by German Lopez
5 days ago
Mayor and council sworn in, streetcar supporters rally, streetcar builder warns mayor
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were sworn in
yesterday. Two days prior to the ceremony, Cranley announced his
appointments for council committees that play a crucial role in passing
legislation through City Hall, but the choices were not without
controversy as Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own party for
the two most powerful committees. Councilman Charlie Winburn, a
Republican, will head the Budget and Finance Committee, and
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of
the Law and Public Safety Committee. Democratic council members Chris
Seelbach and Wendell Young also didn’t receive any appointments; both
supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley
for the mayor’s office. CityBeat covered the new City Council’s priorities in further detail here.
Among the new city government’s first priorities is
canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project, but not if supporters of
the project have anything to say about it. Hundreds of streetcar
supporters yesterday gathered in Washington Park
and walked the planned streetcar route to show their solidarity.
They’re threatening a referendum on any action council takes to pause or cancel
the project, but some are concerned council will attach a funding
measure to legislation that would allow a cancellation or pause ordinance to go
into effect immediately, even if the project makes it onto the November
Meanwhile, the company in charge of building the actual streetcars wrote a letter
to former Mayor Mark Mallory on Nov. 30 threatening substantial costs
if the project were canceled. The letter explains that, on top of the
sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF USA to pull
back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur
further costs. For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears that
canceling the streetcar could lead to litigation from contractors and
subcontractors as they seek their full payday. The legal costs for such
lawsuits would fall on an already-strained operating budget that pays
for day-to-day services such as cops and firefighters instead of a
capital budget that finances capital projects like the streetcar,
according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.
Councilman Smitherman told The Business Courier that he wasn’t aware his brother’s construction company, Jostin Construction, was involved with the streetcar project, but a 2009 press release
from the local branch of the NAACP shows Smitherman acknowledging his brother’s ties to the project. Still, a Nov. 21 letter
confirms that Jostin pulled out of the project. The connection is
important because it presents a potential conflict of interest for
Smitherman, a streetcar opponent who will likely act as one of the five
necessary votes to pause and potentially cancel the project. It also
raises questions about the validity of Smitherman’s anti-streetcar votes
in the past few years.
Ohio is one of five states whose economy worsened in the past three months,
according to an index from the Federal Reserve of
Philadelphia that combines four economic indicators to gauge states’
A Republican and Democrat in the Ohio House proposed using
the $400 million in savings from the federally funded Medicaid
expansion to boost the local government fund,
but it seems most of the Republican leadership in the Ohio Senate
intends to use the savings on a tax cut. The savings are a result of
the Controlling Board’s controversial decision to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program with federal funds, which should shift some Medicaid expenses from the state to the federal level.
More women will get access to maternity leave under Obamacare.
The federally run Obamacare website relaunched in the past week, but it’s unclear if the fixes will make it easier for Ohioans to obtain health insurance.Coming off the Thanksgiving holiday, gas prices dropped across the state.
Michelle Dillingham, who lost in her bid for City Council, started her own progressive blog: The Cincinnati Forum.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
6 days ago
Letter comes on eve of council vote on streetcar project
The company in charge of building Cincinnati's streetcars says the city would incur substantial costs if it cancels the streetcar project after it's already gone through some construction and design work.The Nov. 30 letter from CAF USA Vice President Virginia Verdeja to former Mayor Mark Mallory arrived just one day before Mayor John Cranley, who opposes the streetcar project, and an anti-streetcar majority were sworn in."CAF will have to recover all the incurred expenses as well as all the additional cost of cancelling the contract, which would be substantial too," Verdeja writes in the letter.The letter explains that, on top of the sunk expenses on design work, cancellation would require CAF to pull back on various established deals with subcontractors, which would spur further costs.For streetcar supporters, the letter renews fears of litigation that could crop up if the project were canceled and contractors decided to pursue their full payday. Those legal costs would fall on the already-strained operating budget that pays for day-to-day services like police and firefighters instead of the capital budget that finances big capital projects like the streetcar, according to city spokesperson Meg Olberding.The letter was first posted on the Cincinnati Streetcar Facebook page. Its validity was confirmed in an email to CityBeat from former Mallory staffer Jason Barron.On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick warned the costs of canceling the $132.8 million streetcar project could nearly reach the costs of completion after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk
costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in
close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that
would be lost if the project were terminated.Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of streetcar supporters rallied in Washington Park and walked the planned streetcar route in support of the project. They're threatening a referendum if the new City Council moves to pause or cancel the project.City Council plans to vote on pausing the project on Monday. Because of threats from the federal government that a mere delay could lead to the loss of federal grants, streetcar supporters claim a pause would equate to cancellation.Read the full letter below:Updated at 6:13 p.m. with the PDF of the letter.
by German Lopez
6 days ago
Rally precedes City Council vote to pause and potentially cancel construction
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project,
which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes
necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or
cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to
referendum.But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
by German Lopez
11 days ago
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
6 days ago
Swearing in sets path to contentious moves on streetcar project, parking plan
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum. If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick
on Nov. 21 revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if
it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project.
5 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Mayor-elect John Cranley has been confidently wrong before, and the same could be playing out with the streetcar project.
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
12 days ago
Federal funds tied to streetcar project, Mann named vice mayor, local life expectancy varies
For the third time, a representative from the federal government yesterday reiterated to Cincinnati officials that if the $132.8 million streetcar project is canceled, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left to the discretion of the state government, which could allocate the money anywhere in Ohio. The repeated reminders are necessary as Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council prepare to delay or potentially terminate the project once they take office in December. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said even a mere delay could lead to the federal government restricting or outright terminating the federal grant deals. But Cranley, a long-time opponent of the streetcar project, appeared unfazed by the news at a press conference following Carter's thorough explanation. "If we have to, we’ll give the money back," he said.Cranley yesterday announced his intent to appoint Councilman-elect David Mann as his vice mayor. Cranley said Mann passed the "bus test," an unfortunate hypothetical scenario in which the mayor dies after being hit by a bus. Cranley also cited Mann's numerous accomplishments, ranging from achievements at Harvard University to previous stints as mayor when top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position. Mann promised to work with Cranley to make his administration a success and respectfully disagree but move on when the two men differ.A Cincinnati Health Department report found life expectancy can vary by 20 years from one part of Cincinnati to another. Black men in particular can expect to live nearly 10 years less than white men. The Health Department said in a press release that it wants to find out why there's such a disparity.A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. John Kasich still ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a 44 to 37 percent match-up, but FitzGerald is gaining ground. About 71 percent of Ohioans in the poll said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him, so FitzGerald still has time to build positive name recognition while Kasich has an opportunity to paint his opponent in a negative light before the November 2014 election.Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters might be investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for improperly voting.Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cancel an automatic recount of the Nov. 5 vote, which Quinlivan was entitled to after she placed 10th place in the City Council race by only 859 votes.The grand jury for the Steubenville, Ohio, rape investigation indicted four people, including a school superintendent.Four Ohio corrections officers were fired over the escape of an inmate serving a life sentence for rape, officials announced Monday.The University of Cincinnati is aiming for an attendance record when it hosts Louisville for a Dec. 5 game at Nippert Stadium.The deadline to select Medicare coverage is Dec. 7 at midnight.Scientists could be on the verge of learning how to erase and rewrite memories.Morning News and Stuff will most likely be out of service until Monday, Dec. 2 as CityBeat staff celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
12 days ago
Clarification necessary as mayor-elect discusses canceling project
Although it has already been explicitly stated in two
letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration
(FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the
$132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be
transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money
to any project in Ohio.
The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John
Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into
pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he
will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even
though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not
going to happen.Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal
technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government
would react to such circumstances.
According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would
break the city’s agreement with the federal government and
lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds,
ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the
Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.
“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”
But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that
the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were
canceled.President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.