by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
by German Lopez
Streetcar meeting today, Ohio Senate to modify energy law, state is no 'economic miracle'
City Hall will be hosting a meeting on the streetcar project at 6
p.m. today to figure out what the project’s options are now that it has a $17.4 million budget gap. The meeting was called by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained in a memo that the project has a budget gap because construction bids came in
$26 million to $43 million over budget.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the the Senate Public Utilities Committee, says he wants to “modify,” not repeal, Ohio’s Clean Energy Law
to have more clear-cut compliance standards. Environmentalists say
they’re concerned Seitz will use the review as a front to
water the law down, especially since electricity giant FirstEnergy is pushing
against the law’s energy efficiency standards. CityBeat wrote more about the conflict between environmentalists and FirstEnergy here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading liberal and conservative think tanks apparently agree on: Ohio is not the “economic miracle”
often touted by Gov. John Kasich. In the past year, job numbers for the
state have been particularly weak, with public sector losses nearly
making up for very weak private sector gains. The right-leaning Buckeye
Institute for Public Policy Solutions says a complicated tax system is
largely to blame for the stagnant job growth, while the left-leaning
Policy Matters Ohio is mostly focusing on governments’ budget austerity.
A student allegedly shot himself
in front of classmates at LaSalle High School today. Police say he is
currently at a hospital, and there are currently no reports of anyone
else being shot. As of 10:30 a.m., the situation was still developing.After misleading media reports sent the public into a furor, Mayor Mark Mallory agreed to rescind salary raises
that were part of his office’s deficit-reducing budget plan. The plan
gave the mayor’s top aides raises to make up for an increased workload following staff reductions. Even with the raises, the plan
reduced the deficit by $33,000 during the mayor’s remaining time in
office — a fact originally omitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Music Hall’s facelift is not happening just yet,
even though approvals from City Council and the Music Hall
Revitalization Company have already paved the way for Cincinnati Center
City Development Corporation (3CDC) to begin renovations. As project
manager, 3CDC will take four to six months to develop a budget, review
designs and go over the legal and financial work necessary to start the
project.Hamilton County is currently tracking to be $1.5 million over budget this year — a budget hole the Board of Commissioners hopes to plug by using the rainy day fund.
One section of the Ohio House budget bill would allow charter schools to enroll out-of-state students and charge them tuition. The policy could involve online schools, which were previously found to have poor results in a CityBeat report.
The relaxed rules potentially add more controversy to a budget plan that’s
already mired in criticism for defunding Planned Parenthood and forgoing
the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.Ohio gas prices are starting 9 cents down this week.
Bad news: The largest HIV vaccine study was shut down after patients contracted the AIDS virus more often than those who didn’t take it.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:49 PM | Permalink
Decision follows public outrage caused by misleading reports
Mayor Mark Mallory announced in a memo today that he will not be following through with previously planned salary raises for his staff, citing poor morale in light of recent — but misleading — press coverage. But the rest of his budget plan will remain.Mallory explained his reasoning in a statement: "I am rescinding the raises that I gave my staff and returning all salaries to the previous levels. Although the changes that I made in my office structure resulted in a saving of $66,000 to be used in next year’s budget, I realize that the perception has had a negative effect on the morale of other City Employees."I am the biggest promoter of the public servants who choose to work for the city, both on my staff and in all City Departments. I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. I have been successfully fighting to prevent layoffs throughout the recession. I supported the parking plan because it will ensure that no city employees lose their job. I plan to continue to fight for City Employees and to do everything that I can to minimize the reductions to our City Workforce. Every job that we save is a win for our community."The announcement comes after a misleading report from The Cincinnati Enquirer sparked public outrage. The Enquirer's original report neglected to say that the overall budget plan would save the city $66,000 for the year and $33,000 during the mayor's remaining time in office. CityBeat covered Mallory's budget changes and The Enquirer's misleading report here.
by German Lopez
'Enquirer' riles up angry readers with incomplete report
Even though some members of Mayor Mark Mallory's staff
are getting double-digit raises, the mayor's budget is actually being
downsized to rely on less staff members, ultimately shrinking the mayor's
office budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1.Some
of Mallory's staff obtained raises because they will be taking up the
former duties of Ryan Adcock, who left earlier in the month to help lead
a task force on infant mortality and will not be replaced. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported
the raises earlier today, but the story at first did not mention that
the budgetary moves will ultimately save the city money. The "Enquirer exclusive" includes a "tell them what you think" section in which citizens can email the mayor's office and copy Enquirer editors. The story was later updated to include the overall savings, though The Enquirer posted a separate blog titled, "Mallory getting an earful on raises," which was a collection of angry emails to the mayor based on the original version of the story.CityBeat
acquired a memo written by Mallory that outlines the rest of the
plan, which will produce savings: "I will not replace Ryan Adcock on my
staff. Instead, I have divided his responsibilities among my remaining
staff. In addition, I will not hire the two part-time staffers that I
had considered hiring. The additional work in the office will be
supplemented by unpaid interns."In
addition, I have enacted internal savings in order to return $20,000
from my FY 2013 office budget to be used for the FY 2014 city budget.
Finally, in preparation of the Mayor’s Office Budget for FY 2014, I am
reducing my office budget by $33,000 for the remaining 5 months of my
spokesperson Jason Barron says the mayor will also not be replacing
staff that leaves from this point forward, which could produce more
savings down the line. As of 6:30 p.m., The Enquirer's homepage still prominently displayed the story out of context, suggesting that the raises will add to the city's $35 million deficit.Shawn Butler, the mayor's director of community
affairs, was given an 11-percent raise; Barron, the mayor's
director of public affairs, was given a 16-percent raise; and Arlen
Herrell, the mayor's director of international affairs, was given a
20-percent raise. Adcock also obtained a 20-percent raise briefly before
leaving, which Barron described to CityBeat as a budgetary technicality.Since
Mallory is term-limited, Barron says the savings will only apply to
Mallory's remaining five months. The mayor who replaces Mallory in
December will decide whether to keep or rework Mallory's policies.Last
year, Barron was paid $66,144 in regular pay, Butler was paid $71,349,
Herrell was paid $59,961 and Adcock was paid $66,049, according to the
city's payroll records. But Barron explained that those numbers were
higher because last year happened to have an extra payday. Under normal
circumstances, Barron is paid $62,740 a year, Butler is paid $67,760,
Adcock was paid $62,740 and Herrell is paid $62,031.
by German Lopez
Ohio may allow open containers, Medicaid may be on ballot, pollution afflicts region
State Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, introduced a bill
in the Ohio Senate yesterday that would allow opened alcoholic
beverages in “entertainment districts,” which must have populations of more than
50,000 within one-half mile by one-half mile. Kearney said Over-the-Rhine
would be an ideal benefactor of the new bill. “Senate Bill 116 will
promote tourism and business development across the state,” Kearney said
in a statement. “By modifying Ohio’s law, this will provide an
opportunity for developments such as the Over-the-Rhine Gateway in
Cincinnati and The Flats in Cleveland to create an entertainment
experience and attract more customers.”
Supporters of the Medicaid expansion say they may attempt to put the issue on the November ballot
if the Ohio General Assembly fails to take action by fall. Republicans
in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate have so far rejected Gov. John
Kasich’s pleas for an expansion, instead moving toward asking the federal government for a Medicaid waiver
that would allow the state to make broader
reforms. At least 90 percent of the expansion would be funded by the
federal government. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.
The Greater Cincinnati region and Hamilton County ranked among the worst in the nation
in the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report.
The report, which used 2009-2011 U.S. EPA data, found Greater Cincinnati
to be No. 10 worst for year-round particle pollution and No. 14 for
ozone pollution. Still, the report did find overall improvement around
the nation, with Greater Cincinnati making some advances in pollution
reduction in the past few decades.
A new Ohio law going into effect today will require school coaches to acquire additional concussion awareness training.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross says the
training will make it easier for coaches to identify symptoms of
concussions and get help for students.
A University of Cincinnati study found it could be cost-effective to screen at-risk populations for hepatitis C.
A vegetarian lifestyle may fit some of CityBeat’s most beautiful employees, but Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble says pets need a more expansive diet.
Not only do they have multiple cultural traditions, but humpback whales also learn new tricks by watching their friends.
by German Lopez
Budget pushes conservative policy, moms demand action on guns, mayor shrinking budget
For this week’s cover story, CityBeat analyzed the Ohio House budget bill that would defund
Planned Parenthood, fund anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers and forgo the
Medicaid expansion in favor of broader reforms. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House last week, but it still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich. Ohio Senate President Keith
Faber announced yesterday that the Ohio Senate will not move forward
with the Medicaid expansion — a sign the Ohio Senate is agreeing with the Ohio House on that issue.
Facing the recent wave of deadly gun attacks around the nation, some moms have banded together to demand action. Moms Demand Action is using its political clout to push gun control legislation at a federal level, but it’s also promoting grassroots campaigns in cities and states around the nation.
Contrary to The Cincinnati Enquirer’s “exclusive” story, the mayor’s office is actually shrinking its budget
by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1 despite plans to give some
employees raises. The mayor’s office says the raises are necessary
because the employees will be taken a bigger workload to make up for
reduced staff levels, but the budgetary moves will save money overall.
Originally, The Enquirer reported the raises without noting the savings in the
rest of the budget plan, inspiring a wave of angry emails from readers
to the mayor’s office through The Enquirer’s “tell them what you think” tool.
This week’s commentary: “Streetcar’s No. 1 Problem: Obstructionism.”
At the NAACP meeting today, members will ask independent Councilman Chris Smitherman to step down from his leadership position. The disgruntled members told The Enquirer
that Smitherman, who is an opponent of the streetcar and often partners
up with the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST), is using the NAACP for his “personal and political
agenda,” not civil rights. Smitherman told The Enquirer to focus
on the legitimate work of the NAACP instead of a potential coup that he
says isn’t newsworthy. Smitherman will not allow media into today’s
City Council unanimously passed a resolution
yesterday to oppose anti-union laws that are misleadingly called “right
to work” laws. The laws earned their name after a decades-long spin campaign from big businesses that oppose unions, but the laws’ real purpose is weakening unions
by banning collective bargaining agreements that require workers to join
unions and pay dues. The City Council resolution has no legal weight;
it simply tells higher levels of government to not pass the anti-union law.
Metro’s budget would need to increase by two-thirds
to implements the bus and public transportation agency’s long-range plan, which would add rapid
transit lines, other routes and sheltered transit centers with more
Two Cincinnati economic entities are getting federal funds:
The Cincinnati Development Fund will get $35 million to invest in
brownfield redevelopment, nutritional access and educational
improvements, and Kroger Community Development Entity will get $20
million to increase low-income access to fresh and nutritional foods and
fund redevelopment projects.
As expected, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald officially announced yesterday that he will run for governor against Kasich in 2014.
Kasich appointed former State Rep. John Carey to head the Ohio Board of Regents,
which manages the state’s public university system. Carey says his
biggest goal will be to better align higher education opportunities with
jobs that are available in Ohio.
Sen. Sherrod Brown is unveiling a bill that would effectively break up the big banks by imposing strict capital limits and other rules. CityBeat wrote about Brown’s efforts here.
In a blog post
yesterday, Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican, criticized
President Barack Obama for not calling the Boston bombers “Islamic
jihadists.” Public officials typically do not publicly jump to
conclusions in the middle of an ongoing investigation.
A new app gives you an automatic nose job.
Researchers are developing a solar dish that produces electricity and fresh water at the same time.
by German Lopez
Day of fasting today, local joblessness drops in March, parking petition process questioned
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to take
part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of Fasting today and put off lunch to help support the Freestore Foodbank. Sittenfeld’s office said in a press release that the event will allow
participants to “experience a small measure of the hunger that is a part
of many people’s daily lives.” There will be a ceremony for the event
at noon in Fountain Square, where participants will be able to donate to
the Freestore Foodbank.
March was another decent month for jobs in Cincinnati, with the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropping to 7.5 percent,
down from a revised 7.9 percent in February and 8 percent in March
2012. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati
Economics Center, says most of the job growth is attributable to
Cincinnati’s growing health care services, but manufacturing has also
provided a local boon.
An anonymously posted video questions the legitimacy of some parking plan referendum petitions, but so far no formal challenges
have been filed against the referendum effort. Even if somebody were to
file a challenge, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke
says it would required a lot — nearly 4,000 signatures — to halt a
referendum: “Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be
more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond
those five or six sights shown in the video.”
There is now a local effort to embrace the Cincinnati Preschool Promise,
a private-public partnership that would get more local children in
preschool. The current goal is to get 25 to 50 children in preschool in a pilot
program this fall. Studies show preschool is one of the best investments
that can be made for the economy in the long term. Local preschool
services were recently cut as a consequence of federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1.
UC President Santa Ono is recommending the school freeze in-state tuition for the next school year
— a measure the UC Board of Trustees will consider in June. Ono also
said he will not take a salary increase or bonus for the next two years,
and he is asking the school to sell the presidential condo and use the
money to pay for scholarships.
While testifying to legislators reviewing his two-year budget request, State Treasurer Josh Mandel said his office has been targeted by cyberattacks, and the technology currently available to his department is not good enough to hold off the attacks.
Humana will hire 60 people for its customer service center in downtown.
Brain cells will control the power plants of the future.In a press release, Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed today
Zips’ Cafe Day because the restaurant is finally adding bacon to its
5 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Step one: Create problems for
Cincinnati’s streetcar project. Step two: Blame the problems on the
streetcar project. Step three: Political profit.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
The budget bill currently working through
the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature would cut taxes in a way
that favors the wealthy, according to a new analysis.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An April 16 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7
million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar