by Nick Swartsell
County Commissioners leave 136-year-old landmark out of renovation funding plan
Hamilton County Commissioners voted today to axe Music Hall from a proposed sales tax increase designed to pay for renovations to that structure and Union Terminal. Now, only Union Terminal will benefit from the potential tax hike, which county voters will decide on in November. Voters won't get a chance to decide whether a similar hike will pay for Music Hall. Mayor John Cranley and Cincinnati City Council are not happy about the change-up.“As mayor of this city, I’m deeply offended when we’re treated as second-class citizens in our own county,” Cranley said during a vote approving the city’s contribution to renovations at today’s council meeting. “We have done our part. We will pay the tax if it is passed. In no other jurisdiction, not even Hamilton County, is being asked to cut its budget … for these institutions.” Cranley said asking city taxpayers for more money represents a kind of double taxation, since they would also be paying the county sales tax increase. Ostensibly, council was voting to approve annual payments toward upkeep of both Union Terminal and Music Hall for 25 years. The $200,000 yearly commitment to each building adds up to $10 million. Cranley floated the plan last week as a demonstration of the city’s commitment to the landmark buildings. Council approved that money unanimously, but that vote is mostly symbolic now that the fragile plan to fund both renovations with a tax hike, first proposed by a cadre of area business leaders called the Cultural Facilities Task Force, has fallen through. Hamilton County Commissioners Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel said the proposed contributions, which the city already makes, don’t represent a renewed effort to fix the buildings. The city has also pledged another $10 million toward Music Hall repairs. Those contributions weren’t enough for Hartmann, who had been the swing vote on the three-member commission. He signaled he would not vote for the original 14-year, .25 percent sales tax increase designed to raise much of the $331 million needed to repair the buildings. Instead, he voted with fellow Republican Monzel today for an alternate tax measure that left Music Hall out of the deal, raising $170 million over five years for renovations to Union Terminal only. Democrat Todd Portune, who supported the original plan, voted against the new deal.Former P&G CEO Bob McDonald, who led the task force designing the original deal, said the new plan jeopardizes more than $40 million in private donations, as well as historic preservation tax credits. "The idea that somehow there’s going to be more money falling from space
or that this money will be put forward for an alternate plan is a
fallacious assumption," McDonald told the Cincinnati Business Courier. "That money has been committed to us personally
for this plan.”Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called the development “frustrating.”“I’m not here to add gasoline to the fire, but I think logic is a fair expectation of our elected leaders, and after people have said repeatedly that plans haven’t been vetted, that questions haven’t been answered, they’ve now moved forward with something that has no vetting,” Sittenfeld said, referring to criticisms of the original plan by anti-tax groups like COAST. “I hope people don’t forget what happened eight blocks from City Hall anytime soon.” Monzel said that the plan's details would
be worked out in the coming weeks, and that he wants to keep the county
from overextending itself. “If we limit the scope and focus on the one building that we do have a
history with and limit it to five years, we limit our exposure and can
be able to handle some of these other issues down the road,” he said. Council members said that the city has stepped up to take care of the buildings in the past. “Going back through the real-estate records, it’s clear that time and time again the city has stepped forward,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn. He highlighted the city’s rescue of Union Terminal from a failed plan to turn it into a mall in the 1980s. The city bought the building from a developer after the plan crashed and burned. Flynn also said the city has made significant contributions to 136-year-old Music Hall's upkeep since the 1800s.
by German Lopez
Streetcar vote today, sewer project compromise reached, "megadeals" fail expectations
The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project,
but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the
project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking
the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a
passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power
substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap
today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise
Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a
result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder”
ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that
incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first
place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and
encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor
unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.
Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals”
— massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to
encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the
deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public
officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In
2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above
1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.
As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy
over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city
will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the
deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the
money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development
projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report
looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the
Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence
and unsanitary conditions.
