Bengals Loss Reminds of County’s Terrible Stadium Deal

3 Comments · Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Voters saddled Hamilton County with debt just to watch the Cincinnati Bengals lose year after year in a publicly funded stadium.  
by German Lopez 12.19.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Streetcar, Mayor, Education, Development at 08:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar decision today, Preschool Promise coming together, uptown interchange advances

The city would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it takes on tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, an independent audit revealed yesterday. The news appeared to throw another potential lifeline for the streetcar, which can now claim a five-member majority of supporters on City Council. But with Mayor John Cranley's veto threat, council will likely need six votes to continue the project. Council expects to make a decision today, prior to a Friday deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the project.Some city leaders are trying to ensure all of Cincinnati's 3- and 4-year-olds attend quality preschool programs through Cincinnati’s Preschool Promise. Citing swaths of studies and data, Greg Landsman, executive director of the education-focused Strive Partnership, says the policy could reach all corners of the city and hugely benefit the city’s economy in the long term. But supporters of the proposal first must find a means to fund it, which Landsman says will likely require some sort of voter-approved tax hike in 2014. Before the Preschool Promise campaign gets there, Landsman vows supporters will heavily engage the community to gather feedback and determine the scope of the proposal.City Council yesterday unanimously approved $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million uptown interchange project, which will allow the project to move forward with the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments filling the rest of the funding gap. The capital allocation means property taxes will remain higher than they would without the project, as revealed at Monday's Budget and Finance Committee. Mayor Cranley and council members argue the cost is worth it because, as a study from the University of Cincinnati's Economics Center previously found, the project will generate thousands of jobs and other economic gains in the uptown area.Commentary: "Anti-Streetcar Logic Should Stop Uptown Interchange Project."The Democratic majority on City Council yesterday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial bidding requirements for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects. Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's inadequate sewer system. A majority of council members support the bidding requirements as a way to foster local jobs and local job training, while opposing county officials say the rules favor unions and impose a huge burden on MSD contractors. Councilman Chris Seelbach says he's working with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to get both parties in mediation talks and end a county-enforced hold on sewer projects before the federal government begins enforcing its mandate.The city of Cincinnati is allowing residents to put out extra trash bags next to approved trash containers between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3 in a "trash amnesty."Gov. John Kasich's 2014 wish list: More infrastructure funding, measures that curb health care costs, new anti-drug and anti-poverty initiatives, and another tax cut.Ohio's May ballot could include a measure that would tap into existing revenues to boost funding for infrastructure projects around the state.Seventeen non-U.S. citizens allegedly cast illegal ballots in Ohio's 2012 general election, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.Two Democrats in the Ohio Senate proposed legislation that would allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns. But Republicans control both chambers of the Ohio legislature, so it's unlikely the bill will pass.Four Ohio libraries, including the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, are collaborating to preserve historical documents, photographs and more.Those who want health care coverage on Jan. 1 and don't get insurance through an employer have five days to sign up for Obamacare at HealthCare.gov.Congress passed a bipartisan budget deal that will avoid a federal government shutdown and ease previously planned across-the-board spending cuts.A new study found the Milky Way has four arms, not two as previously believed.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez 12.18.2013
Posted In: News, Development, Infrastructure, City Council at 06:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
city hall

City Keeps Controversial MSD Contracting Rules

Democratic council members stand together against repeal of "responsible bidder" law

