The people, budgets and controversies CityBeat covered while writing about the streetcar all year
0 Comments · Thursday, December 26, 2013
Just like it was a big year for Cincinnati and Ohio, it was a big year for the CityBeat news team.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:03 AM | Permalink
Ohio must recognize gay marriages, governor calls for more tax cuts, citizens saved streetcar
A federal judge on Monday ordered Ohio authorities to
recognize same-sex marriages on death certificates. Although the ruling
was narrow, many advocates of gay marriage argue the merits of the
judge’s decision indicate a broader problem with Ohio’s marriage laws
following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling against a federal anti-gay marriage law. The judge’s ruling came just three
days after another federal court struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage
ban on similar constitutional grounds.Gov. John Kasich’s plan to get Ohio’s economy moving
again: more tax cuts. But the policy announcement — unsurprising, coming from a Republican — comes on the
same year Ohio’s economy slowed down even after Kasich and the
Republican legislature passed tax cuts that heavily favored the state’s
Believe in Cincinnati saved the streetcar, argues The Cincinnati Enquirer.
The group was formed shortly after Mayor John Cranley won the November election and
threatened to halt the $132.8 million streetcar project for good. But
the threats inspired a groundswell of streetcar supporters, ranging from concerned
businesses to residents. And before City Council
agreed to continue the streetcar project, Believe in Cincinnati in just eight days gathered 11,300 petition signatures for a charter amendment
restarting the project. CityBeat covered the group in its infancy here.
Cincinnati ranked No. 2 for highest child poverty out of 76 major U.S. cities in 2012, according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF). Cleveland and Toledo also made the unfortunate top five, CDF found.Overtime pay at the Metropolitan Sewer District exceeded
$2 million for the third consecutive year in a row, but the number falls
below the accepted standard of less than 10 percent of total
payroll. MSD Director Tony Parrott says overtime allows the agency to
keep staffing numbers in check but still responsive to unexpected
situations. Still, the overtime estimate arrives at a time Hamilton County
commissioners are raising sewer and water rates to comply with federal
Cincinnati will tap into a state program for a major
demolition blitz in 2014. The city plans to knock down 240 blighted and
condemned buildings next year — far higher than the typical annual rate
Eight historic buildings in Cincinnati, including Memorial
Hall, on Dec. 20 received roughly $6 million in state tax credits for
projects totaling $71 million.
Rhinegeist Brewing plans to begin canning its craft beer in January.
Humans were getting the flu as far back as the year 1510,
but it’s completely unknown if dinosaurs suffered from similar
illnesses.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Cincinnati streetcar saved, gay marriage could appear on ballot, Medicaid overhaul signed
City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley
conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart
following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project,
which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and
council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained
its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot.
The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it
had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1
million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio
released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex
marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans
support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which
provides exemptions for religious groups.Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid
overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an
oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation
also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality
standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill
to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the
state’s budget in the past few years.
A new report from the state attorney general’s office
found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not
fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in
November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8
percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in
the past year.Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.Miami University is the second most efficient
university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education
for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Report questions fears raised by opponents of Avondale housing project
Although some members of City Council
appear ready to rescind support for a supportive housing project in
Avondale, a previous study commissioned by the group in charge of the
Avondale project found supportive housing facilities cause no negative
impact to neighborhoods in which they’re located.
The study, conducted by Arch City
Development and the Urban Decision Group, was commissioned by National
Church Residences (NCR) to gauge the neighborhood impact of five
permanent supportive housing complexes in Columbus for the chronically
homeless, disabled and poor.
The study found crime increases in most
of the areas surrounding the facilities, but the increases were roughly
the same as or less than demographically similar areas in Columbus.
After interviewing Columbus residents
located around the facilities, researchers also reported general
agreement that the facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the
areas. Although three of the facilities are located near four Columbus City Schools, researchers wrote Anne Lenzotti, director of facilities for Columbus City Schools, "has received no complaints about any Central Ohio permanent supportive housing project at the district or individual school level."
The study, with its generally positive
findings, calls into question many of the complaints voiced by opponents
of the Avondale project.
Two members of a City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to advance a resolution that would rescind support for state tax credits going to the 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale.But since the project already received state tax credits in June, it’s
unclear whether council’s vote would have any effect on the project’s
Opponents of the facility argue it will
worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty, alter the look of the area and
damage revitalization efforts. They also complain that NCR failed to
conduct thorough community engagement prior to proceeding with the
Proponents claim the dispute stems from a
not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing
projects prior to their completion. They say more community engagement,
beyond what’s already occurred with Avondale Community Council, will
begin deeper into the planning process and shape the project’s
The full body of City Council could take up the resolution rescinding support for the Avondale project on Dec. 18.Read the full study below:This article went through some technical difficulties and temporarily disappeared as a result.
