0 Comments · Tuesday, July 1, 2014
City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld and other
Democrats held an event June 27 near the University of Cincinnati
criticizing Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature for the low level
of funding available for higher education in the state.
Ohio leaders push back against Kasich-planned tax cuts for the wealthy
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 9, 2014
City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld helped
coordinate a contingent of bipartisan, elected officials to testify at a
House Finance Committee meeting last week against Gov. John Kasich’s
proposed across-the-board income tax cuts, which Sittenfeld connects to a
decline in important public services around Cincinnati.
by German Lopez
Mayor blocks downtown development, city leaders push for Google Fiber, budget gap grows
Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would
produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage
downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even
though the developer involved plans to invest another
$60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just
because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass
the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project
and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring
much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to
bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than
normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national
competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber
services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation
ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said
in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented
entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their
big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern
technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now
stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million,
largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a
majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget
each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and
service cuts.Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board
of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s
Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a
campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting
politics over the city’s needs.Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or
move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment
for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner
Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.Kathy Wilson: “Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.Headline: “Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cincinnati Public Schools’ community learning centers turn schools into neighborhood resource hubs
2 Comments · Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Community learning centers helped improve Cincinnati Public Schools' reputation, and now other cities are paying attention.
by German Lopez
City personnel changes spur backlash, county seeks MSD compromise, judge indicted again
The latest administrative shakeups at City Hall spurred
controversy after the city administration confirmed City Solicitor John
Curp will leave his current position and one of the new hires — Bill
Moller, a city retiree who will become assistant city manager — will be
able to “double dip” on his pension and salary ($147,000 a year). Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld said on Twitter that City Council will discuss the personnel changes at today’s council meeting. The hiring decisions are up to Interim City Manager
Scott Stiles, but some council members say they should be more closely
informed and involved. (This paragraph was updated after council members called off the special session.)Hamilton County commissioners plan to vote on a resolution
today that attempts to compromise with City Council on controversial
contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. Both
the Democrat-controlled city and Republican-controlled county agree the
issue needs to be resolved soon so MSD can get on with a $3.2 billion
sewer revamp mandated by the federal government. But it remains unclear
whether the county’s compromise, which adds some inclusion goals and
funding for training programs, will be enough for City Council. In
December, Democratic council members refused to do away with the city’s
contracting rules, which require MSD contractors to meet stricter job
training standards and programs.Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter was
indicted on a ninth felony charge yesterday. The charge — for misusing
her county credit card — comes on top of eight other felony counts for
allegedly backdating court documents and stealing from office. In
response to the first eight charges, the Ohio Supreme Court disqualified
Hunter as she fights the accusations and replaced her with a formerly retired judge, who will be
aided by the juvenile court’s permanent and visiting judges in
addressing Hunter’s expansive backlog of cases.A bipartisan proposal would allow Ohioans to recall any elected official in the state.Duke Energy cut a $400,000 check to the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority for redevelopment projects at Bond Hill, Roselawn and
Queensgate.Sixty-two people will be dropped from Hamilton County
voter rolls because they didn’t respond to a letter from the board of
elections challenging their voting addresses.It’s official: Democrat Charlie Luken and Republican Ralph
Winkler will face off for the Hamilton County Probate Court judgeship.Facing state cuts to local funding, a Clermont County
village annexed its way to higher revenues. But the village has drawn
controversy for its tactics because it explicitly absorbed only public
property, which isn’t protected from annexation under state law like
private property is.More Ohio inmates earned high school diplomas over the
past three years, putting the state ahead of the national average in
this area, according to a report from the Correctional Institution
Inspection Committee.Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear says he supports legislative
efforts to increase Kentucky’s minimum wage to $10.10 over the next
three years.One Malaysian language describes odors as precisely as English describes colors.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
Balanced budget, pension reform among tough tasks facing incoming council members hoping not to raise taxes
1 Comment · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
of newly elected council members say they’re committed to structurally
balancing Cincinnati’s operating budget — a promise repeated by
Mayor-elect John Cranley on the campaign trail and following the Nov. 5
by German Lopez
Councilman Kevin Flynn still undecided on whether to cast deciding vote to restart project
It's decision day for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar
But hours before City Council expects to make a decision,
it's unclear whether the legislative body has the six votes necessary to
overcome Mayor John Cranley's veto and restart construction for the streetcar
The deciding vote will most likely come from Charterite
Kevin Flynn, who says he's working behind the scenes with undisclosed private
entities to get the streetcar's operating costs off the city's books. If that
deal pulls through, Flynn would provide the sixth vote to keep going.