City Council on Wednesday dismissed legislation that would have repealed controversial contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects.Council's decision could put Cincinnati and Hamilton County on a collision course over rules governing a federally mandated revamp of the city's sewer system. The city and county jointly manage MSD.Democrats David Mann, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young voted to move the repeal ordinance back to committee. Republicans Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn, Charterite Kevin Flynn and Independent Christopher Smitherman voted to keep the ordinance in front of council. Hamilton County commissioners previously halted most of the $3.2 billion, 15-year sewer revamp in protest of the city's "responsible bidder" law. As long as the hold remains in place, the city and county risk violating a federal mandate to revamp Cincinnati's inadequate sewer system.The city rules require contractors to follow stricter standards for apprenticeship programs, which unionized and nonunion businesses use to train workers in crafts, such as electrical work or plumbing. The rules also ask contractors to put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund that will help train newcomers in different crafts. Supporters of the law claim it will foster local jobs and local job training. Opponents claim the law favors unions and places a costly burden on MSD contractors.The city already gave various concessions to resolve its conflict with the county, including exemptions for small businesses and contracts worth less than $400,000. But the county has so far refused to budge.Smitherman, who opposes the law, argued the issue will end up in court and the city will lose."What was passed on May 1 is not constitutional," he said.But the city's law department says the law is legal and could be defended in court.Seelbach, who spearheaded the law, said he's in talks with Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann to bring both parties into mediation and resolve the conflict. "I'm asking for some more time," he said.
by German Lopez 12.17.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, City Council, Development, Economy at 09:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Big week for streetcar, council OKs interchange funds, emergency jobless aid to expire

Major events for Cincinnati’s streetcar project this week: Today, supporters will turn in petitions to get the issue on the ballot; late today or early tomorrow, KPMG will turn in audit of the project’s completion, cancellation and operating costs; tomorrow, council will take public comment on the project at 1:30 p.m.; and on Thursday, council will debate and make the final decision on the streetcar. Other streetcar news:• Mayor John Cranley is asking streetcar opponents to speak up during the public comments section of Wednesday’s council meeting.• Supporters collected more than 9,000 signatures to get the streetcar project on the ballot. Nearly 6,000 signatures need to be verified to allow a vote in the coming months. City Council’s budget committee yesterday advanced funding for the $106 million uptown interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71. The capital funding set by council will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from reducing property taxes in the future as originally planned. Still, proponents of the project, including a unanimous body of council, say the project is worth the investment; the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center found in a May 2012 study that the interchange will generate 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs, $133 million in economic development during construction and another $750 million once the interchange opens. Congress appears ready to pass a bipartisan budget deal that will not extend emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2014, which could leave more than 36,000 unemployed Ohioans behind in December and 128,600 Ohioans without aid through 2014. The emergency benefits were originally adopted by Congress to provide a safety net for those worst affected by the Great Recession. Conservatives, touting the $25.2 billion annual cost, say the economy has improved enough to let the costly benefits expire, but liberals, pointing to the high numbers of long-term unemployed, say the benefits are still needed and would help keep the economy on a stable recovery.The Cincinnati area’s economy could overtake the Cleveland area in 2015.Six men were taken into custody after a SWAT team responded to a home and engaged in a gun battle that left a three-year-old critically injured.A Union Township trustee says he can’t believe Chris Finney would hurt his credibility for a $850-a-year tax break to open a law firm in Clermont County. As a member of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, Finney repeatedly spoke against tax breaks for businesses in the past.Medicaid expansion supporters announced yesterday that they’re no longer pursuing a ballot initiative after actions from Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Controlling Board effectively enacted the expansion, which taps into federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.The Kasich administration expects to hand out education grants from the “Straight A” fund on Wednesday in an attempt to reward innovation at the state’s schools. The grants will go to more than 150 of Ohio’s 614 school districts, according to state officials.Someone hacked The Cincinnati Enquirer’s online streetcar polls. The Mega Millions jackpot hit $586 million yesterday.A new study finds “blind as a bat” isn’t blind at all.Watch giraffes clash in a surprising, epic one-on-one:Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez 12.16.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Development, Taxes at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
city hall

