0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
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1 Comment · Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In the past few weeks, Cincinnati’s
political scene has been engulfed by debate over the budget, often
prompting testy exchanges between city officials.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:34 PM | Permalink
Still no budget deficit-solving consensus in sight
If Cincinnati does not lease its parking assets to the
Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, it will have to pay
off a $35 million deficit in the fiscal year 2014 budget through other means, but
those means were disputed at a special session of City Council today.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and other
administration officials say the city will have to carry out Plan B,
which would lay off 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80
council members Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and
Chris Smitherman claim there are other ways — casino revenue and cuts
elsewhere — to balance the budget.
The meeting got testy after a few council members called
the city administration “disingenuous” for framing Plan B and the
parking plan as the only two budget options, prompting Mayor Mark Mallory to
slam council members for attempting to pin the city’s budget woes on the
“I don’t think anyone in the administration wants to see
their colleagues laid off,” Mallory said. “The administration makes a
recommendation to this mayor and to this council. The final decision
makers are the elected leaders.”
He added, “What’s disingenuous is to create a crisis and then
criticize the administration for its response to the crisis when those
responsible for dealing with the crisis are the elected leaders. It
would be like an arsonist setting a building on fire and then
complaining about how long it took the fire department to get there and
what equipment they used to put out the fire.”
Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, said the ideas
she heard at the special session today would not be enough
to close the budget gap.
Throughout the discussion, the city administration
repeatedly dismissed ideas presented by council members as not enough to overcome the city’s $35 million deficit and avoid layoffs. By the city
administration’s admission, even Plan B would only close about $26
million of the projected deficit.
How that budget gap is closed may come with additional
expenses. Eriksen said the budget gap may reach $45 million if the city carries
out Plan B because the city would also be forced to pay for accrued
leave and unemployment insurance.
Still, Assistant City Manager David Holmes
city could balance the deficit without Plan B or the parking plan, but
the numbers must “add up” and would require direction from City Council.
When the discussion came to casino revenues, Holmes said
the city administration feels “uncomfortable” projecting casino revenue
because the state’s projections have trended downward in the past few
years. In 2009, the state government estimated Ohio’s casinos would take
in $1.9 billion a year, but that projection was changed to $957.7
million a year in February.
Eriksen said the city estimates between $9
million and $11
million in casino funds will be available to the city. She said even if
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino hits its $100 million goal, the city
will not be able to get the $21 million previously touted by Horseshoe
Casino General Manager Kevin Kline because the money is pooled with
money from other casinos around the state, which has fallen far below
projections, before it’s distributed to cities
When asked about shifting parking
meter revenue to the general fund to help balance the budget, Eriksen
said doing so would ultimately be a “wash” because of expenses currently
attached to parking meter revenue.
Seelbach suggested making more cuts through the
priority-driven budgeting process. Eriksen explained Plan B does cut
programs that were poorly ranked by the process — the mounted patrol
unit, arts funding and recreation centers were a few examples she cited. But
only relying on programs ranked poorly by the priority-driven budgeting process would “decimate” departments and
programs that the city deems essential, she said.
In the original 2013 budget proposal put forward by the city
manager, mounted patrol was cut, but Seelbach lobbied for the
Multiple council members brought up traveling and training
costs as potential areas to cut, but Eriksen said the city
administration had not considered further cuts in those areas because
the leftover expenses are currently used to get certifications that city
employees “need to do their jobs.”
Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, asked the city administration
if they tried to balance the budget without layoffs. Eriksen replied,
“Yeah, that was called the parking plan.” She added without the parking
plan, it would be “mathematically impossible” to balance the budget
When Winburn suggested city employees should take salary
cuts, Eriksen said such cuts would require extensive negotiations with
unions because about 90 percent of the city’s employees are unionized.
In November, Winburn was one of the prominent supporters of giving the city manager a raise and bonus.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat running for mayor,
said she would be open to using any revenues possible for reducing the
budget gap, but she said City Council must acknowledge the harsh budget
realities facing the city — further re-emphasizing points she made in a blog post Sunday.
John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, has said
in the past that the threat of layoffs is “the boy crying wolf.”
Cranley released his own budget plan
on March 28 that he says would avoid layoffs and balance the budget
without the parking plan, but some critics say the budget’s revenue
estimates are unrealistic.Eriksen said Cincinnati has run structurally imbalanced budgets since 2001, but city officials say deficits have been made much worse by state cuts in local government funding carried out by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican legislature since 2010 (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20).
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on
March 6 that would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority
to raise funds that would help balance the deficit for the next two
fiscal years and pay for new development projects, including the
construction of a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).
Opponents of the parking plan, who say they fear it will
lead to rate hikes, filed their petitions for a referendum effort today.