About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job,
and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking
improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the
well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic
President Barack Obama will make a speech
tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is
expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power
plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require
Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.
Plants apparently do math to get through the night.
Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders
from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or
know anyone willing to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Hannah McCartney
Cincinnati infants are dying at an alarmingly high rate
Some parts of Cincinnati suffer from higher infant mortality rates than third-world countries. In the city as a whole, infants die at rates more than twice the national average. We’ve been asking, “Why?” for a long time; this mysterious plague wiping out our infants hasn’t been solved even as our hospitals are recognized worldwide and as it continues to be at the forefront of our public health discussions. Local politicians, hospitals, health experts and advocates are hoping the answer is one that's been lying in front of them the whole time: collaboration. Today marked the official conjoining of local politicians, health experts, advocates and Cincinnati’s top hospitals providing birthing services in hopes of working together to reduce the areas’ infant mortality rate to below that of the national average within the next five years. The new partnership is comprised of Hamilton Country Commissioners Todd Portune and Chris Monzel, who co-chair the effort; the Center for Closing the Health Gap; Mayor Mark Mallory; Councilmember Wendell Young; and hospitals including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital, Mercy Health, TriHealth, UC Health and the UC College of Nursing. While the hospitals are typically competitors, the disturbing, long-standing statistics Monzel described as an "embarrassment" have fueled area health providers to set aside competition and unite Cincinnati’s top health experts to bring Cincinnati's infant mortality levels below the national average within the next five years. “We’re checking egos and names and brands at the door,” said Commissioner Portune. "Enough is enough." Efforts to reduce infant mortality, Portune explained, have been active for years; however, because they've been fragmented — disconnected from one another — establishing best practices just hasn't been possible. Initial funding comes from an agreement that County Commissioners Portune and Monzel made with Jim Kingsbury, UC Health president and CEO, as part of the county's sale of Drake Hospital. Representatives plan to meet on a regular basis to share best practices, exchange ideas and report data. In February, Mayor Mark Mallory entered the city into the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a national competition to inspire city leaders to solve urban problems. His proposal involved the creation of the Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which would have followed new mothers in high-risk areas through pregnancy, creating a database of new mothers and monitoring pregnancies. In Mallory’s submission, he put the problem into perspective: “In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate.”Although Cincinnati was named one of the top 20 finalists out of more than 305 cities, it was not selected as one of the five to receive up to $5 million in funding to jump-start the initiative. Infant mortality rates are measured by the number of deaths of babies less than one year old per 1,000 live births. In Cincinnati, infant mortality rates are at 13.6; the national average is 6. Cincinnati’s black community is especially afflicted by infant mortality. In Ohio, black infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants. To look at a map of infant mortality rates in Greater Cincinnati by zip code or to read about some of the leading causes of infant mortality, visit the Cincinnati Health Department's website.
by German Lopez
Another anti-abortion amendment, Kasich prevents JobsOhio audit, streetcar funds remain
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.The Ohio Senate proposed a budget amendment
yesterday that would ban abortion providers from transferring
patients to public hospitals. The rule continues a series of
conservative pushes on social issues in the ongoing budget process that began in the Ohio House. The
Ohio House budget bill effectively defunded Planned Parenthood and funded anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, while the Ohio Senate accepted those measures and added another rule that potentially allows the health director to shut down abortion clinics.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill
that will prevent a full public audit of JobsOhio, the private
nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators to
replace the Ohio Department of Development. The bill defines liquor
profits, which were public funds before JobsOhio, and private funds in a
way that bars the state auditor from looking into any funding sources
that aren’t owed to the state. Last week, Democratic gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Kasich to veto the bill,
claiming, “The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill,
which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable.”
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) says the $4 million going to the streetcar is a done deal.
