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
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
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
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
by German Lopez
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
Posted In: Budget
at 12:33 PM | Permalink
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
Posted In: Mayor
at 10:41 AM | Permalink
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
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
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
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.
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
by German Lopez
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
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.
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
by German Lopez
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
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
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
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
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
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.