by German Lopez
77 days ago
Vice mayor talks immigration, parking plan, streetcar
For better or worse, Cincinnati will have
to deal with
another major election cycle in 2013. With a few hot-button issues
already grabbing the public spotlight, a lot could be at stake when
voters pull the lever on Nov. 5 — making a proper understanding of the
candidates all the more important.
Most people get to know candidates through fragments of information spread out in multiple stories and media outlets, but a comprehensive question-and-answer format provides candidates with a chance to speak on
their own terms. CityBeat already did a one-on-one with Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, which can be read here.
Next up, CityBeat sat down with Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls, another Democrat who is running for mayor, to discuss her campaign and what
ideas she’s bringing to the table. Qualls has been a strong advocate of
the streetcar (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23) and parking plan (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), and she says she wants to continue
development in Downtown and Cincinnati’s neighborhoods to create
sustainable growth. We asked her about those issues and more, and the
extensive conversation (with some edits for clarity and brevity) can be
CityBeat: How do you feel about the campaign in general so far?
Roxanne Qualls: I’m very excited about the
campaign. You know, a mayor’s race is very different than a council
race. A mayor’s race has many more components to it: higher fundraising
goals and more intensive outreach. I’ve been very encouraged by the
folks who are volunteering and those who are stepping up and making
contributions. It’s still early, but I’ve been excited.
CB: What kind of support have you seen so far?
RQ: Support is good. A lot of neighborhood folks are
coming forward, partly because of the work I’ve been doing with them on
council to help them achieve their own visions for their
communities and neighborhoods. And I’m also getting support from
different groups of people who I’ve been working for a number of
years on major projects that help move the city and also the
CB: Before we get into parking and the streetcar,
one of the resolutions passed by City Council yesterday asked Congress to pass
comprehensive immigration reform. Do you think there’s anything the city
could do to be more inviting to immigrants?
RQ: Even though it was a resolution and is
therefore a symbolic act of the council, that symbolic act was very,
very important to the members of the immigrant community in Cincinnati
because many other communities are unwilling to say they even want
My own personal and professional belief is that if we’re actually going to grow as a city and really
thrive in the future in a sustainable way, we have to encourage
immigrants to come into the city of Cincinnati. If you look around the
country at cities that have increased their population significantly,
they don’t do it relying on baby boomers moving back to the city and Gen
Y-ers — those folks are important, but they’re not sufficient. You have
to have immigrants come into your community, buy up homes, buy up
stores and regenerate and rejuvenate the neighborhoods.
As a city that went from over 500,000 people to now under
300,000, we have to fill that gap. When I’m mayor, I will set a goal
that by 2025 we will increase our population by 100,000 people. We’re only
going to do that with immigrants.
CB: So what kind of programs do you think would help in that area?
RQ: A couple things, but there are things already
happening that many people are unaware of. For example, if you were to
go to Roberts Paideia at Price Hill, you would find 30
percent of the children there were
not speaking English in their households before attending school. So a very strong
Spanish-speaking community is growing up in Price Hill. First and
foremost, having an educational system that recognizes and responds is
The other thing is to be a very welcoming community,
particularly when it comes to issues of safety and security. We’re very
fortunate that District 3 has become very responsive, as is District 4,
to immigrants. The entire police department is sensitive, but we have a
very high concentration of folks who are Latinos in
District 3 — that’s why I focused on District 3 as very critical in
terms of the response.
The third thing that we need to do is work with organizations like
the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Chinese Chamber of Commerce to
really strengthen business relations and the support that’s
necessary for many of the small businesses that provide opportunities
and employment within those communities. As the city develops its small
business program, we need to pay attention to the fact that very small
businesses — under $100,000, let’s say, in terms of annual volume — are
those businesses that really are neighborhood-serving. They’re
businesses we should be encouraging within the immigrant community.
CB: One of the surprising statistics with public
safety is that a very small amount of the police force — 2 out of 981 —
speaks Spanish. Do you think there’s anything we could do to encourage
more Spanish speakers?
RQ: There’s an increasing recognition
that it’s important for people who provide services to speak more than one
language, so the police department can encourage its members to speak more than
But there are other things we can do in general, not just
that would impact the police. I’ve been trying to do something as simple
as multilingual signage.
The city could also aggressively promote simultaneous translation via its own
website and the information it puts out.
On my own personal website, one of the things that we use is the Google
Translator. So anyone who wants to read anything on the
website, all they have to do is press the Google Translator and
have it translate to any language.
CB: The other thing that was covered in City
Council yesterday was the parking plan. You supported it. What
do you think it will do for the city?
RQ: There are a couple things it’s going to do.
Simply on the level of parking, it’s going to provide the resources to
modernize the system. For the garages, that means all the capital
improvements that are necessary. For the meters, that’s everything
everybody has heard about in terms of putting in electronic meters,
allowing the use of smartphone apps, making it much more convenient for
people and giving us the ability as technology evolves over time to
adapt. For example, we shouldn’t assume that 30 years from now there
will be such things as meters in existence. We need to be able to adapt
in that environment. Already in other countries, you don’t have meters,
but you do have sensors and you do have means of paying, but it doesn’t
involve a physical object to do it with. It’s all oriented toward
customer service and staying up with the times.
The second thing is it gives us the resources to invest in things
like the MLK/I-71 Interchange, which everybody, I believe, at this point
agrees is a major economic development investment and will pay off in
significant job growth in the medical-university area of uptown.
It also allows us to invest in some critical pieces of downtown
development that involve garages and residential development that will
help us capture the market. I think if you read all the papers,
everybody should realize that there’s no available product to meet the
demand for downtown housing. Any time something comes into the market,
it is either rented out or sold out. So we need to
bring residential online at a much faster pace in Downtown.
And we get to increase our reserves, so that the rating
agencies will be encouraged that we’re taking steps to ensure that we
can responsibly manage our budget. And for the moment, for fiscal year 2014,
it will help us reduce the deficit.
So there’s, one, modernization itself and, two, the
ability to invest in opportunities over the long term that will grow our
revenues and help us become more sustainable as a city.
CB: With the modernization part, do you think it’s
necessary to make this deal because the city can’t otherwise afford to
RQ: If you look at the money that
comes into the
current parking system and look at the needs of the parking system, the
current parking system can’t support the level of investment required
for modernization. By doing this lease agreement, those upgrades can
CB: On the deficit-reduction side, how do you think
the city will solve its structural deficit once the one-time money does
RQ: In fiscal year 2014,
obviously a portion of the money is there to help balance the budget.
Other members of council and I feel very strongly that this, starting
now, is the opportunity to bring the structural deficit under control.
Between June 2013 and July 2014, we
need to put in place a deficit reduction plan.
Now, the city manager has begun to talk about some of
that, but that needs to be accelerated. Among the things that we need to
do to make it a realistic possibility is we need to bring certain
players to the table: the folks who represent our collective bargaining
units, fire, police and AFSCME (American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees). They have as much of an interest in figuring
out how to deal with this issue as I do as an elected official, as the
city manager does, as anybody does. So they really need to be at the
table, talking — not in negotiations, but just talking — about how we’re
going to begin to approach this in a way that ensures what we all want,
which is a safe community that provides good quality jobs, great
quality service and great quality of life.
The other people that can come to the table is the
business community because they can bring their expertise, help and
resources, but also the civic community and neighborhoods who are the
ones who live and breathe the effects of anything that we do.
The other thing is that we already can begin to identify
certain areas that we should be exploring. Something very simple, for
example, is one of the major expense items is gas. We are buying new
vehicles for the police department that are better for gas mileage, but
we’re not doing that fast enough.
CB: Do you think any of the deficit reduction could involve attrition?
