by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:19 PM | Permalink
City Council expected to vote on budget updates Monday
Cincinnati's streetcar project is getting another $5 million in federal funding. But before the money is handed over, the city must first eliminate cost overruns that have recently put the project in danger.U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood unveiled the news in a letter to Mayor Mark Mallory dated June 19. The letter acknowledges the project's recent cost overruns, but goes on to claim the federal government still backs the project."The DOT (Department of Transportation) continues to support your bold vision for economic development and enhanced transportation choices for the city of Cincinnati, and we believe that this project is a significant component of that vision. With that in mind, I want to provide up to $5 million in additional assistance from DOT," LaHood wrote.But the money comes with two conditions: The city must first fix the streetcar project's cost overruns and restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view.The $5 million will be on top of the nearly $40 million the federal government has already contributed to the project through various grants and programs.The funding bump comes just in time for City Council's Monday vote on the streetcar project's cost overruns.In February, the city received construction bids that were $26 million to $43 million over budget, effectively leading to a $17.4 million budget gap and a $133 million overall cost for the project.Since then, City Manager Milton Dohoney proposed a few fixes to City Council, including pulling funding from various capital projects and issuing more debt.At the same time, Dohoney told City Council the city administration was working with federal officials to find opportunities for more federal funding. The new commitment is presumably the result of those discussions.City Council is expected to vote on the budget fixes Monday. So far, council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Laure Quinlivan have vowed support, but Council will need a fifth vote — perhaps from Chris Seelbach or Pam Thomas — to pass the changes.Read the full letter below: Streetcar Letter to Mayor MalloryUpdate (3:55 p.m.): This story was updated with additional context.
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The city signed an agreement on June 18
to lease its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati
Port Authority, but the mayor and City Council may make changes to the
plan before it’s implemented.
by German Lopez
Mayor, City Council could make changes
The city signed an agreement Monday to lease its parking
meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but the mayor and City Council may make changes to the plan before it’s implemented.
The city tweeted the news of the signing to several reporters today with a caveat: “Changes to hours etc. can still be made.”
The caveat comes after a majority of City Council asked
City Manager Milton Dohoney to give council more time to make changes to
the parking plan. Council approved the parking plan in March, but that
was in the middle of a tenuous budget process that has since finished
with the passing of a balanced budget.
Now, a majority of City Council is pushing to rework the
deal. Democrats Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Laure
Quinlivan, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman
support reworking or repealing the parking plan.
In particular, Seelbach and Quinlivan have suggested
reducing or eliminating the expansion of parking meter operation hours.
The original plan
expands hours to 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. downtown and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in
neighborhoods, but private operators wouldn’t have the ability to
further expand hours.
How much City Council will be able to do remains
uncertain. City Solicitor John Curp previously told City Council that a
supermajority is not enough for a repeal because Mayor Mark Mallory, who
supports the parking plan, can hold any ordinances until Nov. 30, which
marks the end of the current City Council session.
Jason Barron, Mallory’s spokesperson, told CityBeat the mayor would reject a repeal, but he’s open to changes.
“There will be financial repercussions to that,” he said,
alluding to possibly smaller payments from the Port Authority. “But
there’s a ton of flexibility in this plan.”
Still, Barron says the city won’t spend any funds until there is legal certainty, meaning until potential appeals are exhausted.
At the center of the legal battles: Whether an emergency clause allows the parking plan to avoid a referendum.
Opponents gathered more than 12,000 signatures earlier in
the year for a referendum effort, but the referendum may never come to
pass in the aftermath of recent court rulings.
The latest ruling from the Hamilton County Court of
Appeals decided the city can use emergency clauses to avert referendum
efforts on passed legislation, on top of bypassing a 30-day waiting
period on implementing laws.
In other words, since the parking plan had an emergency clause attached to it, the plan is not subject to referendum.
The appeals court later refused to delay enforcement of
its ruling, which allowed the city manager to sign the lease within
days.Opponents are attempting to appeal the ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.
