WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 

The Eye Test

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
I’ve become a believer in the eye test. It goes all the way back to Thomas, the ever-doubtful disciple, who just couldn’t bring himself to believe the testimony of his brothers in faith following the Crucifixion.     
by German Lopez 05.20.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Transportation at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pirg report

Research Group: U.S. Driving Boom Is Over

As local officials struggle with streetcar and interchange, report demands new direction

Americans are driving less, and fewer Americans are driving, according to a May 14 report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG), an advocacy organization. For Cincinnati, the trend might justify a recent shift in public policy that embraces more transportation options, including more bike lanes and a streetcar. “Americans drive fewer total miles today than we did eight years ago, and fewer per person than we did at the end of Bill Clinton’s first term,” the report reads. “The unique combina­tion of conditions that fueled the Driving Boom — from cheap gas prices to the rapid expansion of the workforce during the Baby Boom generation — no longer exists. Meanwhile, a new generation — the Mil­lennials — is demanding a new American Dream less dependent on driving.” The report also says U.S. transportation policy “remains stuck in the past” and needs to “hit the ‘reset’ button.” The report, which uses U.S. Department of Transportation data from 2012, found Americans were driving about 9,000 miles a year per person in 2012, down from a peak of nearly 10,000 in 2004. Until the peak, Americans had been driving more miles each year since the end of World War II. The report finds the driving trend at odds with other means of transportation: “On the other hand, Americans took nearly 10 percent more trips via public transportation in 2011 than we did in 2005. The nation also saw increases in commuting by bike and on foot.” The report attributes much of the shift to millennials, members of the generation born between 1983 and 2000, which the report says are more likely to demand public transportation and urban and walkable neighborhoods. The new expectations are largely driven by Internet-connected technologies, which are “rapidly spawning new transportation options and shifting the way young Americans relate to one another, creating new avenues for living connected, vibrant lives that are less reliant on driving,” according to the report. PIRG finds the trend will likely stick as gas prices continue to rise, fewer Americans participate in the labor force and Americans demands less time spent in travel. Even if millennials begin driving more in the future, the report’s findings show Americans are going to be driving much less in 2040 than federal agencies currently assume. “This raises the question of whether changing trends in driving are being adequately fac­tored into public policy,” the report reads. The report concludes local, state and federal governments should react to the new trend by planning for uncertainty, accommodating millennials’ demands, reviewing the need for more highway projects, adapting federal priorities, using transportation funds based on cost-benefit analyses and conducting more transportation research. For Cincinnati, the trend could have implications for two major transportation projects: the MLK/I-71 Interchange and the streetcar. The streetcar project uses capital funding sources — some uniquely tied to mass transit projects — that some opponents argue should be reallocated to support the MLK/I-71 Interchange project. But the report’s findings seem to support the city’s current plans to push forward with mass transit projects like the streetcar, even while local funding for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project remains uncertain. After making changes based on feedback from public meetings, the Ohio Department of Transportation priced the interchange project at $80 million to $102 million, or $10 million to $32 million higher than the previous estimate of $70 million. The higher price didn’t lead to the same outcry that resulted from the streetcar project’s $17.4 million cost overrun, likely because of the interchange project’s broader support, secure state funding and feedback-driven circumstances. Still, the city could share some of the higher cost burden for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project. Previously, the city planned to use funds raised by leasing its parking assets to the Port Authority for the interchange, but that plan is currently being held up in court. In 2012, the city adopted Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan since 1980. The plan advocates for more alternative methods of public transportation, particularly light rail and bike lanes. But the master plan does not establish means of funding, so City Council will have to approve funding over time to implement the plan.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.17.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Economy, Health at 09:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Public safety layoffs reduced, state unemployment drops, county agency wins award

Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach proposed a motion yesterday that would reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25 and eliminate all firefighter layoffs previously proposed in budget plans for fiscal year 2014. The huge layoff reduction comes despite months of warning from the city administration that the city would have to carry out big public safety layoffs without the parking plan, which is currently stalled in court. But it’s come with large cuts and shifted priorities in other areas of the budget, such as reduced funding to parks, health, human services, parades and outside agencies. (For example, the Health Department warned that cuts to its services could lead to more rats and bedbugs.) The motion from Qualls and Seelbach came just in time for last night’s public hearing, which mostly focused on the cuts to parks and public safety. Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.0 percent in April, down from 7.1 percent the month before, thanks to increases in the amount of people employed and decreases in the amount of people unemployed. The gains coincided with decent job growth throughout the rest of the nation in April, which dropped nationwide unemployment from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent. But the state gains were fairly mixed, and the amount of construction, professional and business services and federal and local government jobs actually dropped. The mixed, slow growth helps explain why conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly disagree with Gov. John Kasich that Ohio is undergoing an “economic miracle.” The Hamilton County Public Health’s (HCPH) food protection program is apparently the best in the United States and Canada. The Conference for Food Protection awarded the program the 2013 Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award, which “recognizes unsurpassed achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to communities,” according to a statement from HCPH. Homophobic Boy Scouts supporters are rallying nationwide today to support the continuation of the Boy Scouts’ homophobic rules.The Taste of Cincinnati and the the Cubs-Reds series may have helped downtown Cincinnati earn the No. 42 spot in Priceline.com’s top 50 Memorial Day destinations. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed Ohio has been undergoing a boom in oil and gas production in the past two years thanks to developments in a drilling process known as fracking, which CityBeat previously covered in further detail here.Duke Energy hired a new contractor — Southern Cross Co. — to carry out gas and line inspections. Cincinnati-based Kroger developed a new system that will convert food that can’t be sold or donated into clean energy to power one of its distribution centers. Convergys is selling is downtown Cincinnati headquarters as the company goes through big changes. So far the buyer is unknown. Jim Kingsbury, CEO of UC Health since 2010, is retiring. Using an optical illusion to make white people look darker can diminish racial biases, according to a new study. Earth’s super-dense core is weak.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.16.2013
Posted In: Budget, News at 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

Motion to Eliminate Fire Layoffs, Reduce Police Layoffs to 25

Qualls, Seelbach propose budget plan that would avert layoffs despite months of warnings

A budget plan proposed by two council members today would eliminate layoffs at the fire department and reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25, down from 49, by making cuts elsewhere, particularly by forcing city employees to take 10 furlough days in fiscal year 2014.Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach are co-sponsoring the motion. If it's approved by City Council, the amount of city employee layoffs in the fiscal year 2014 budget would drop to 84, down from the original "Plan B" estimate of 344, by amending Mayor Mark Mallory's budget proposal, which was announced yesterday.The news is being well received by public safety advocates, but it's also vindication for some of the city's harshest critics. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley previously said the city was acting like "the boy who cried wolf" by suggesting it had to lay off 344 city employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions."In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened," Cranley previously told CityBeat.But avoiding the layoffs comes with large cuts and shifted priorities elsewhere: Furlough days for supervisory and leadership personnel would be bumped up from five to 10 ($250,000 in savings), all council members would be asked to take 10 furlough days ($22,700), City Council's office budgets would be reduced ($18,000), the clerk of council's office budget would also be reduced ($46,000), the departments of community development and economic development would be merged ($171,000) and the account for firefighter's protective gear would be reduced ($100,000). In total, the cuts in the motion add up to $607,000.The cuts would be in addition to larger cuts proposed by the city manager and mayor, which include reduced funding to parks, human services, parades and outside agencies.The motion will be formally introduced at tonight's Budget and Finance Committee meeting, which will also act as a public hearing for budget issues. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Duke Energy Convention Center.The layoff reductions come after the city manager and mayor spent a bulk of the past six months repeatedly warning that the city would have to carry out significant public safety layoffs if the city didn't lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. That plan would have opened up funds to help balance the budget for two years and pay for economic development projects, including a downtown grocery store ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).But the parking plan is now held up in court, and the city is apparently able to avoid most of the layoffs despite the repeated warnings.The city must enact a budget by May 31, which will give the city the required 30 days to implement the plan by fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.15.2013
Posted In: Mayor, News, Budget at 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Mayor’s Budget Plan Reduces Public Safety Layoffs

Revisions will reduce city layoffs, make cuts to outside agencies

Mayor Mark Mallory announced revisions to the city manager’s budget plan today that will reduce the amount of layoffs by making several additional cuts, particularly in funding that goes to outside agencies, and using recently discovered revenue. Mallory’s changes will restore 18 firefighter positions, 17 police positions, three inspector positions at the Health Department and two positions at the Law Department, reducing the total layoffs to 161, with 49 of those being police positions and 53 being firefighter positions. To balance out the restored positions, the mayor is suggesting closing down two more recreation centers: Westwood Town Hall Recreation Center and Mt. Auburn Recreation Center. He is also suggesting cuts to the mayor’s office budget ($32,000) and outside agencies ($1.3 million), including the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of Commerce. Mallory’s revised budget plan also makes use of about $500,000 in revenue that was not located in time for City Manager Milton Dohoney’s budget proposal. Mallory justified the cuts by saying public safety must come first, but he says he would keep the funding under better circumstances. “The progress we have seen in our city cannot stand on its own without an emphasis on public safety,” he said. The budget will have to be enacted by June 1 to give the city 30 days to implement the changes before fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. It will now move to City Council, which will be able to make its own changes. Mallory stressed that the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit is being driven by a few outside factors, including reduced state funding, court challenges holding up the parking plan and the recent economic downturn. Gov. John Kasich has cut local government funding by about half in his state budget plans, which Dohoney estimated cost Cincinnati about $22.2 million in 2013 (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20). The city was planning to make up for some of that lost funding by leasing its parking assets to the Port Authority and using the funds to help balance the deficit and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). But opponents of the plan, who say they are cautious of parking rate hikes and extended parking meter hours, have successfully held up the plan in court and through a referendum effort. Cincinnati’s population has steadily decreased since the 1950s, which means the city has been taking in less tax revenue from a shrinking population. That was exacerbated by the Great Recession, which further lowered tax revenue as people lost their jobs and cut back spending. Still, the city has run structurally imbalanced budget since 2001, according to previous testimony from Budget Director Lea Eriksen. The previous budgets were balanced through one-time revenue sources, but Dohoney told media outlets last week that, barring the parking plan, those sources have run out.
 
 

City Council Scrutinizes Streetcar Budget Fixes

0 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on May 13, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap.  
by German Lopez 05.15.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Budget, Anna Louise Inn at 09:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mark mallory

Morning News and Stuff

Mallory to propose budget today, ALI settlement criticized, council reviewing rules

Mayor Mark Mallory will deliver his operating budget proposal to City Council today after making changes to the city manager’s proposal, which hikes property taxes and lays off 201 city employees, including cops and firefighters. City Council will then be able to change and give final approval to the budget plan before June 1. Some of the cuts may hit parks the hardest, but city administration officials are cautioning that they did not recommend the specific cuts being outlined, and it’s up to the Cincinnati Parks Board to decide which areas the cuts will impact. The city planned to help balance its $35 million operating budget deficit with the parking plan, but that plan is currently being held up in court. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is speaking out against the settlement to sell the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million. “What has been served today is not justice nor moral on the part of Western & Southern, and we will push for a day when Western Southern recognizes their wrong-doings, asks for forgiveness and turns to doing good,” said Josh Spring, executive of the Homeless Coalition, in a statement. The group is asking supporters of the Anna Louise Inn to meet at the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church Friday at 6 p.m. to discuss further action. City Council is likely to keep its ability to call votes on different items in larger ordinances and motions after seemingly failing to get support from six elected council members. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who proposed the changes, says the power is confusing because there’s no hard standard set for what is separable, but Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who has used the power before and supports it, says the rule retains choice and flexibility. City Council is currently reviewing many of its procedural rules, according to Simpson. Ohio’s third grade reading guarantee was reworked by the Ohio House in part to relax standards for teachers. Previously, the law mandated teachers providing reading guarantee services to have taught the subject for at least three years, which critics of the law previously called “impossible to meet.” The Ohio House is slowing down with its Internet cafe moratorium bill while the Ohio Senate works on its bill that would effectively ban the businesses altogether. State officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, have warned that Internet cafes are prone to criminal activity, but supporters say the businesses are just providing a demanded service. The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending states strengthen drunken driving standards from a blood-alcohol limit of 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent. Here is the science behind hating nails on a chalkboard.
 
 

A Streetcar Named a Failure

6 Comments · Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Forget the bickering, back-and-forth and ballot measures. What we’re now doing — and I use “we” to mean whomever accesses city coffers or pulls capital and/or operating budget purse strings — is putting the streetcar before public good and public interest.   
by German Lopez 05.14.2013
Posted In: Anna Louise Inn, Streetcar, News, Police at 09:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
jamescraig

Morning News and Stuff

Police chief leaving to Detroit, council scrutinizes streetcar, Anna Louise Inn sold

The city confirmed today that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig will be leaving Cincinnati to take a job in Detroit. During Craig’s time, the city experienced a significant drop in crime. City officials praised Craig for his attempts to forge better ties between the Cincinnati Police Department and local communities, particularly by establishing the External Advisory Committee, a group of active local community members and business leaders that gives advice on the police department’s policies and procedures. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the city will begin a nationwide search for Craig’s replacement tomorrow. Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB) is selling the Anna Louise Inn to Western & Southern for $4 million, and CUB will be relocating the Inn’s services to Mount Auburn. Many Anna Louise Inn supporters are taking the sale as a sign Western & Southern won, while others are glad the extensive legal battles are finally over. The sale came after years of Western & Southern obstructing the planned renovations for the Anna Louise Inn through court battles and other legal challenges, which CityBeat covered here. In a Q&A with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Western & Southern CEO John Barrett reflected on the events, saying his company took the “high road” throughout the controversy — a claim many Anna Louise Inn supporters dispute. City Council grilled Dohoney yesterday over fixing the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overruns to save the project is worth it. Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that touted the streetcar project’s return on investment, which was further supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati. Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much and the project, which now stands at $133 million, is too expensive. A final decision is expected by the end of May. The streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fix the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law. The city and county governments are clashing over the city’s hiring policies for companies bidding on the Metropolitan Sewer District’s (MSD) construction projects. The city’s laws require construction firms to have apprenticeship programs, which the city says promotes job training on top of employment. But the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners claims the requirements aren’t feasible and put too much of a strain on companies. Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune questioned why the city’s policy only applies to MSD and not other local government agencies. The Duke Energy Garden is the latest addition to the Smale Riverfront Park. A Catholic teacher union will not support Carla Hale, a gay Columbus-area teacher who was fired after she named her girlfriend in an obituary for her mother. Hale says she was fired over her sexuality, but the Catholic Church says she was fired for revealing a “quasi-spousal relationship” outside of marriage. The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage, which means all gay couples are in a non-marital relationship under the Church’s desired policies.The Internal Revenue Service scandal, which involves IRS officials unfairly scrutinizing conservative groups, is now nationwide. Previous reports pinned the practice on a Cincinnati field office, but numerous IRS offices around the country, including one in Washington, D.C., were found to be guilty of the practice in documents acquired by The Washington Post. Headline from The Columbus Dispatch: “Man who killed wife, then self: ‘I couldn’t take her mouth anymore.’” The brain catches grammar errors even when a person doesn’t realize it.
 
 
by German Lopez 05.13.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Scrutinizes Streetcar Budget Fixes