Republican county commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann tried to
get OKI to pull the funds, but there now seems to be a general
consensus that the money is contractually tied to the Southwest Ohio
Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and, therefore, the streetcar
project. City Council is likely to consider a plan to plug the streetcar project’s budget gap later this month.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is handing out marijuana plants
at a campaign event today, even though the event may run foul of state
law. Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally
considered the top contenders in this year’s mayoral race, but Berns
has differentiated himself by putting marijuana legalization in his
platform. While drug prohibition policies are generally dictated at
state and federal levels, cities can decriminalize or legalize certain
drugs and force police departments to give prohibition enforcement lower priority.
Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is retiring July 1
following controversial remarks about “those damn Catholics,” the
University of Notre Dame and others. Gee, a Mormon, says he has regrets,
but the gaffes didn’t compel him to retire. In a statement, OSU
credited Gee with helping the school build an academic profile of a
“highly selective, top-tier public research institution.”
Local officials cut the ribbon yesterday for the Roebling Bridge, the latest piece of infrastructure to debut at The Banks.
Fort Hamilton Hospital has a new president.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has loaned more than any other big bank in the country, according to a new study.
How do mosquitoes survive storms? Popular Science has the answer.
Researchers unveiled a drone that can be controlled by thoughts. Next stop: the Iron Man suit.
As city and county clash on “responsible bidder” law, $3.2 billion sewer project looms
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Cincinnati's biggest sewer project in history is being threatened by a city-county conflict over how contracts should be awarded and whether job training is part of the government's role.
by German Lopez
Democrats sue over Terhar, JobsOhio ignores lawsuit, Monzel to change county mission
Ohio Democrats are moving to sue
the state if it continues blocking access to texts from State Board of
Education President Debe Terhar, a Republican from Cincinnati. The school board leader has been facing criticism for making a Facebook post that compared President
Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. The post was a picture with the caption,
“Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm
its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.” There is no historical evidence Hitler made that quote.
Despite ongoing litigation questioning its constitutionality, JobsOhio intends to move ahead
with plans to sell liquor-backed bonds. The Supreme Court agreed to
take up ProgressOhio’s challenge of JobsOhio last week. JobsOhio is a
nonprofit private agency set up by Gov. John Kasich to drive economic
growth, but bipartisan questions have surrounded its legality and
constitutionality since its conception.
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel wants to change the county’s mission statement.
His proposed changes would remove references to equity and add
conservative language about the county government living within its
means. The county is already required to balance its budget.
Ohio State University expects to save
nearly $1 million a year due to wind power. The university signed a
20-year agreement in October to buy 50 megawatts annually from Blue
Creek Wind Farm, the state’s largest commercial wind farm.
The city of Cincinnati is tearing down hundreds of blighted houses. The demolitions, which are being funded by a grant, are meant to make neighborhoods safer.
A Cleveland man was the first to benefit
from a law that expedites payouts to those who were wrongfully
imprisoned. After being imprisoned for 16 years, Darrell Houston will
receive a partial judgment of nearly $380,000.
The Ohio Department of Transportation is looking at removing
34 positions. One of the potentially affected jobs is a counselor position that helped
apprehend a man suspected of kidnapping two teenaged girls.
Ohio may soon require the replacement of old license plates.
The Ohio Tax Credit Authority is assisting eleven companies in investing more than $51 million across Ohio. In Hamilton County, Jedson Engineering will spend an additional $2.8 million to create 30 full-time jobs.
StateImpact Ohio has an in-depth look at Nate DeRolph, one of the leaders in school funding equality.
A new gun shoots criminals with DNA tags,
which lets cops return to a suspect during less confrontational times.
The guns will be particularly useful during riots, when attempting an
arrest can result in injuries.
by German Lopez
State budget will reform taxes, Monzel takes charge of county, freestanding restroom vote
Gov. John Kasich’s 2014-2015 budget plan is on the horizon, and it contains “sweeping tax reform,”
according to Tim Keen, budget director for Kasich. Keen said the new
plan will “result in a significant competitive improvement in our tax
structure,” but it’s not sure how large tax cuts would be paid for. Some
are already calling the plan the “re-election budget.” Expectations are Kasich’s administration will cut less than the previous budget, which greatly cut funding to local governments and education.
Chris Monzel is now in charge
of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. Monzel will serve as
president, while former president Greg Hartmann has stepped down to vice
president. Monzel says public safety will be his No. 1 concern.City Council may vote today on a plan to build the first freestanding public restroom, and it may be coming at a lower cost.
City Manager Milton Dohoney said last week that the restroom could cost
$130,000 with $90,000 going to the actual restroom facility, but
Councilman Seelbach says the city might be able to secure the facility
for about $40,000.
Tomorrow, county commissioners may vote on policy
regarding the Metropolitan Sewer District. Commissioners have been
looking into ending a responsible bidder policy, which they say is bad
for businesses. But Councilman Seelbach argues the policy ensures
job training is part of multi-billion dollar sewer programs. Board President Monzel and
Seelbach are working on a compromise the city and county can agree on.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections is prepared to refer five cases of potential voter fraud from the Nov. 6 election. The board is also investigating about two dozen more voters’ actions for potential criminal charges.
King’s Island is taking job applications for 4,000 full- and part-time positions.
Ohio may soon link teacher pay to quality.
Gov. John Kasich says his funding plan for schools will “empower,” not
require, schools to attach teacher compensation to student success. A previous study suggested the scheme, also known as “merit pay,” might be a good idea.
An economist says Ohio’s home sales will soon be soaring.
Debe Terhar will continue as the Board of Education president, with Tom Gunlock staying as vice president.
Equal rights for women everywhere could save the world,
say two Stanford biologists. Apparently, giving women more rights makes
it so they have less children, which biologists Paul R. and Anne
Ehrlich say will stop humanity from overpopulating the world.
Ever wanted to eat like a caveman? I’m sure someone out there does. Well, here is how.
by Andy Brownfield
Two-to-one vote cuts rollback in half for two years to make up stadium fund deficit
Hamilton County homeowners can expect a larger bill come
tax time. The Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners on
Wednesday voted to halve the property tax rollback promised to voters as part
of the package to build the two downtown sports stadiums.
The rollback saves property owners $70 in taxes for every
$100,000 of valuation. For the next two years they will be paying an
extra $35 per $100,000 of their home’s value.
The money will be used to balance the stadium fund, which
faces a $7 million deficit. The rollback reduction is expected to raise
about $10 million. The board voted 2-1 for the proposal, with sole Democrat Todd Portune dissenting.
“The property tax rollback measure that has been advanced
so far buys us only one year, and next year we will be doing the same
thing we are doing today,” Portune said.
Portune favored raising the sales tax by 0.25 cents — to
6.75 — per dollar, which would have raised more than $30 million over 10
years. His proposal, which failed to receive any support, would have
expired after the 10 years and gone up for review annually after the
Portune said his proposal was more equitable. He said
reducing the property tax rollback was going to affect only Hamilton
County residential property owners, whereas a sales tax increase would
affect everyone who spends money in the county, including visitors from
neighboring Kentucky and Indiana.
Portune billed the tax increase as a long-term solution
that would raise more than was needed currently but would keep the fund
stable in years to come.
Board President Greg Hartmann, who authored the rollback
reduction proposal, called Portune’s plan “a bridge too far.” He said
it was too large of a tax increase and not a targeted approach to solve
the deficit problem. He said he didn’t trust future commissions to allow
the tax increase to expire.
Hartmann called the property tax rollback reduction flexible, scalable, clean, immediate and certain.
Commissioner Chris Monzel, who provided the deciding vote, said he didn’t like either and had to go against his principles with
“No way I walk out of this without breaking a promise. No way I walk out of this winning,” he said.
Monzel said he hopes that savings from the Affordable Care Act
would allow the county to lower its property tax rates to make up for
the rollback reduction.