by German Lopez
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
Operating costs also lower than previously projected
Cincinnati would save just $7.8-$52.6 million in capital costs if it incurs tens of millions in additional expenditures to cancel the $132.8 million streetcar project, according to an audit from consulting firm KPMG released Wednesday.By showing the potentially high costs of cancellation, the numbers could throw a lifeline to the streetcar project just one day before City Council decides whether to restart construction or permanently halt the project.But Mayor John Cranley appears undeterred in his commitment to cancel the streetcar project. By accounting for the annual costs to operate the streetcar, Cranley estimates the city will actually save $102 million if it cancels the project.The city already spent roughly $34 million on the project, according to the audit. Cancellation would add $16.3-$46.1 million in close-out costs, bringing the total costs of cancellation and money spent so far to $50.3-$80.1 million.Completing the project would add $68.9 million in costs, after deducting $40.9 million in remaining federal grants, the audit found.But the completion estimate assumes the city will need to pay $15 million in utility work — a cost that is currently being debated in court. If the city wins its case against Duke Energy, the utility company would be required to pay the $15 million and bring down the total completion costs to $53.9 million.The audit also put the costs of operating the streetcar at $3.13-$3.54 million a year, lower than the previous $3.4-$4.5 million estimate. After revenues from fares, sponsorships and other sources, the city would need to pay $1.88-$2.44 million to operate the streetcar, according to the audit.The reduced estimate for operating costs could become particularly important in deciding the project's fate as private contributors attempt to get the cost off the city's operating budget.Delaying the streetcar project while KPMG conducted its audit also added $1.7-$2.8 million in costs, according to the audit. The city allocated another $250,000 to pay KPMG for its work.The audit did not account for the potential costs of litigation if contractors and investors along the planned streetcar line sue the city to recoup costs.City Council paused the streetcar project on Dec. 4 to obtain the cost estimates of completion, cancellation and annual operations. The full body of council will decide whether to restart the project on Thursday, before a Friday deadline set by the Federal Transit Administration for federal grants.Read the full audit:This post was updated at 12:59 p.m. with more information and details.
3 Comments · Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Support for the uptown interchange project reveals the hypocrisy of streetcar opponents.
by German Lopez
Private backers support streetcar offer, city budget gap estimated, governor's race still close
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities
support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) plan to
develop a private-public partnership to pay for the streetcar’s
operating costs, according to Eric Avner, vice president of the
philanthropic Haile Foundation. If the people cited by Avner put money behind their support, they could get streetcar operating costs off
the city’s books and pave the clearest path forward for the $132.8
million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took
office earlier this month. Although Cranley called SORTA’s offer
“woefully insufficient” earlier in the day, Councilman Kevin Flynn, one
of two swing votes on council, said the idea could turn into a viable option if the business and philanthropic community
provided more assurances.
Other streetcar news:• City Council will hold public hearings on the streetcar
today at 1:30 p.m., with a vote to decide the project’s fate expected
tomorrow.• Speaking about the streetcar project, Vice Mayor David Mann told The Business Courier, “I’m awfully close to saying let’s go for it.” • The Federal Transit Administration might prefer to deal with SORTA over Mayor Cranley if the streetcar is completed.
Cincinnati’s projected operating budget gap for fiscal
year 2015 is $16 million, which means City Council will need to find new
revenue or cuts to balance the budget by July. Although a majority of
council members promise to structurally balance the budget in the next
few years, a minority say it will be more difficult than most expect without hiking
taxes or cutting police and firefighters.The 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John
Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald is within the margin of
error, according to a poll released Monday by Public Policy Polling (PPP). “Although
there’s been a fair amount of movement toward Republicans nationally
since (November), the state of this particular race has seen very little
movement and Democrats continue to have an excellent chance at a pick
up next year,” wrote Tom Jensen, director of PPP.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune could challenge FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination.A task force could undertake a comprehensive review of the city charter to modernize the city’s guiding legal document.Startup incubator SoMoLend is likely to liquidate before
the scheduled Jan. 23 state hearing about alleged securities fraud. The
liquidation would be an effective end to a once-promising company that partnered with the city of Cincinnati to foster startups
and small businesses.
This year could be the least deadly on Ohio’s roadways, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.A bill in the Ohio House could require hospitals to report
the number of newborns addicted to drugs. The grim number would provide
a much-needed measure for tackling Ohio’s so-called opioid epidemic.
Ohio is doing a poor job fighting infectious diseases,
according to a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital obtained a grant to combat brain cancer.
Two won the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot.
Even the physics behind emperor penguin huddles are pretty complicated.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Foundation lists more than a dozen business, philanthropic leaders in support
More than a dozen business and philanthropic entities
support the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) offer to
develop a private-public partnership to fund the streetcar’s operating
costs, Eric Avner, vice president of the Haile Foundation, told CityBeat on Tuesday.If enough private contributors agree to finance the streetcar’s operating costs, they could address a major concern raised by streetcar opponents and provide the clearest path forward for the $132.8 million streetcar project since the new mayor and City Council took office early this month.