RQ: The bottom line for either police and fire is
there are minimal service levels. For police, how many of the officers
are actually available for the street? For the fire department, how do
you make sure that the response time is within acceptable parameters and
that the consequence of falling below a certain level isn’t such
extensive brownouts that you end up endangering people’s lives?
My own personal feeling is there’s a lot of professional
judgment that needs to be involved in this discussion and decision. I
would be incredibly hesitant to fall below the minimum staffing levels
without the support of Police Chief James Craig or Fire Chief Richard Braun.
CB: How do you feel about the controversy surrounding the emergency clause?
RQ: I think it’s nothing but a political
controversy that’s generated for political gain and for political
purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency clauses.
In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently voted for
The emergency clause is necessary so that we can proceed to construct the budget for fiscal year 2014 by July.
CB: So you don’t think the referendum part of the emergency clause could be separated from the part that expedites the process?
RQ: No, because it is going to take until at least
June to get everything in place. We would like to move as quickly as
possible, so before we actually approve the budget by July 1, we actually have the money to balance it. If that doesn’t happen, the city manager will have to start
sending out layoff notices. By law, we would be required to do that
because we would not have that money in place.
CB: So not having the money would force Plan B or something like it?
RQ: Yes, a referendum would result in Plan B or
something similar. Regardless of whether you want to call it Plan B or
Plan Z, people should not be foolish enough to think that there would
not be layoffs. You cannot balance a budget deficit of $25 million
without personnel reductions.
other big item in the mayor’s race is the streetcar. I’ve talked to you
about this in the past, and you said you will push through the next
during your mayor’s term. How exactly do you envision that?
RQ: Currently, there are studies that are being
undertaken that are looking for alternatives in streetcar circulation in
the uptown area.
If we can connect the streetcar into uptown and have it
circulate up there, you have it benefiting these institutions and
immediately adjoining neighborhoods. One of the greatest pressures in
very dense neighborhoods is that we want to take the pressure off of
both the streets in terms of the volume of traffic and parking because
parking garages are very expensive and consume a lot of land. We can
create an environment in the uptown area that would have a
great synergy that would result in the redevelopment of these
neighborhoods. Once people get that as the vision, I think the
streetcar, even for folks who will never use it, becomes more
CB: One of the recurring problems with the streetcar project has been delays. What would you do as mayor to
have the streetcar ready in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball
All-Star Game, which you previously said you would like?
RQ: I have said I want it ready in time for the
2015 All-Star Game, but that was before the three construction bids came in much higher than expected. The big issue
immediately is how to get those costs under control. We have yet to hear
from the administration; they’re still reviewing the bids and
approaches to handling the cost issues.
As mayor, my approach to it would be to insist that the
administration value engineer this project to ensure that for what is
being invested, we are actually getting results that we want.
I am a firm supporter of the streetcar, but I also want
people to be very clear that this is not an open checkbook. I don’t
think anyone — supporter or opponent — has ever believed it’s an open
checkbook. Within the budget that we have given, we should be able to
build this system.
CB: What do you mean by value engineering?
RQ: Look at what the actual proposed design is.
This is kind of standard in all major projects. You have all the
designers and engineers who have put together the original designs for
the system. Then what you do is have other eyes who are also experts sit
down and start looking at it to ask if there are other things we can do to start saving money.
CB: Do you think the framework of the original bid process was off?
RQ: I think very strongly that it was probably off.
We saw that reflected when over 80 contractors downloaded the bid
documents and only three bids were received. That says something about
those bid documents.
CB: A lot of the mayor’s race has focused on the
streetcar and parking deal, but can you give a rundown of some other
ideas you have for the city?
RQ: Absolutely. Well, we already talked about one
(increasing the population of the city by 100,000). There are a variety
of ways to do it — one of which is to be an opening, welcoming city to
everybody, but particularly opening and welcoming to immigrants.
The second thing we need to do is look at the tax
structure. Currently, there is a commission, which I helped establish,
called Investing in the Future Commission, which is examining that and
will be making recommendations on specific things that we can do to
reward people for making the choice to live and work in the city. That’s
When looking at job creation, we know that we are very
fortunate to have Children’s Hospital, the University of Cincinnati and
all of the research coming out of the uptown area. We are very
competitive as a region when it comes to patents, but we are laggards
when it comes to commercialization of research. Given the institutions
we’re blessed to have within city limits, we need to financially support
the environments where commercialization can actually occur to make
sure we are retaining startup businesses so that they don’t just start
here, they stay here. Again, looking at the tax structure would
encourage those startups to stay in a way we’re not doing right now.
When you’re looking at neighborhoods, redevelopment of
neighborhoods is a critical piece of anybody’s agenda. The good news is
we have a lot of good things happening, but neighborhoods need
financial support. Part of the $92 million from the parking deal
is to provide financial support to some neighborhoods. More importantly,
there’s using the casino revenue to actually support transformative
developments in neighborhoods. We’ve started to do that, but we have to
Another area is a stronger partnership with the Cincinnati
Public Schools (CPS) system. There are many people who like to
criticize CPS, but the reality is they have some great-performing
schools. We need to make sure that we capitalize on that relationship by
working in partnership with CPS to ensure that community learning
centers are in enough schools so that any young family with kids has
access. Right now, there are about 600
families on the waiting list because there’s not enough room. That’s a
specific thing we could be doing right now that would really encourage
young families with children to stay in the city.
CB: That covers everything I had to ask. Is there anything you would like to add?
RQ: This election for mayor is about vision,
leadership and results. It’s also about looking to the future and
saying yes to the future. Lots of decisions will have to be made by the
next mayor that will be tough decisions, will require resources and will
require investment. Cincinnati needs a mayor that is willing to say yes
and work with people and organizations to move the community forward.
by German Lopez
77 days ago
Federal unemployment down, state joblessness up, Tower Place Mall renovations detailed
In February, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 7.7 percent,
from 7.9 percent in January, and the nation added 236,000 jobs. Many of
the new jobs — about 48,000 — came from construction, while government
employment saw a drop even before sequestration, a series of
across-the-board federal spending cuts, began on March 1. Economists seem quite positive
about the report.
In January, Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7 percent,
from 6.7 percent in December, with the number of unemployed in
the state rising to 399,000, from 385,000 the month before.
Goods-producing and service-providing industries and local government
saw a rise in employment, while jobs were lost in trade, transportation,
utilities, financial activities, professional and business services,
leisure and hospitality, state government and federal government. In
January, U.S. unemployment rose to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in
A new report outlined renovations for the city-owned Tower Place Mall, which is getting a makeover as part of Cincinnati’s parking plan.
A lot of the retail space in the mall will be replaced to make room for
parking that will be accessed through what is currently Pogue’s Garage,
but two rings of retail space will remain, according to the report. The
parking plan was approved by City Council Wednesday, but it was temporarily halted by a Hamilton County judge. The legal contest has now moved to federal court, and it’s set to get a hearing today.
Meet the mayoral candidates through CityBeat’s two extensive Q&As: Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley.
Qualls spoke mostly about her support for immigration, the parking plan
and streetcar, while Cranley discussed his opposition to the parking
plan and streetcar and some of his ideas for Cincinnati.
A Hamilton County court ruled against
the controversial traffic cameras in Elmwood Place, and the Ohio
legislature is considering a statewide ban on the cameras. In his
ruling, Judge Robert Ruehlman pointed out there were no signs making motorists
aware of the cameras and the cameras are calibrated once a year by a
for-profit operator. The judge added, “Elmwood Place is engaged in
nothing more than a high-tech game of 3-card Monty. … It is a scam that
motorists can’t win.” Bipartisan legislation was recently introduced to
prohibit traffic cameras in Ohio.