Monzel also introduced a successful proposal that will include an annual
review of the tax budget to make sure property taxes don’t change,
a provision requiring parking revenue from The Banks to be used to
develop The Banks and a directive for the county administrator to work
with Cincinnati’s professional sports teams on concessions they can make
to help out with the stadium funding burden.
by German Lopez
Board president still unsure of how he'll vote; Portune's sales tax increase still on the table
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners held a public
meeting today to discuss options for balancing the stadium fund. Commissioner
Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the board, on Nov. 28 proposed a 0.25-percent sales tax hike. At the meeting, Board President Greg Hartmann, a Republican, suggested reducing the property tax rollback by 50 percent for two years, but he said he was unsure which way he would vote. Portune also gave ideas for possible adjustments to his sales tax proposal. He said commissioners could “sunset” the sales tax hike, essentially putting an expiration date on the tax increase. He also would like to see the sales tax hike reviewed on a regular basis to ensure taxpayers aren't being burdened longer than necessary. The idea behind possible time limits for both proposals is new revenues, perhaps from an improving economy or Cincinnati's new casino, could make changes unnecessary in the long term.If anything came from the meeting, it’s that none of the
commissioners like the position they’re in. Commissioner Chris Monzel, a Republican,
said he had been placed “between a rock and a hard place.” Hartmann
echoed Monzel, saying it was an “unenviable position.” Despite being the
one to propose the hike, Portune said, “We’re left with two
options that none of us like at all.”
repeated previous arguments during most of the meeting. Hartmann continued saying he was unsure how
he would vote, but he said the two options presented are the only
options left. He called Portune's plan “bold.”
Portune claimed the sales tax hike was more equitable
because it spreads out the tax burden to anyone who spends money in Hamilton
County, including visitors from around the Tristate area. In contrast,
eliminating or reducing the property tax rollback would place the burden
of the stadium fund exclusively on residential property owners in
Hamilton County.The property tax rebate and sales taxes are both regressive, meaning they favor the wealthy more than the
poor. In simple terms, as income goes down, spending on goods and
services take bigger bites out of a person’s income. A sales tax makes
that disproportionate burden even larger.
One analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer found
the wealthy made more money from the property tax rebate than
they were taxed by the half-cent sales tax raise that was originally
meant to support the stadium fund. For a previous story covering the stadium fund, Neil DeMause, a journalist who
chronicled his 15-year investigation of stadium deals in his book Field of Schemes, told CityBeat
the stadium fund’s problems stem from the county government making a
“terrible deal” with the Reds and Bengals.
Monzel said he will continue to try to find alternatives to raising taxes. On Nov. 28, Monzel told CityBeat
he would rather keep the stadium fund balanced for one year with
short-term cuts, including a cut on further investments in The Banks
development, before raising taxes. In the long term, Monzel says
commissioners could see if revenue from the new Horseshoe Casino and a
possible deal involving the University of Cincinnati using Paul Brown
Stadium would be enough to sustain the stadium fund.
The commissioners will vote on the proposals on Dec. 5.
by German Lopez
Lone Democrat dissents on $14.4 million in cuts
For the sixth year in a row, Hamilton County’s budget will
be getting some cuts. The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners
today approved $14.4 million in across-the-board cuts in a 2-1 vote, with Democrat
Todd Portune voting no and Republicans Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voting yes.
The budget’s cuts will affect every county department, but
they will not raise taxes. The plan will likely result in layoffs,
according to the county budget office. The sheriff’s office is the least
affected by cuts.
With a few revisions and tweaks, the plan is basically
what Board President Hartmann originally proposed. Previously, Hartmann touted the
budget plan by praising its “austerity” — a word that has lost popularity in Europe as budget cuts and tax hikes have thrown the continent into a double-dip recession.
Portune suggested an alternative plan that made fewer cuts and instead borrowed money against delinquent taxes.
By law, the county is required to balance its budget.