Budget Committee Advances Uptown Interchange Project

Property taxes to remain at current rate as a result of project

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday unanimously agreed to allocate $20 million in capital funding for the $106 million interchange project at Martin Luther King Drive and Interstate 71. The funding will be backed through property taxes, which, according to the city administration, will prevent the city from lowering property taxes in the future as originally planned. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld argued the focus should be on the project’s economic potential, not its possible impact on property taxes. “If the city stopped spending money and stopped investing in things, indeed people’s taxes would go down, but I don’t think it’s a very fair frame to think about making this very important investment,” he said. But Councilman Chris Seelbach said the public should know the full effects of the project. “Believe me, I support this, and I support this through the property tax, but I just don’t want us to be able to pass this without saying what it is,” he said. Council members said they support the interchange project because of the positive economic impact it will have on the uptown area, which includes the University of Cincinnati and surrounding hospitals. According to a May 2012 study from the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center, the project will produce 5,900 to 7,300 permanent jobs. The same study found the economic impact of the project will reach $133 million during construction and $750 million once the interchange opens, which would lead to higher tax revenues. The city is carrying roughly one-fifth of the cost for the interchange project. The rest will be financed through the state and Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
by German Lopez 12.03.2013
Posted In: News, Privatization, Governor at 03:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Court Allows JobsOhio Documents to Remain Secret

ProgressOhio loses case against privatized development agency

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously dismissed a request to compel JobsOhio to disclose various documents. The court argued the Republican-controlled General Assembly largely exempted JobsOhio from public records law and therefore allowed the agency to keep most of its inner workings secret.The decision was a major loss for advocacy group ProgressOhio, which claims the documents should be on the public record. The Republican-controlled legislature, with the support of Republican Gov. John Kasich, in 2011 established JobsOhio, a privatized development agency, to replace the Ohio Department of Development. The JobsOhio Board of Directors is chaired by wealthy Ohio businessmen. Republicans argue JobsOhio’s secretive, privatized nature is necessary to quickly foster economic development deals across the state. Democrats say the anti-transparency measures make it far too difficult to hold JobsOhio accountable as it recommends how to spend taxpayer dollars.An Oct. 23 report criticized JobsOhio and other privatized development agencies around the country for consistently displaying conflicts of interest and other scandalous behavior. The report came from Good Jobs First, a research center founded in 1998 that scrutinizes deals between businesses and governments. Kasich previously touted JobsOhio as one of the reasons Ohio’s economy quickly recovered following the Great Recession, but recent indicators show the state’s economy is now slowing down. 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’ economic health. Others have more directly questioned the Kasich administration’s claims to success. An Oct. 29 investigation from The Toledo Blade found jobs numbers from the Ohio Development Services Agency are vastly inflated, indicating that the state government isn’t producing nearly as many jobs as it claims.
by German Lopez 11.25.2013
Posted In: News, Homelessness, Airport, Infrastructure at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
Drop Inn Center

Morning News and Stuff

Drop Inn Center to move, sewer and water rates set to rise, CVG's losses cost region

The Drop Inn Center and 3CDC (Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation) on Friday announced a deal to move the region’s largest homeless shelter from its current location in Over-the-Rhine to Queensgate. The Drop Inn Center says the new location represents “most of the things on our wish list, which is fantastic.” And 3CDC has been pushing the shelter to move since it began its efforts to revitalize the Over-the-Rhine and downtown area, which some label gentrification. Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said in a statement that government officials and developers should be helping maintain affordable housing in all parts of the city instead of moving poor people to other neighborhoods. Local sewer rates could rise by 6 percent and local water rates will skyrocket by 22.6 percent following proposed price hikes from the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The higher sewer rates are needed to help pay for a federally mandated sewer upgrade that will cost $3.2 billion over 15 years, according to MSD officials. MSD says the spike in water bills is necessary because water use is declining and treatment costs are increasing. The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) has lost more flights and seats since 2005 than any other major airport across the country, which effectively cost the Cincinnati area 33,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion in annual economic activity in the same time span, according to an analysis from The Cincinnati Enquirer. The 78-percent drop in flights — far higher than the national average of 19 percent — comes even as CVG’s average fares increased by 26 percent, which were also above the national average of 4 percent. Commentary from The Business Courier: “(Mayor-elect John) Cranley doubles down on streetcar cancellation.” Supporters of Cincinnati’s $133 million streetcar project will meet tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Cincinnati Hyatt Regency Ballroom to discuss their options to prevent Cranley from stopping the streetcar project. Supporters were recently reinvigorated by the current city administration’s projections that canceling the streetcar project could cost nearly as much as completing it.   As Ohio’s Republican legislators move to adopt a stand-your-ground law, the research shows the controversial self-defense laws might increase homicides and racial disparities in the U.S. justice system. Economists generally agree that state officials don’t play a big role in changing the economy in the short term, but political scientists say the economy will still play a major role in deciding Ohio’s 2014 gubernatorial elections. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald argues Republican Gov. John Kasich deserves the blame for Ohio’s economy, given that Kasich initially credited his policies for Ohio’s brief economic turnaround early on in his term. But now that the economy is beginning to stagnate, Kasich refuses to take the blame and points to congressional gridlock at the federal level as the reason for Ohio’s slowdown. Ohio paid nearly $1.2 million for a string of charter schools that closed weeks after they opened. The schools, which all operated under the name Olympus High School, are now facing an audit and have been ordered to pay back some of the money. A state job program for disabled Ohioans could lose millions in federal funds after the U.S. Department of Education warned the state it is improperly spending the money on case management and other administrative activities. But the head of Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities insists the state program is under compliance. Ohio’s number of uninsured children is below the national average, according to a Georgetown University Center for Children and Families report. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is fast tracking business permits to outpace neighboring states. With Thanksgiving looming, Ohio gas prices rose in the past week. Migraine sufferers who also deal with allergies and hay fever might suffer from more severe headaches, according to a study from three medical centers that include the University of Cincinnati.Would you ride the world’s tallest water slide?Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez

False Equivalency Confuses Streetcar Debate

11 Comments · Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The streetcar project has empirical evidence to back it up. Mayor-elect John Cranley's trackless trolley idea doesn't.  
by German Lopez 11.18.2013
Posted In: News, JobsOhio, Taxes, Commissioners at 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

JobsOhio benefits Columbus, property tax return could grow, museum levy gets conditions

JobsOhio, the state-funded privatized development agency, grants more tax credits around Columbus, the state capital, than anywhere else in the state. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the discrepancy might be driven by Columbus’ high growth rate and the city’s proximity to the state government, which could make Columbus officials more aware of tax-credit opportunities. But Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann also blames local governments in southwest Ohio for failing to act in unison with a concerted economic plan to bring in more tax credits and jobs. Hartmann today plans to introduce a partial restoration of the property tax return that voters were promised when they approved a half-cent sales tax hike to build Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium. The return was reduced when there wasn’t enough money in the sales tax fund to pay for the stadiums last year, but there might be enough money now to give property taxpayers more of their money back. It was unclear as of Sunday how much money someone with a $100,000 home would get back under Hartmann’s plan. Hamilton County’s Tax Levy Review Committee will recommend a tax levy for the Cincinnati Museum Center only if a few conditions are met, including transfer of ownership of the Union Terminal from the city to a new, to-be-formed entity and allocation of public and private funds to renovate and upkeep the terminal in a sustainable fashion.City Council last week asked the city administration to find and allocate $30,000 for the winter shelter, which would put the shelter closer to the $75,000 it needs to remain open between mid-to-late December and February. The shelter currently estimates it’s at approximately $32,000, according to Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. The city administration now needs to locate the money and turn the transaction into an ordinance that needs City Council approval and would make the allocation of funds official. To contribute to the winter shelter, go to tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati and type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional)” before making a donation. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin announced Thursday that it plans to cut about 500 jobs in Akron, Ohio. State officials were apparently aware of the plan in October but underestimated how quickly Lockheed Martin would carry out the cuts. Ohio Democrats jumped on the opportunity to mock JobsOhio for failing to move at the “speed of business,” as Republicans claim only the privatized development agency can, to develop an incentive package that could have kept Lockheed Martin in Akron. But state officials say they were led to believe Lockheed Martin’s move would take months longer. Intense storms and tornadoes swept across the Midwest over the weekend, killing at least six. Ohio has issued a record-breaking amount of concealed-weapons licenses this year. The state issued 82,000 licenses in the first nine months of 2013, more than the 64,000 in 2012 that set the previous record. About 426,000 permits have been issued since the state began the program in 2004. This week, Ohio gas prices jumped back up but remained lower than the national average. Popular Science looks at how artificial meat could “save the world.”Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez 11.14.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Mayor, Development at 09:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar supporters to meet today, Dohoney to resign, city continues with retail plans

Supporters of the streetcar project are rallying in a last-stand effort to save the streetcar from an incoming city government that’s threatening to cancel the project. Supporters plan to meet today in a town hall-style meeting at 7 p.m. at the Mercantile Library, 414 Walnut St. #1100, downtown Cincinnati. Some of the supporters of the movement are residents, business owners and realtors in Over-the-Rhine who told CityBeat that canceling the project will set the city’s economic momentum back. Mayor-elect John Cranley disagrees, but the decision is ultimately up to the newly elected City Council to cancel the project, and at least three of nine newly elected council members previously seen as streetcar opponents — P.G. Sittenfeld, David Mann and Kevin Flynn — told CityBeat they’d like to evaluate the costs of canceling the project and the potential return of investment versus the cost of completing construction. City Manager Milton Dohoney will resign on Dec. 1 and receive one year of severance pay, Cranley announced yesterday. To political watchers, the news comes as very little surprise. Cranley and Dohoney disagreed on two key issues — the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Cranley opposes and Dohoney supported and helped get off the ground. Once the new mayor and City Council take over in December, Cranley says he will appoint a yet-to-be-named interim city manager and begin looking for a permanent replacement. Despite Saks Fifth Avenue’s departure, the city intends to move forward with its plans to build a retail corridor downtown, and others have approached the city about taking Saks’ space, according to Kathleen Norris, managing principal of Urban Fast Forward and the city’s retail leasing consultant. Saks announced yesterday that it’s closing down its downtown store and moving to Kenwood Collection. Although the move is a blow to the city, a few city officials were quick to point to other growth in downtown Cincinnati as an example of what will attract new retail outlets in the future. A deal is nearly set to fund the $107 million interchange project at Interstate 71 and Martin Luther King Drive. As part of the deal, the Ohio Department of Transportation will pay for $52 million, and Cincinnati and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) will take a loan from the state infrastructure bank to pay for their share. OKI says it will pay for its portion of the loan through $25 million in federal funding, but it’s so far unclear how the city will pay for its share of the project. The outgoing city administration intended to pay for the project through the now-canceled parking plan, which would outsource the city’s parking meters, lots and garages. Cranley says the city can get out of the parking plan without defaulting on the lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but Cranley’s position is at odds with the stated opinion of officials in the outgoing city administration and Port Authority. Cranley announced on Tuesday that the parking plan will be called off once he and the new council take office in December, but it’s unclear how much it will cost to break out of the plan and its various contractual obligations. The Ohio House held a hearing yesterday for two bills that would increase safeguards for victims of domestic violence, including new housing and employment protections. CityBeat previously covered the story of Andrea Metil, a domestic violence victim who is calling for greater protections. Only 1,150 Ohioans signed up for Obamacare through the troubled HealthCare.gov portal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday. Both the Ohio-wide measure and nationwide number — 106,185 — fell far short of the federal government’s expectations for the first month of enrollment. But many of the troubles are caused by technical problems that have made HealthCare.gov largely unworkable for most Americans. The federal government is working to correct the errors by December, but The Washington Post reports that the website likely won’t be fully functional by then. Meanwhile, Ohioans will be able to enroll in the now-expanded Medicaid program on Dec. 9. Republican Gov. John Kasich got the federally funded Medicaid expansion for two years through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, despite the Republican-controlled legislature’s opposition. The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that reforms municipal taxes, which businesses support but cities oppose. Supporters argue it will simplify the tax code so businesses can more easily work around the state and from county to county, but opponents claim it will reduce how much revenue cities receive. Kasich temporarily delayed convicted child killer Ronald Phillips’s execution so Phillips can donate his non-vital organs to his mother and possibly others. Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is shuffling some of its top positions. Here is how Mars might have looked 4 billion years ago.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez