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
Agreement will provide renovations
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners unanimously
approved a 40-year agreement with the Cincinnati Center City Development
Corporation (3CDC) that will lease the county-owned Memorial Hall and provide renovations
to the 105-year-old building.
County officials have long said the building, which is
used to host concerts, shows and speaking events, is in dire need of
upgrades, particularly overhauls to its roof, windows, facade work,
floors, air conditioning and bathrooms — all of which will now be
financed by 3CDC with the help of tax credits.
“The public-private partnership between 3CDC and Hamilton
County will result in the preservation of historic Memorial Hall without
the use of taxpayer dollars for the improvements,” Commissioner Greg
Hartmann, a Republican, said in a statement. “3CDC has an impressive
track record with development projects in downtown Cincinnati and will
be a great partner to manage this project.”
The partnership will also relinquish the county
government’s operational funding for insurance and utilities for
Memorial Hall, which cost the county about $200,000 annually.
In a statement, Hartmann’s office said the partnership
with 3CDC “extends only to the renovations at Memorial Hall,” and the
county will retain ownership and the final say over any increased
The city of Cincinnati has repeatedly partnered with 3CDC, a nonprofit company, for projects at Fountain Square, Washington Park, the
Vine Street streetscape project and ongoing developments throughout
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 Andy Brownfield
Mayor Mallory to join Qualls in official campaign kickoff
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls will be formally announcing her run for the top spot in Cincinnati on Thursday.
Qualls’ campaign site has been up for some time already,
and the vice mayor’s team had a meeting with political writers and
bloggers on Nov. 26.
The vice mayor will be joined by current term-limited Mayor Mark Mallory, implying his support for her mayoral run. The event is taking place at 10 a.m. at Core Clay, Inc., a small women-owned business in Walnut Hills.
Qualls, who is endorsed by both the Democratic Party and
Charter Committee, previously served as mayor from 1993-1999 after
serving in Cincinnati City Council from 1991-1993. She returned to
council in 2007.
Former city councilman John Cranley, also a Democrat, is
also running for mayor. Cranley served on council between 2001 and 2007.
His campaign will officially launch in January and former mayor Charlie
Luken will serve as the honorary chair.
Republican Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners
President Greg Hartmann is also considering a run for mayor, but hasn’t
made a formal announcement.
Cincinnati has an open mayoral primary, which means that
the top two vote-getters will run against each other in the general
election, regardless of party affiliation.
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
Ohio Republican supermajority hangs on 14 votes, city unveils budget, county passes budget
In the Ohio House of Representatives, the difference between a Republican supermajority and a normal majority is now 14 votes.
That’s how many votes are splitting Republican Rep. Al Landis and
Democratic challenger Josh O'Farrell. The small difference has already
triggered an automatic recount and likely a series of lawsuits from
Democrats over counting provisional ballots. The supermajority would
allow Ohio House Republicans to pass legislation without worry of a
governor’s veto and place any measure on the ballot — including
personhood initiatives — without bipartisan approval.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his 2013 budget proposal at a press conference yesterday.
The proposal will pursue privatizing the city’s parking services to
help close a $34 million deficit. The privatization plan has already
faced some early criticism from Democrat P.G. Sittenfeld. The budget
will also make minor cuts elsewhere. In addition to the 2013 budget, the
Tentative Tax Budget proposal, which Dohoney passed to City Council and
the mayor yesterday, also raises property tax rates.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners approved the 2013 budget in a 2-1 vote.
Democrat Todd Portune was outvoted by Republicans Chris Monzel and
Board President Greg Hartmann. The final budget was basically Hartmann’s “austerity” proposal, barring some minor tweaks. The cuts could cost 150 or more Hamilton County jobs.
Councilman Chris Smitherman is facing a challenge
for his spot as president of the Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP. The
councilman’s opponent is Bob Richardson, a former officer of Laborers
Local 265 and former president of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council.