The Haile Foundation already contributed $1 million to an
operating reserve fund for the streetcar, but Avner cautions that his
organization’s donation is only the beginning, given all the other
entities interested in moving the streetcar forward.
Avner says 14 other business and philanthropic leaders supported the SORTA concept in person or through writing in time for SORTA’s board of
trustees meeting on Tuesday. Among other community leaders,
Avner cites Otto Budig, Cathy Crain of Cincinnati State, William Portman of the University of Cincinnati, Jeannie
Golliher of the Cincinnati Development Fund, Rick Greiwe of Greiwe
Development and Jack and Peg Wyant of Grandin Properties.
In a letter to SORTA, the Haile Foundation offers to
recruit and financially establish a commission of community leaders that
will work with the agency to create an operating and revenue plan
that will require no funds from the city of Cincinnati. The letter also promises to leverage the initial $1
million investment to secure additional contributors and build a fund
that would pay for a full year of operating costs.
Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully
insufficient” in a press conference on Tuesday. Cranley said the city will need financial assurances far above the Haile
Foundation’s $1 million to cover $3.4-$4.5 million in annual operating costs for the streetcar over 30 years.
Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes
on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment, but he said the proposal could become a viable option if the city receives more
assurances from SORTA and private entities that show the groups are serious in their offer.At this point, private contributors might be necessary to
save the streetcar project. Cranley and Flynn said on Dec. 12 that
operating costs must be written off the city’s budget if the project is
to move forward.
SORTA already agreed to help operate the streetcar if the
project is completed, but its decision to take up the operating costs shows
an additional commitment to the project.
The agency claims bus services will not be impacted by its increased commitment to the streetcar.
City Council expects to vote on Thursday on whether to
restart the streetcar project. Council paused the project on
Dec. 4 while the city audits the project’s completion, cancellation and
Read the Haile Foundation’s full letter below:
by German Lopez
Mayor, council members argue offer falls short of demands
The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) on
Tuesday indicated its willingness to pursue a public-private partnership
to cover the streetcar’s operating costs, estimated at $3.4-$4.5
million a year. The announcement could provide an avenue for business and philanthropic leaders to help fund streetcar operations through SORTA in an attempt to meet demands from the mayor and some council members.“SORTA’s willingness is based upon assurances from the
Cincinnati business and philanthropic communities that they will work
with SORTA in public-private partnership to secure the funds required to
cover the short and long-term operating costs of the streetcar to the
extent other sources of streetcar revenue, such as fares, advertising,
sponsorships, etc., are inadequate,” the agency said in a press
But in a press conference following the announcement, Mayor John Cranley called SORTA’s offer “woefully insufficient.” He argued SORTA’s assurances aren’t enough to pull streetcar operating costs completely off the city’s books. Councilman Kevin Flynn, one of two potential swing votes on City Council, agreed with Cranley’s assessment. But he cautioned the commitment could become a viable path forward for the streetcar project if SORTA provides more assurances in the next couple days, before a council vote on the streetcar.
SORTA’s commitment comes less than one week after Mayor John
Cranley said he’d allow the $132.8 million streetcar project to move
forward if private contributors agree to cover the streetcar’s
operating costs for 30 years. Flynn and Vice Mayor David Mann, the two swing votes on City Council, approved of Cranley’s proposed compromise.In support of the announcement, the Haile Foundation
also announced a $1 million commitment in seed money to spur further
contributions to an operating reserve fund for the streetcar.
“We are committed to seeing the streetcar through to
completion and beyond. SORTA has stepped up and is more than qualified
to serve in this role. This is another great example of community
collaboration helping move to region forward,” said Eric Avner, vice
president of the Haile Foundation, in a statement.
Avner told CityBeat on Dec. 12 that private-sector
leaders are working to meet the mayor’s demand with some financial assurances for the streetcar’s operating costs. SORTA’s announcement could act as that assurance.
If the streetcar project is completed, SORTA already agreed
to help operate the 3.6-mile loop in Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But
the public-private partnership would increase the agency’s commitment to the
SORTA cautioned that bus service will not be affected in any way by the commitment.
It’s unclear whether SORTA’s assurances will be enough to
sway Cranley, Mann and Flynn. If Cranley threatens to veto a
continuation of the streetcar project, both Mann and Flynn would likely
need to vote in favor of the streetcar to overcome a veto and restart the project.
The streetcar project is currently on “pause” while KPMG,
an auditing firm, reviews completion, cancellation and operating costs.
City officials expect to receive the audit late Tuesday or early
Wednesday, with a council vote scheduled for Thursday.Updated at 3:23 p.m. with details from Mayor John Cranley’s press conference.