The project already has five votes in favor: Democrats David
Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young.
Three council members have long opposed the project:
Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn and Independent Christopher
It's a big financial decision for the city.
If the city goes forward with the project, it would cost
$53.9-$68.9 million, depending on whether the city convinces courts Duke Energy
should pay for $15 million in utility costs, according to an audit from
consulting firm KPMG.
If the city cancels, it will incur $16.3-$46.1 million
in additional close-out costs, the same audit found. But it will get nothing for
those tens of millions spent and could face costly litigation in the future.
Council expects to make a final decision at Thursday's 2
p.m. meeting. Follow @germanrlopez on Twitter for live updates.
by Danny Cross
Posted In: Media
at 10:41 AM | Permalink
Streetcar opponents allow Sittenfeld to act like a leader in everyone’s face
By all accounts, yesterday’s special council session to
discuss the Cincinnati streetcar was long and contentious, more than 60 streetcar supporters
pleading with an indignant Mayor John Cranley and newly elected council members
still spouting campaign-trail anti-streetcar rhetoric.
After the meeting, Cranley dismissed an offer by major philanthropy organization The Carol
Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation to pay for a study of
streetcar shut-down costs that opponents want to see come in lower than the
city’s estimates before they vote to completely stop the project. Cranley dismissed
the offer because it also came with a note saying that if the streetcar is canceled the foundation will
reconsider its contributions to Music
Hall, the Smale Riverfront Park and other city projects. Cranley would rather make the city pay for the study than negotiate with terrorists respond to threats.
About seven and a half hours into this debacle of American
democracy — which included numerous procedural abnormalities including the
mayor asking Council to discuss and vote on ordinances no one had read yet, an hours-long
delay and a funding appropriation that leaves the cancellation vote safe from
the pro-streetcar-threatened voter referendum (something Cranley railed against
when the city administration kept the parking plan safe from referendum) — Councilman
P.G. Sittenfeld livened things up with something everyone tired of the streetcar
debate can agree is funny: undermining the mayor’s authority by asking fellow
council members to overrule him.
The following video published by UrbanCincy shows Cranley denying Sittenfeld an opportunity to speak. Sittenfeld then asks for a vote to overrule Cranley, which the mayor had to approve, and everyone but Kevin Flynn votes to overrule. (Flynn unfortunately had to vote first, leaving him unable to determine which way the vote was likely to go — a tough position for a rookie politician.) Once David Mann and Amy Murray voted to allow Sittenfeld to speak, the rest of the anti-streetcar faction followed suit, knowing Sittenfeld had the necessary votes to overrule Cranley. Then Sittenfeld spent a few minutes going mayoral on Cincinnati's new mayor.
by German Lopez
Opponents might not have enough votes to prevent referendum if project is canceled
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming
City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause
that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote
insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation
vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the
streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The
continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is
forced to progress for nearly a year.
Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the
outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into
law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t
be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead
must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly
elected officials take office on Sunday.
The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor,
and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council
analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently
But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after
warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could
lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.
If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar
project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on
the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a
Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”
“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad
public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable
budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and
throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a
massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous
effort and expense.”
To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about
how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point,
including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential
range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates
from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the
city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city
pulls the plug now.
Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds
would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That
could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5
billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.
There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the
operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5
million a year.
Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s
already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through
fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement
district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.
A special improvement district would require a petitioning
process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking
on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.
If the special improvement district doesn’t come to
fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more
difficult to support going forward.
Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who
voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his
conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of
him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.
by German Lopez
Only $7.5-$24.5 million left after fully shutting down project, paying back feds
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Thursday
revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels
the $132.8 million streetcar project.
That means the city could potentially spend more than 94
percent of the project’s total costs before it manages to fully close
down the streetcar project, which is currently undergoing construction
and tied up to various federal grants and business contracts.
The presentation was given in advance of Mayor-elect John
Cranley and the newly elected City Council taking office in December.
Cranley is an ardent opponent of the streetcar project, and a majority
of the City Council says it wants to pause the project and consider
Cranley’s proposed alternative to the streetcar — a trolley bus system
— would cost $10-$15 million in capital funds, according to supporters of the rubber-tire trolley alternative. If streetcar cancellation costs were to reach the high end of the city’s estimate and the trolley bus is paid for, the city could end up spending $140.3 million to cancel the streetcar project and build a
considerably less ambitious trolley bus line — about $7.5 million more
than it would cost to simply complete the streetcar project. If it’s completed, Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen says operating the streetcar would cost between $3.4-$4.5 million each year, which city officials say could come from various potential sources, including a special improvement district that would raise property taxes within three blocks of the streetcar route.But the operating budget cost would be a wash if Cranley pursues the trolley bus system, which, according to advocates, will cost slightly more to operate than the streetcar. Cranley says the operating cost for the trolley bus is concerning if it holds true.Following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley held a press conference in which he flatly denied the current city administration’s estimates. He says he will tap new experts to run over the numbers while the project is put on pause.“We’re going to bring in new, objective leadership, not the current leadership that is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters, which was clearly expressed a couple weeks ago in this election,” Cranley says.
Deatrick’s cancellation projections account for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, which include
construction to close the project — such as
repaving torn-up roads — and orders on vehicles and other
supplies that are already placed but not officially billed.The federal government has also allocated $44.9 million in
federal grants to the streetcar project. In a letter released by the
city administration on Nov. 14, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
explicitly stated that $40.9 million would be taken back if the project
didn’t adequately progress; the remaining $4 million would be left
under the supervision of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to
other parts of the state.
But Deatrick’s estimates don’t consider the unknown cost
of litigation, which would need to come out of a city operating budget that is already structurally imbalanced,
according to Meg Olberding, the city’s spokesperson.
The estimates also don’t consider that the city could
potentially forgo spending $7.4 million in contingency funds on the
project if it goes through completion and remains within budget, which
would lower the project’s effective cost to $125.4 million.
If the city cancels the project, Deatrick says it’s also
more likely that the city would lose in its legal battle against Duke
Energy, which could add up to $15 million in costs. That money is
tentatively allocated from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport as the city
and Duke argue in court as to who has to pay for moving utility lines to
accommodate for the streetcar tracks.
Those are the potential financial costs, but city
officials also warn that canceling the project could have a detrimental
impact on the city’s image.
“That’s what the city would be known for forever,” says
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan. “To throw this away would be
City officials also warn that canceling would be pulling
back on a light rail project that President Barack Obama’s
administration has clearly prioritized.
“The city-federal relationship is excellent right now,” Deatrick says. “There would be immediate damage to that.”
The 200-plus workers currently involved the project would
also be displaced. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson points out pausing or
canceling the project in December would leave those workers jobless for
the holiday season.
Another concern is the impact of cancellation on the
relationship between the federal government and Southwest Ohio Regional
Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates the Metro bus system and will
operate the streetcar if it’s completed. If the city is unable to pay back
the grants to the federal government within 30 days, Deatrick says
the FTA could cut SORTA grants for bus service and potentially halt some
local bus services.
One concern raised by Councilman Chris Seelbach and
Councilman-elect Kevin Flynn, one of the three potential swing votes in
the incoming council of nine, is whether the project’s estimated return on
investment is still 2.7-to-1 over 35 years. That number is derived from a
2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was later evaluated
and affirmed by the University of Cincinnati.
Deatrick points out the numbers were re-evaluated by HDR
in 2011, and they still seem to hold true. He says there are still
plenty of vacant buildings along the 3.6-mile streetcar line that could use the encouraged investment, despite
some of the revitalization seen in the Over-the-Rhine and downtown areas
that the streetcar route would cover.
The 2.7-to-1 return on investment is also “a very, very
conservative estimate,” says Deatrick. He claims HDR could have relied
on numbers from other cities, such as Portland, Ore., that saw
considerably better returns on their streetcar systems.
Still, Flynn and Councilman-elect David Mann, another
potential swing vote, say they want to scrutinize the cancellation
estimates before making a final decision on the project.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a long-time streetcar supporter
who lost to Cranley in her mayoral bid, encourages a re-examination of
the numbers. But she cautions, “If what has been presented today stands up to scrutiny,
there’s absolutely no reason to cancel the project.”
Flynn won’t say whether he would reconsider his past
opposition to the project if the numbers hold up. But Mann says, “If
they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”Both Flynn and Mann also say that they would be willing to pause the project while clearer estimates are crunched.
But that could present a short time window. If the project
doesn’t adequately progress, the federal government could take back its
grant money. Based on city officials’ estimates, that provides a 30-day
window to re-calculate cancellation costs and the potential return on investment.
Pausing the project would also impose its own set of costs as some workers and equipment are retained.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who’s also seen as a swing
vote, could not be reached for comment. He’s currently in Washington,
D.C., to meet with White House officials for an issue unrelated to the
streetcar.Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.Updated with Mayor-elect John Cranley’s comments and clearer, corrected numbers.