JobsOhio, the state-funded nonprofit corporation, quietly got $5.3 million in state grants,
even though the state legislature only appropriated $1 million for
startup costs. JobsOhio says it needed the extra funds because
legal challenges have held up liquor profits that were
originally supposed to provide funding. In the past few days, State
Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has been pushing
Republican Gov. John Kasich and JobsOhio to release more details about
the nonprofit corporation’s finances, but Kasich and JobsOhio have been
Advocates for Ohio’s charter schools say Kasich’s budget amounts to a per-pupil cut,
with funding dropping from $5,704 per pupil to $5,000 plus some
targeted assistance that ranges from hundreds of dollars to nothing
depending on the school. A previous CityBeat report on online schools
found traditional public schools get about $3,193 per student — much
less than the funding that apparently goes to charter schools.
Fountain Square will be getting a new television
from Cincinnati-based LSI Industries with the help of Fifth-Third Bank
and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC). The new
video board will have better image quality and viewing angles, but it
will also come with more screen space for sponsors.
Ohio’s casino revenues rose in January. That could be a good sign for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, which opened Monday.
In light of recent discussion, Popular Science posted a Q&A on drones.
by German Lopez
81 days ago
Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters
The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters
if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and
complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.
A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C.
The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory
were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely
inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to
improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the
72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.
For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair
tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter
tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.
The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4
percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public
The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington,
D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s
parking meters today.
The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha
Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged
ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996
and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or
denying the charges.
All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal,
which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction
and economic development, in detail.
Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the
plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to
pass a possible City Council vote today.
On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S,
an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use
$7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of
the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a
$10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward
his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human
Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other
changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and
Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget,
while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.
by German Lopez
81 days ago
Council may vote on parking today, GOP criticizes Kasich's budget, casino's grand opening
City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S,
which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million
based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow
voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the
city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton
Dohoney unveiled Plan B
to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was
unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism
toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax
to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and
make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the
federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives
before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of
Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.
Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state
gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found
the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.
On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools.
Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended
to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used
for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the
Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only
to traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.
The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.
U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant
after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such
low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.
Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”
If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.
by German Lopez
85 days ago
Plan B would lay off 344 city employees, eliminate Human Services Funding
If City Council does not agree to lease Cincinnati’s parking system, the city manager’s office says the city will be forced to lay off 344 employees,
including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, but critics argue
there are better alternatives.In a memo dated to Feb. 26,
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. wrote that the city will also have to close three community centers and six pools; eliminate Human Services Funding, which aids the
city’s homeless and poor; and reduce funding for local business groups,
parks, nature education for Cincinnati Public Schools and environmental
regulations, among other changes. In total, the cuts would add up to $25.8 million — just
enough to balance the deficit that would be left in place without the parking plan.
In addition to the cuts, failing to approve the parking
plan, which leases the city’s parking meters for 30 years and lots and garages for 50 years to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority, would displace plans to
convert Tower Place Mall, construct a 30-floor tower with a grocery
store downtown, accelerate the the I-71/MLK Interchange project, acquire
the Wasson Line right-of-way for a bike trail and add $4 million to the
next phase of Smale Riverfront Park (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls, who’s running for mayor, has come out in favor of the parking plan, but John Cranley, another
Democrat running for mayor, says he opposes the deal because it will
hurt downtown businesses.
“It’s the boy who cried wolf,” Cranley says. “In 2009,
2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and
firefighters, and it never happened.”
Cranley says he
would rather take $10 million from projected casino revenue and $7
million from current parking revenues to help clear the deficit. For the
remaining $8.8 million, he would cut non-essential programs, which
would exclude police, fire, garbage collection, health, parks and
recreation, street pavement and Human Services Funding, across the
board by 10 to 15 percent. If that wasn’t enough, he would then
move to the essential programs, which he says make up about $300 million
in the $368.9 million budget, with a 1-percent across-the-board cut.