For Cincinnati, the parking plan will provide $92 million
in an upfront payment, followed by at least $3 million in estimated annual
payments that the city says will eventually grow to $7 million and
beyond.The city plans to use the lump sum to rescind budget cuts, help balance future budgets and fund economic development projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.Opponents of the plan argue it cedes too much control of
the city’s parking assets to private operators and could hurt neighborhoods and downtown by
expanding parking meter operation hours and increasing meter rates.Correction: The city
signed the lease Monday, not Tuesday as originally reported in the story.
The city made the announcement Tuesday, which caused confusion and
by German Lopez
City plans to move forward as some council members suggest a repeal
In a 2-1 ruling today, the Hamilton County Court of
Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling and said the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets is not
subject to a referendum and may move forward.But opponents are pushing for a stay on the ruling as they work on an appeal, which could put the case in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.
For the city, the ruling means it can potentially move forward with
leasing parking meters and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority for a one-time
payment of $92 million and an estimated $3 million in annual increments. The city originally planned
to use the funds for development projects, including a downtown grocery
store and the uptown interchange, and to help balance the city’s budget
for the next two years.
But critics, including those who led the referendum
efforts, are calling on the city to hold off on the lease. They argue
the plan, which raises parking meter rates and expands meters’
operation hours, will hurt downtown business.In a statement, City Manager Milton Dohoney praised the ruling, but he clarified that the city will not be able to allocate parking plan funds until potential appeals of today’s ruling are exhausted or called off.“The City cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds. Once there is legal certainty, the Administration will look at the budget to determine if there are items that may need to be revisited and bring those before Members of City Council, as appropriate,” he said.
Jason Barron, spokesperson for Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory, says the city will now be able to re-evaluate current plans for the
budget and other projects.
“Council will get a chance to look at the budget again and
undo some of the stuff that they’ve done, but some of the cuts will
definitely stay — that way we continue to move towards balance,” he
But first, the city must follow through with legal
processes to get Judge Robert Winkler’s original order on the parking
plan lifted, which will then allow the city and Port Authority to sign the lease.Already, some council members are pushing back. Following the ruling, Democratic council members Chris Seelbach and Laure Quinlivan announced that they plan to introduce a motion that would repeal the parking plan.But Barron says City Council would need six out of nine votes to overrule Mallory and other supporters of the parking plan, which he says is unlikely.At today’s City Council meeting, Quinlivan and Seelbach were unable to introduce the motion, which has five signatures, because the motion requires six votes for immediate consideration and to overrule the mayor, who opposes a repeal. The motion also needs to be turned into an ordinance to actually repeal the parking plan.
In a statement, Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized the ruling and city. He said the plan
should be subject to referendum: “This decision affects
an entire generation and shouldn’t be made by people who are trying to
spend a bunch of money right before an election, while leaving the bill
for our kids to pay.”Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is also running for mayor, praised the ruling in a statement.“My goal is that proceeds from the parking proposal are used to put the city on a path to a structurally balanced budget by 2017,” she said.Qualls said she will introduce a motion that calls on the city administration to draw up a plan that would use parking funds on “long-term investments that support long-term fiscal sustainability,” including neighborhood development, other capital projects, the city’s reserves and the city’s pension fund.
The ruling also allows the city to once again use
emergency clauses, which the city claims eliminate a 30-day waiting
period on implementing laws and make laws insusceptible to referendum.
Judges Penelope Cunningham and Patrick DeWine cited legal
precedent and the context of the City Charter to rule the city may use
emergency clauses to expedite the implementation of laws, including the
“Importantly, charter provisions, like statutes and
constitutions, must be read as a whole and in context,” the majority opinion
read. “We are not permitted — as the common pleas court did, and Judge
Dinkelacker’s dissent does — to look at the first sentence and
disassociate it from the context of the entire section.”
Judge Patrick Dinkelacker dissented, claiming the other
judges are applying the wrong Ohio Supreme Court cases to the
“In my view, the charter language is ambiguous and,
therefore, we must liberally construe it in favor of permitting the
people of Cincinnati to exercise their power of referendum,” Dinkelacker
wrote in his dissent.The parking plan leases the city’s parking meters and
garages to the Port Authority, which will use a team
of private operators from around the country — AEW Capital, Xerox,
Denison Parking and Guggenheim — for operations, technology upgrades and
The city originally argued the parking plan was necessary
to help balance the budget without laying off cops and firefighters and
pursue major development projects downtown.
Since then, the city used higher-than-expected revenues and cuts elsewhere, particularly to parks and human services funding, to balance the fiscal year 2014 budget without laying off public safety personnel.
City Council is also expected to vote today on an alternative funding plan to build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage on Fourth and Race streets downtown. The project was originally attached to the parking plan.Dohoney asked City Council in a statement to pursue the alternative plan today.“We are asking Council to pass the development deal today so that the developers have the city’s commitment and can move ahead with their financing,” he said. “If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long cry for a grocery store, we must move forward.”
CityBeat will update this story as more information becomes available.Updated at 1:39 p.m.: Added comments from the city manager’s statement.Updated at 2:00 p.m.: Added comments from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls’ statement.Updated at 3:23 p.m.: Added results of City Council meeting.Updated at 10:35 a.m. on June 13: Added latest news about appeal.
by Hannah McCartney
Cincinnati infants are dying at an alarmingly high rate
Some parts of Cincinnati suffer from higher infant mortality rates than third-world countries. In the city as a whole, infants die at rates more than twice the national average. We’ve been asking, “Why?” for a long time; this mysterious plague wiping out our infants hasn’t been solved even as our hospitals are recognized worldwide and as it continues to be at the forefront of our public health discussions. Local politicians, hospitals, health experts and advocates are hoping the answer is one that's been lying in front of them the whole time: collaboration. Today marked the official conjoining of local politicians, health experts, advocates and Cincinnati’s top hospitals providing birthing services in hopes of working together to reduce the areas’ infant mortality rate to below that of the national average within the next five years. The new partnership is comprised of Hamilton Country Commissioners Todd Portune and Chris Monzel, who co-chair the effort; the Center for Closing the Health Gap; Mayor Mark Mallory; Councilmember Wendell Young; and hospitals including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ Hospital, Mercy Health, TriHealth, UC Health and the UC College of Nursing. While the hospitals are typically competitors, the disturbing, long-standing statistics Monzel described as an "embarrassment" have fueled area health providers to set aside competition and unite Cincinnati’s top health experts to bring Cincinnati's infant mortality levels below the national average within the next five years. “We’re checking egos and names and brands at the door,” said Commissioner Portune. "Enough is enough." Efforts to reduce infant mortality, Portune explained, have been active for years; however, because they've been fragmented — disconnected from one another — establishing best practices just hasn't been possible. Initial funding comes from an agreement that County Commissioners Portune and Monzel made with Jim Kingsbury, UC Health president and CEO, as part of the county's sale of Drake Hospital. Representatives plan to meet on a regular basis to share best practices, exchange ideas and report data. In February, Mayor Mark Mallory entered the city into the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a national competition to inspire city leaders to solve urban problems. His proposal involved the creation of the Infant Vitality Surveillance Network, which would have followed new mothers in high-risk areas through pregnancy, creating a database of new mothers and monitoring pregnancies. In Mallory’s submission, he put the problem into perspective: “In Cincinnati, we have had more infant deaths in recent years than victims of homicide. Our community, justifiably, invests millions of dollars, immense political capital, and large amounts of media attention in reducing our homicide rate. It's time to start doing the same for our infant mortality rate.”Although Cincinnati was named one of the top 20 finalists out of more than 305 cities, it was not selected as one of the five to receive up to $5 million in funding to jump-start the initiative. Infant mortality rates are measured by the number of deaths of babies less than one year old per 1,000 live births. In Cincinnati, infant mortality rates are at 13.6; the national average is 6. Cincinnati’s black community is especially afflicted by infant mortality. In Ohio, black infants die at more than twice the rate of white infants. To look at a map of infant mortality rates in Greater Cincinnati by zip code or to read about some of the leading causes of infant mortality, visit the Cincinnati Health Department's website.
by German Lopez
Plan includes luxury apartment tower, garage
City Council unanimously approved a development deal today to
build a grocery store, luxury apartment tower and garage at Fourth and
Race streets downtown. With council approval, construction could begin later this year, with developers hoping to finish the project in 2015.
The $80 million deal with Indianapolis-based development company
Flaherty and Collins was approved following City Manager Milton Dohoney’s
urging earlier today.
“If we wait any longer on the parking deal, we put this
deal at risk. With the housing capacity issue downtown and decade-long
cry for a grocery store, we must move forward,” Dohoney said in a
The city’s share of the project will cost $12 million. As part of the deal, the city will provide the money through a five-year forgivable loan financed by urban renewal funds, which are
generated through downtown taxes and can only be used for capital
projects downtown. The funds can’t be used for operating
budget expenses such as police and fire.
For more information on the project, read CityBeat’s original story on the Budget and Finance Committee hearing here.
by German Lopez
Cuts hit parks, human services, arts, outside agencies and other city programs
City Council approved an operating budget Thursday that raises taxes and cuts several city services in fiscal year 2014, but the plan avoids laying off cops and firefighters.Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young supported the budget, and Democrats P.G. Sittenfeld and Laure Quinlivan, independent Chris Smitherman and Republican Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.As a result of the budget, 67 city employees will lose their jobs.Human services funding, which goes toward programs that aid the city's homeless and poor, is hit particularly hard with a cut of $515,000 in the final budget plan. The reduced funding leaves about $1.1 million for human services agencies.Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the latest cuts add to what's been a decade of cuts for human services funding. Originally, human services funding made up about 1.5 percent of the city's operating budget. With the latest changes, human services funding makes up about 0.3 percent of the budget."The additional cuts are deep and will negatively affect many lives now and in the future," Spring says. "It's important City Council work to reduce these cuts and citizens support that in ensuing months."The budget also cuts parks funding by $1 million — about $200,000 lower than originally proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney.The budget further trims several city services, including the city's health department, law department and recreation department. Arts funding and subsidies for "heritage" events, such as parades, are completely eliminated. Funding for several outside agencies is also being reduced or eliminated: the Port Authority, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Film Commission.The budget is partly balanced with higher revenues. The property tax is being hiked from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in fiscal year 2014, or about $94 for every $100,000 in property value. Water rates will also increase by 5.5 percent starting in 2014.The budget also invokes fees for several city services: a $75 fee for
accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement
applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for
fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a
50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an
unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special
events.At a council meeting Thursday, Quinlivan, who voted against the budget, criticized other council members for not pursuing changes that would structurally balance the budget."I don't believe anybody's going to really address this problem," she said.Quinlivan has long been an advocate for "rightsizing" the
city's police and fire departments, which she says have scaled "out of
control."Seelbach defended the plan, claiming it will keep the city's books balanced while the city government waits for higher revenues from a growing local economy.Still, the city has not passed a structurally balanced budget since 2001, which critics like Quinlivan say is irresponsible.The public safety layoffs were avoided despite months
of threats from city officials that cops and firefighters would have to
be laid off if the city didn't semi-privatize its parking assets for $92 million upfront and annual payments afterward. That plan is now held up in court, and public safety layoffs were avoided anyway. But the layoffs were avoided with steeper cuts in other areas of the budget, including reduced funding for outside agencies and a requirement of 10 furlough days for some city employees and council members. The changes also increased estimates for incoming revenues with $1 million that is supposed to be paid back to the city's tax increment financing fund.Multiple council members blamed the budget problems on the state government, which has cut local government funding by about 50 percent during Gov. John Kasich's time in office ("Enemy of the State," issue of March 20). For Cincinnati, the cuts resulted in $21 million less for fiscal year 2014, or 60 percent of the $35 million budget gap originally estimated for the year.