Richardson’s son told WVXU, “I think we have seen the NAACP veer off its
core principles and turn into a tool for Smitherman and his
In a promising sign for the local economy, Greater Cincinnati banks are taking in more money from deposits.
The 21c Museum Hotel opened yesterday.
But the hotel has critics, including Josh Spring from the Greater
Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. Drawing a comparison to the situation between
Western & Southern and the Anna Louise Inn, Spring said the hotel
ended up displacing far too many people.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is taking up research into how autism develops.
A new report found expanding Medicaid in Ohio could cost the state $3.1 billion. The money would be enough to insure 457,000 uninsured Ohioans. Previous studies found states that expanded Medicaid faced less health problems.
One concern with the state's “fracking” boom: water supply.
Some are worried that the amount of water needed to fuel hydraulic
fracturing, a drilling technique for oil and gas, will drain Ohio’s
wells and reservoirs.
After some sentencing reform, Ohio’s inmate population is not decreasing as fast as some state officials would like.
As the state deals with prison overpopulation and more expensive
prisons, Gov. John Kasich’s administration has turned to privatization. CityBeat looked at issues surrounding private prisons and the connections between the state government and private prison companies here.
Ohio women are having fewer abortions in the state.
The drop seems largely attributable to increased access to birth
control. Better access to health care and improved health education are
also factors.Ever forget to take some medication? No longer. There is now a pill that can inform others when it's taken.
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.
by Andy Brownfield
Proposed 'austere' budget would cut $14.4M from 2012 levels
A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget is being delayed
a week at the request of the sole Democrat on the Board of County
Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board President Greg
Hartmann at a Monday staff meeting to push back the vote a week to
address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future
Hartmann, who earlier denied Portune’s request to issue
securities to raise millions to balance the budget, agreed. He said it
was important that all three commissioners agree on the budget.
Portune told reporters he wanted to see more funding for
juvenile courts. The proposed budget would cut about $3 million from the
juvenile court’s 2012 appropriation.
He said he also wants to see specific plans on how and
where the county will invest in economic development. He and Hartmann
disagree about whether that kind of planning belongs in a budget.
Hartmann had the proposal developed after commissioners rejected three plans from County Administrator Christian Sigman, two of which would have raised taxes. The $192 million budget under consideration cuts about $14 million from the 2012 appropriation levels without raising taxes.
The proposed budget makes a number of what Hartman calls “modest cuts” in almost every county department.
All three commissioners have stated that public safety
funding is a priority. The Sheriff’s Department would see a small
reduction of $27,033, bringing its budget to almost $57.5 million.
However, the department would also face an additional $4.3
million in expenses next year, giving incoming Sheriff Jim Neil an
effectively reduced budget.
The Emergency Management Agency would get a nearly 40 percent increase in the proposed budget, up to $400,000.
The Board of Elections would see its budget slashed 36.2
percent to $6.9 million. However, its expenses would also be lower in
2013 because there is no presidential election as there was in 2012.
The proposed budget would bring the Department of Job and
Family Services’ appropriation to $832,900 — a reduction of $10,360.
However, that funding level is dictated by the State of Ohio and not the
The Hamilton County Prosecutor would also see a small
increase of $37,597 intended to hold level its funding from 2012, as the
department went over-budget. The prosecutor has the ability to sue the
county over its budget appropriation, so the department typically
maintains level funding.
by Andy Brownfield
Posted In: 2012 Election
, County Commission
, Financial Crisis
, Mitt Romney
at 03:53 PM | Permalink
"Austerity budget" rejects tax increases
The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board
outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an
austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some
Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said
his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30
percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to
approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said.
He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.
Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000 or
0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3
percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5
percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the
Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.
Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public
safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic
development is not possible without it.
Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.
Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.
Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he
supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own
budget proposal as well.
“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is
working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the
Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by
the following week.
He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.
“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the
budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for
county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different
visions in terms of solutions.”
Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is
running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major
Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s
waiting for the election results.
“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the
economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking
that’s what you were going to go with.”