He says his solution would have the upside of fixing
structural deficit problems in Cincinnati’s General Fund, whereas the
one-time lease of the city’s parking assets will only take care of the deficit for the next two years.
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says City Council could
use the casino revenue to pay for the deficit, but $4 million of it is
already set for the Focus 52 program, which funds neighborhood
“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,”
Olberding says. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan
or another plan.”
Cranley says he would not do away with the Focus 52
program, but he would instead find funding for it in the Capital Budget,
which is separate from the General Fund.
Olberding says City Council could approve the use of about
$3 million in parking meter revenue for the General Fund, but the rest
of the parking money, which comes from lots and garages, is tied to an
enterprise fund, which, by state law, means the city would have to sell
its parking lots and garages before it could obtain money for the General Fund.Cranley, who also opposes the streetcar project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23), says it
would be possible to pay for the I-71/MLK Interchange and other projects
if the streetcar wasn’t taking up funds. If it was up to him, he says
he would remove streetcar funding and use it on other development
projects “without batting an eye.”
In the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne
Qualls said the Budget and Finance Committee will likely vote
on the city manager’s parking plan on March 4 or March 11.
City manager’s new parking plan attempts to limit private influence, boost development
0 Comments · Wednesday, February 27, 2013
On Feb. 19, City Manager Milton Dohoney
Jr. announced what he called a “public-public partnership” that would
give control of Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority to fund more than $110 million in
economic development and help balance the city’s budget for the next two
by German Lopez
88 days ago
City says official details, contracts will be ready before City Council vote
City Hall will host public hearings about the city manager’s
parking and economic development plan today, but the hearings will take
place before the public knows all the official details. Meg Olberding,
city spokesperson, says the legal documents and contracts for the deal
aren’t ready to be released yet, but they will be ready before City
Council holds a vote.
“We’re still finalizing the documents,” Olberding says.
“These are long, complicated documents, so we want to make sure they’re
done right, and we’ll put them online as soon as they’re available.”
When the documents are released, they will include
Cincinnati’s deal with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development
Authority, but they will not divulge specifics on the Port Authority’s
contracts with AEW, Xerox, Denison and Guggenheim — the four private
companies partnering with the Port Authority to manage city’s parking
Without the full details, mayoral candidate John Cranley,
who opposes the parking plan, says he’s concerned the public is going
into the deal blind: “Why are they having public hearings before giving
the contract to the public and giving us the exact details? What they do
is sit back and selectively give information.”
The lack of details has already led to some surprises since the parking proposal was announced to the public. On Feb. 21, Olberding told CityBeat
the city will be able to bypass the so-called cap on parking meter rate
increases through unanimous vote from a five-person advisory committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from
the Port Authority. The process, which begins with an advisory committee that will include four members appointed by the Port Authority and one selected by
the city manager, will allow the city to raise and lower the cap in case of changing economic needs, says Olberding.Under the initial plan, parking meter rates will be
set to increase annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation on a
compounded basis, with any increases coming in 25-cents-an-hour increments. That
should translate to 25-cent increases every three years for Downtown and
every six years for neighborhoods, says Olberding.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. unveiled his parking
proposal on Feb. 19, promising $92 million upfront and an additional $3
million a year to pay off the city’s budget deficits for 2014 and 2015,
build a 30-story high-rise Downtown with a grocery store and 300 luxury
apartments, renovate Tower Place Mall and complete the I-71/MLK
Interchange project (“City Manager Proposes Parking, Economic Development Plan,” issue of Feb. 20).