0 Comments · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
City officials were either disastrously wrong or misleading the public when they insisted the parking plan was required to avoid massive public safety layoffs.
0 Comments · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
TUESDAY MAY 21: The hits just keep on coming for
Abercrombie & Fitch. After recently being called out for
discriminatory hiring practices, its Hollister Co. brand has been found
guilty of discriminating against shoppers with physical impairments.
by German Lopez
Medical marijuana may be on ballot, mayor reduces layoffs, budget hearing tonight
The Ohio Rights Group could be asking voters to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp statewide
in 2013 or 2014. The Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati says
drug approval should be up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
but that may not matter because polls so far shows medical marijuana
getting widespread approval from Ohio voters. The Ohio Rights Group
argues its amendment would help Ohioans by opening up better health
treatments and boosting the economy. Whether that will be enough to land
the issue on the ballot remains to be seen.Mayor Mark Mallory revised the city manager’s budget plan
to carry out less layoffs but more cuts to outside spending and
recreation centers. Mallory's changes will restore 18 firefighter
positions, 17 police positions, three inspector positions at the Health
Department and two positions at the Law Department, reducing the total
layoffs to 161, with 49 of those being police positions and 53 being
firefighter positions. But it will come with more cuts to third-party
agencies, including the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Center
for Closing the Health Gap and Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of
Commerce, and two closed recreation centers. The plan will also use
about $500,000 in recently discovered revenue. Mallory said the layoffs and cuts have to be made in part because of multiple outside factors, including reduced state funding and courts holding up the city's parking plan.The first hearing on the city's fiscal year 2014 budget proposals will be tonight at the Duke Energy Convention Center at 6:30 p.m. The public will be asked to give feedback on the budget plan put forward by the city manager and mayor, which would lay off 161 city employees, including cops and firefighters, to help balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit.CityBeat editorial: "Cincinnati's 1 Percent."The Ohio Department of Transportation has raised its estimated price for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project by about $10 million to $30 million after meetings with business owners in Cincinnati's uptown area. It's so far unclear how the project's costs will be divided between the city, state and federal governments. Originally, Cincinnati was looking to pay for its share of the project through its plan to lease the city's parking assets, but that plan is being held up in court.City
Council approved a resolution yesterday supporting a statewide ban on
injection wells used to dispose wastewater during the hydraulic
fracturing — "fracking" — process, a drilling process that injects
millions of gallons of water underground to unlock natural gas and oil
reserves. The injection wells are a vital part of a fracking boom that
has helped revitalize economies in Ohio and other states and could help combat climate change,
but environmentalists and health advocates are concerned about the
unintended consequences the wells could have on nearby water sources ("Boom, Bust or Both?" in issue of June 6, 2012).The Ohio House approved changes to the state's third grade reading requirement that will relax standards teachers must meet to provide reading instruction and tutoring services for young students. The current law requires teachers to have taught reading for at least three years, but the bill approved by the Ohio House would eliminate that requirement.Mayoral candidate John Cranley says choosing Cincinnati's next police chief should wait until the next mayor is elected in November.The Hamilton County Board of Elections sent two more voter fraud cases to the prosecutor, but the question remains whether the dozens of people who filed provisional ballots and absentee ballots are actually in the wrong — an issue that will be ultimately decided by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.Top public safety issues are urging schools not to arm teachers to protect students from gun violence. CityBeat previously found that arming teachers is not supported by research.Ohioans, including CityBeat’s most dazzling staff member, apparently enjoy swearing.Before the IRS harassed tea party groups, it harassed gay rights groups.No further explanation necessary: "Police: Man used grenade to rob Hamilton bank."Scientists have created the first cloned human embryo.A new laser scanner can detect someone watching you from a kilometer away.