Johnson remains optimistic he can
maintain his roles as a television producer and community activist in
Cincinnati, despite Media Bridges closing later this year as a result of
city and state funding cuts.
by German Lopez
City debt outlook worsens, Port apologizes for email about parking memo, fracking tax fails
It may become more expensive for the city to issue debt after Moody’s downgraded the city’s bond rating.
The credit rating agency pinned the blame on the city’s exposure to
local and state retirement systems, as well as the city’s reliance since
2001 on one-time sources to balance the operating budget. Still,
Moody’s does give the city some credit for its economically diverse
population and recently stabilized earnings tax, despite docking the city for bad socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner is apologizing to the public and council members
following the exposure of an email that implied she was trying to keep a
critical parking memo away from public sight. Brunner says she was just trying
to buy time so she could directly show the memo to the Port Authority’s
board before it was reported by news outlets, but she acknowledges that
her email was ill-conceived and came off as an attempt to stifle
transparency. The memo suggests Cincinnati is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Port Authority and several private operators, but the Port Authority and city officials argue the memo is outdated and full of technical errors.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has a report detailing political contributions from oil and gas companies
that may have helped bring down a state “fracking tax,” which was supposed to
raise state revenue from Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas boom. Apparently,
many of the Republican legislators who staunchly opposed the oil and gas
severance tax also took in a lot of money from the same companies who
would have to pay up. The tax proposal was effectively dead on arrival,
even with the hyperbolic support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Fracking is an
extraction technique that pumps millions of gallons of water underground
to free up oil and gas. CityBeat covered its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
Water utility leaders are meeting in Cincinnati this week to discuss sustainable business models.
In Cincinnati, water usage has dropped while expenses to treat water
and waste water have escalated, causing the Metropolitan Sewer District
to take in less money. The conference will discuss models that can
adjust around this trend while keeping rates low for customers.
The owners of The Hanke Exchange, a collection of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, say occupancy is going up
as a result of the promise of the Cincinnati streetcar. The property is
now at 84 percent occupancy rate, up from 28 percent three years ago.
Dayton and Cincinnati will hold rallies Saturday showing support for Trayvon Martin,
the unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman last
year. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder by a jury last Saturday.
Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, was confirmed to direct the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the top agency that will regulate the financial institutions that played a role in causing the Great Recession.
The Hamilton County Young Democrats are hosting a free event
today to meet Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner, who’s also running for
secretary of state next year against Republican incumbent Jon Husted.
If the sun suddenly went out, humanity could take a few weeks to die out and perhaps live in Iceland.
by German Lopez
Memo doubts parking plan, city manager defends hiding memo, streetcar to open 2016
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo
that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease
agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy
remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the
Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are
now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject
the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is
laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the
lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual
payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay
for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo,
but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack
of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the
administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was
understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.
The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016.
The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled
funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever
since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in
misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots
if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The
ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back
its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to
keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The
agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the
condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to
the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a
report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ
Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the
nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.
13 Comments · Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Most anti-streetcar talking points are
perpetuated without proper context, but they’ve still been effective in
rallying a libertarian-style argument against government spending,
despite the potential benefits.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:18 AM | Permalink
Public access media organization to close by end of year
Local public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting its doors for good by the end of the year, ending nearly 25 years of public service.
The organization’s demise is a result of the city eliminating funding for Media Bridges in its latest budget, which was passed by City Council in May.
“It is with great sadness that I must announce that Media Bridges will close its doors by the end of 2013. The city has made it extremely clear that we will not be receiving any more funding from them. While we have tried many other avenues for revenue it has become clear that we will be unable to sustain operations beyond 2013,” Media
Bridges Executive Director Tom Bishop announced Tuesday in the organization’s newsletter.The shutdown will be a steady process, with Media Bridges completely closing once its channels are
transferred or Dec. 13 — whichever comes first.The city’s budget cuts were originally considered in December, but City
Council managed to restore some funding to keep the organization
afloat. Prior to the partial restoration, Bishop had called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget.
City officials previously defended the cuts to Media Bridges, citing city
surveys that ranked the program poorly in terms of budgetary importance.
For the surveys, the city used meetings and mailed questionnaires to gauge public
But Bishop claims the surveys’
demographics were lopsided against low-income Cincinnatians, the income
group that benefits the most from public access programs like Media
For both the meeting-based and mail-in surveys, Bishop’s
claim checks out. His concern is even directly acknowledged and backed in the documented survey results for the meetings:
“Twenty-two percent of meeting participants earned less than $23,050
per year, compared to 40.8 percent of the population at large who earn
less than $24,999 per year. While this is not representative of the
population at large, the data does indicate strong participation from
low income residents.”
Meanwhile, wealthier Cincinnatians were much better
represented, with 11 percent of meeting participants making
$150,000 or more per year despite only 6 percent of the city at large
belonging to that income group, according to the survey results.
The same issue can be found in the mail-in survey: Only 22 percent of respondents made less than $25,000, while 10 percent made $150,000 or more.“It’s ridiculous that they would call that representative of the city of Cincinnati,” Bishop says.
Instead of using its skewed survey results,
Bishop argues the city should have looked at the 2010 Spring Greater
Cincinnati Survey from the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for
Policy Research. In that survey, Cincinnati respondents were asked how
important it was to provide recording equipment to citizens and
neighborhoods so they can “produce educational and public access
programs for cable television.” About 54.3 percent called it “very
important,” 33.9 percent labeled it “somewhat important” and 11.7
percent said it was “not too important.”
City officials also defended the cuts by claiming that funding was only provided as a
“one-year reprieve” after Media Bridges lost state funding that came
through Time Warner Cable, which successfully lobbied to end its
required contributions in 2011.
Bishop disputes the city’s claim, saying Media Bridges and its staff weren’t informed that the city funding was meant to be temporary — at least until it was too late.
Media Bridges is a public access media organization founded in 1988 that
allows anyone in Cincinnati to record video and sound for publicly
broadcasted television and radio. It also provides educational programs for people new to the process.
Although Media Bridges is closing down, the city is still
funding CitiCable, which, among other programming, broadcasts City
Council and county commissioner meetings, through franchise fees from
Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund
Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to
do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is
easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the
city established in case of further cost overruns.In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and
accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an
operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports. During discussions for
the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than
the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s
construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than
the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if
the project was to continue.
With the construction bids taken care of, the only known
funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility
lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on
the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The
issue is currently being decided in court.Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar
project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political
controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.