by German Lopez
91 days ago
City could raise rate cap, Cranley's website against parking plan, superintendent pays up
While fact checking an interview, CityBeat
discovered it will be possible to circumvent the parking plan’s cap
on meter rate increases through a multilayer process that involves
approval from a special committee, the city manager and the Port of
Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. The process adds a potential
loophole to one of the city manager’s main defenses against fears of
skyrocketing rates, but Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says raising
the cap requires overcoming an extensive series of hurdles: unanimous
approval from a board with four members appointed by the Port Authority
and one selected by the city manager, affirmation from the city manager
and a final nod from the Port Authority. Olberding says the process is
necessary in case anything changes during the 30-year time span of the
parking deal, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley launched DontSellCincinnati.org to prevent the city manager’s parking plan, which
semi-privatizes the city’s parking assets. The website claims the plan
gives for-profit investment companies power over enforcement, guarantees
3-percent rate increases every year and blows through all the money
raised in two years. The plan does task a private company with
enforcement, but it will be handled by Xerox, not a financial firm, and
must follow standards set in the company’s agreement with the Port
Authority. While the plan does allow 3-percent rate increases each year,
Olberding says the Port Authority will have the power to refuse an
increase — meaning it’s not a guarantee.
Arnol Elam, the Franklin City Schools superintendent who
sent an angry letter to Gov. John Kasich over his budget plan, is no
longer being investigated for misusing county resources after he paid $539 in restitution. CityBeat
covered Elam’s letter, which told parents and staff about regressive
funding in Kasich’s school funding proposal, and other parts of the
governor’s budget in an in-depth cover story.
To the surprise of no one, Ohio’s oil lobby is still against Kasich’s tax plan, which raises a 4 percent severance tax on oil and wet gas from high-producing fracking wells and a 1 percent tax on dry gas.
Local faith leaders from a diversity of religious backgrounds held a press conference
yesterday to endorse the Freedom to Marry and Religious Freedom
Amendment, an amendment from FreedomOhio that would legalize same-sex
marriage in the state. Pastor Mike Underhill of the Nexus United Church
of Christ (UCC) in Butler County, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp of Temple
Sholom, Pamela Taylor of Muslims for Progressive Values and Mike
Moroski, who recently lost his job as assistant principal at Purcell Marian High School for standing up for LGBT rights all attended the event. CityBeat covered the amendment and its potential hurdles for getting on the 2013 ballot here.
Vanessa White, a member of the Cincinnati Public Schools board, is running for City Council.
White is finishing her first four-year term at the board after winning
the seat handily in 2009. She has said she wants to stop the streetcar
project, but she wants to increase collaboration between the city and
schools and create jobs for younger people.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ (BMV) policy on providing driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants remains unclear. Since CityBeat
broke the story on the BMV policy, the agency has shifted from internally pushing
against driver’s licenses for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
(DACA) recipients to officially “reviewing guidance from the federal
government as it applies to Ohio law.” DACA is an executive order from
President Barack Obama that allows the children of illegal immigrants to
qualify for permits that enable them to remain in the United States
without fear of prosecution.
A survey from the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments found locals are generally satisfied with roads, housing and issues that affect them everyday. The survey included 2,500 people and questions about energy efficiency, infrastructure, public health, schools and other issues.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine revealed 7,000 Ohioans
have received more than $280 million in consumer relief as part of the
National Mortgage Settlement announced one year ago. The $25 billion
settlement between the federal government and major banks punishes
reckless financial institutions and provides relief to homeowners in the
aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
Ohio received a $3 million federal grant to continue improving the state’s health care payments and delivery programs.
Cincinnati home sales reached a six-year high after a 27-percent jump in January.
CityBeat’s Hannah “McAttack” McCartney interviewed yours truly for the first post of her Q&A-based blog, Cinfolk.
Crows have a sense of fairness, a new study found.
by German Lopez
98 days ago
Streetcar construction bids come over budget
The latest batch of bad streetcar news provoked a harsh
memo to the city manager’s office from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who has long supported the $125
million transit project. In the memo, Qualls wrote about “serious
concerns” regarding the project’s costs and timetable.