City manager, council members discuss streetcar funding

At a Budget and Finance Committee meeting today, City Council members grilled City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. on how the city will fix the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap and whether paying for the cost overrun to save the project is worth it. Supporters of the streetcar pushed questions and comments that suggested the streetcar will provide the city with a large return on investment, which was supported by Dohoney’s testimony and previous studies from HDR, a consulting firm, and the University of Cincinnati (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23). Opponents suggested the cost overruns were too much, and the project, which the city manager said now stands at an estimated $132 million to $133 million, is too expensive. In a memo issued April 30, Dohoney recommended various capital funding sources to fix the streetcar budget gap, including a temporary reallocation of Music Hall renovation funds and money that would have otherwise gone to infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino. Dohoney clarified that funding for Music Hall is not being permanently pulled; instead, his recommendations would delay Music Hall funding until 2016, which is when the Music Hall project will need the funds, and use currently allocated funding on the streetcar project. Dohoney added that Otto Budig, president of the Music Hall Revitalization Company, raised no concerns about the streetcar plan after it was explained to him. Dohoney also clarified that his recommendations would not raise taxes. A few council members, particularly Councilman Chris Seelbach, asked whether the streetcar project could face future cost overruns. Dohoney said it’s possible, based on the project’s scope. “For major projects like this … there is usually an anticipation that something other than the exact plan may occur somewhere along the line,” Dohoney said. For the streetcar project, there are a few remaining uncertainties. Dohoney said he doesn’t know for certain whether Messer Construction, which responded to the city’s bid process with the lowest construction bid, is still willing to contract with the city under the terms it previously offered. He said Messer officials have indicated they are still interested, but it remains an uncertainty until a contract is in place. Another uncertainty is exactly how much laying down the tracks will cost. Dohoney said it won’t be possible to gauge the exact cost until Messer or any other company contracts with the city and begins actual work on the project. But for those situations, Dohoney said the streetcar project has a $10 million contingency fund available, as required by the federal government. Councilman Chris Smitherman, who opposes the streetcar project, asked whether there’s a funding ceiling that, if breached, would make Dohoney stop supporting the streetcar project. Dohoney said he could not provide a number without further thought and analysis. When Smitherman later asked if the streetcar should be built at any cost, Dohoney said no. When asked what would happen if the project’s cost overruns were not covered, Dohoney said the project would effectively end. Smitherman asked how the city administration can be pushing forward with the project, given the cost overruns: “How is the administration continuing to move forward with a project that without a vote of council is dead?” Dohoney responded by saying the city administration does not have to stop by law until it is directed to do so by City Council. Ending the project would come with its own costs of about $72 million, according to Dohoney: $19.7 million that was already spent, $14.2 million in close-out costs and $38.1 million in federal grants that would have to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney said stopping would also make the federal government reluctant about working with Cincinnati in the future: “They’ve let us know they would not be pleased if we did it.”The city administration is currently working with the federal government to obtain another $5 million that could be used for contingency or to undo some of the overrun fixes being looked at, but federal officials are waiting to see how the city government reacts to the current cost overrun problems before a decision is made, according to Dohoney. Much of the City Council discussion focused on the streetcar’s merits, particularly whether the first phase of the project, which would run from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, could be successful on its own. The city plans to eventually expand the route to the University of Cincinnati and hospitals uptown — a route originally part of the first phase of the streetcar project that was cut after Gov. John Kasich pulled $52 million in state-distributed federal funding in 2011. “If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said it's a project worth doing,” Dohoney said. “The intention has always been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go beyond that.” But Dohoney later clarified that the first phase of the project would help invigorate hundreds of vacant lots and buildings in Over-the-Rhine, which he said would make that phase of the project a success by itself. Some opponents of the streetcar have incorrectly attempted to tie the streetcar project to the city’s $35 million operating budget deficit, which will likely be closed in part by laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees. But the streetcar project’s funding comes from the capital budget, which can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state law.
 
 

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