“Whether people support or oppose the streetcar project,
everyone has a vested interest in getting the most for our public
dollars and in having the highest confidence in the management of the
project,” Qualls wrote. “While a council majority has continued to
support the project, council has not given the administration a ‘blank
The memo suggested putting the streetcar project through
“intensive value engineering” to bring the project’s budget and timetable back in
line — preferably in time for the 2015 Major
League Baseball All-Star Game.
The memo is in response to streetcar construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over
budget. Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, says the bids leave the city with
two options: The city could take up the current bids, which could have their costs brought down upon further review, or the city could reject the
bids and rebid the project, which would cause delays. But Olberding also cautions that the administration is still working on fully reviewing the bids — a process that could take weeks or longer.
Qualls is running for mayor against John Cranley, a former
Democratic council member. Cranley has been a vocal opponent of the
streetcar project — creating a strong contrast between the two candidates that has placed the streetcar
in the center of the 2013 mayoral race.
Earlier today, Cranley held a press conference asking the
city to halt the streetcar project. In a statement, he argued it is “irresponsible” to continue work on the streetcar in light of the higher
CityBeat previously covered the streetcar and how it relates to the race between Qualls and Cranley (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
by German Lopez
99 days ago
Cranley calls for streetcar's end, SORTA obtains federal grant, casino gets state approval
John Cranley is calling for the city to halt progress on the streetcar after a report from The Cincinnati Enquirer revealed the city’s construction bids are $26 million to $43 million over budget.
City Manager Milton Dohoney says the city might throw out the bids and
start the bidding process again, but no final decision has been made yet. But
Cranley argues the city has no leverage over bidders because it already bought the
streetcars. In CityBeat’s in-depth look at the streetcar,
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, said the cars had to be bought early
so they can be built, tested and burned into the tracks while giving
staff enough time to get trained — a process that could take as long as
two and a half years. The city also cautions that sorting through the
bids will take a few more weeks.
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) landed a $2.5 million grant
to purchase seven new buses. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat,
yesterday announced SORTA had won the competitive grant from the U.S. Department
of Transportation. The new buses will replace old ones that
are no longer good for service.
The Horseshoe Casino got approval from the state yesterday despite fears of bankruptcy
surrounding the casino’s parent company. As a precaution, the Ohio
Casino Control Commission is requiring Caesar’s, the troubled company,
to undergo annual financial reviews and notify the commission of any
major financial plans, including any intent to file bankruptcy. Caesar’s
is currently $22 billion in debt.
Ohio legislators have a lot of questions
about Gov. John Kasich’s new school funding formula. Kasich claims his
formula levels the playing field between poor and wealthy schools, but Rep. Ryan Smith, a Republican, pointed out his
poor Appalachian district is getting no money under the formula, while
the suburban, well-off Olentangy Schools are getting a 300 percent
increase. In a previous glimpse at the numbers for Cincinnati Public
Schools (CPS), CityBeat found the funding increases aren’t enough to make up for past cuts — largely because of the phaseout of tangible personal property reimbursements.
Another report found low-performing schools could be forced to outsource teaching. The new policy has aggravated some local officials.
Kasich’s budget will apparently benefit
the state’s mentally ill and addicted. Mental health advocates said the
budget will expand treatment, housing and other services. Most of the
benefits will come from the Medicaid expansion.
CPS says it will not lose any funding over the state auditor’s attendance scrubbing report. The report, released Tuesday, found CPS had been scrubbing attendance data, but the school district claims errors were not intentional.
Hamilton County Board of Commissioners President Chris Monzel will give the State of the County address later today.
Ohio Third Frontier approved $3.6 million in new funds to support Ohio innovation. About $200,000 is going to Main Street Ventures, a Cincinnati-based startup accelerator.
Cincinnati Art Museum named an interim curator: Cynthia Amneus.
Covington is getting a new city hall.New evidence shows lab testing on mice may not be helpful for humans. Apparently, mice and human genes are too different for treatments to be comparable.