It is so far unclear whether they have the 8,522 verified signatures
required to put the issue on the November ballot.
by German Lopez
Council seeks budget options, city funds come with rules, parking petitions due today
City Council will hold a special meeting at 2 p.m. today
to discuss alternatives to laying off cops and firefighters to balance
the budget, which CityBeat covered in detail here.
Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld are pushing to use
casino revenue and cuts elsewhere in the budget to avoid cutting public
safety services. A spokesperson for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a
Democrat running for mayor, told CityBeat that Qualls will also
consider every option available. John Cranley, another Democratic
candidate for mayor, has long called the threat of layoffs “the boy
City Council unanimously passed a motion
yesterday that will require all parades receiving financial support
from the city to adhere to the city’s anti-discrimination policies. Council members cautioned that the measure won’t
require event hosts to invite fringe groups, but it will ensure
LGBT individuals, people of color and women are allowed to participate
in future events. The measure was inspired by a recent controversy surrounding
the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which barred an LGBT group from participating.
An appeals court will hear arguments
over the Cincinnati parking plan and the city’s use of emergency
clauses on May 6, even though the city had asked for a final decision by
May 1. Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler’s original ruling decided
emergency clauses do not remove the possibility of a referendum.
Emergency clauses are regularly used by City Council to remove a 30-day
waiting period on passed legislation, but the city says that power is
weakened by Winkler’s ruling since the city will now have to wait for
referendum efforts to safely begin implementation.
Meanwhile, referendum organizers against the parking plan are expected to drop off petitions at City Hall later today. Organizers previously
said they have more than 10,000 unverified signatures, but they’ll need 8,522
verified signatures to get the issue on the ballot. The parking plan, which CityBeat explained in further detail here,
would lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Development Authority to raise funds that would be used to help balance
the deficit for the next two fiscal years and launch development
projects, including a downtown grocery store.
This week’s CityBeat commentary: “Poor Messaging Holds Back Parking Plan.”
JobsOhio agreed to let State Auditor Dave Yost check their books — private funds and all — last month, but Yost says he’s still in talks
with the agency about future audits. JobsOhio is a publicly funded,
nonprofit corporation established by Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio
legislature to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.
Kasich’s advice for opponents of the Medicaid expansion: “Kick them in the shins.”
As part of a broader budget proposal, the governor is seeking to take
advantage of Obamacare to expand Medicaid with financial support from
the federal government, but some Republican legislators fear the money
won’t be there in a few years. Independent analysts say the Medicaid
expansion will save Ohio money, which CityBeat covered alongside Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
The cost of Reds games has gone down since last season, according to one study.
Ohio’s improving economy is leading to less problem loans in the statewide mortgage market.
Headline: “Nobody Wants a Facebook Phone.”
A new laser zaps away cocaine addiction from rats.
Mayor, city manager warn of public safety layoffs, but some still weighing alternatives
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Speaking at a press conference on March
28, Mayor Mark Mallory and other city officials did not mask their
contempt for the ruling that put the parking plan on hold earlier in the
by German Lopez
Ruling kills project, council members ask for alternatives, Kasich's school formula scrapped
Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler’s ruling last week has already led to the dissolution of one project,
according to Mayor Mark Mallory. The Kinsey Apartments project fell
through after City Council was unable to expedite a change in the
building’s classification that would have enabled access to state tax
credits. Winkler’s ruling effectively eliminated the city’s use of
emergency clauses, which the city used to remove a 30-day waiting period
on passed laws, by ruling that all Cincinnati laws are open to
referendum. The ruling means the city can no longer expedite laws even in extreme cases, such as natural disasters. The city is appealing the ruling.
Council members Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld are calling for a special session of City Council
to get the city administration to answer questions about budget
alternatives to laying off cops or firefighters. Mallory and other city
officials claim the only way to balance the budget is to carry out
Plan B, which would lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters and make cuts
to other city services. But Sittenfeld and Seelbach have proposed alternatives with casino revenue and cuts elsewhere.
The Ohio House may scrap Republican Gov. John Kasich’s school funding formula to use a “Building Blocks” model
championed by former Republican Gov. Bob Taft. The legislators say the formula
will give more certainty to local officials by always providing a base
of funding based on the average cost to educate a student, but the
governor’s office says the approach neglects recent increases in school
mobility. Kasich’s formula has come under criticism for
disproportionately benefiting wealthy districts, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Ohio’s per capita personal income rose at one of the fastest rates in the nation last year, according to an analysis from Dayton Daily News. The news is another sign of Ohio’s strong economic recovery, but it remains unclear whether the rise will bring down the state’s income inequality.
The Ohio Democratic Women’s Caucus (ODWC) is criticizing
Attorney General Mike DeWine’s efforts to exempt more health providers
from providing contraceptive coverage based on religious grounds. “DeWine
wants to allow all employers to deny crucial health care services like
birth control, cancer screenings and vaccines if they disagree with the
services due to their personal or political beliefs,” Amy Grubbe,
chairwoman of the ODWC, said in a statement. As part of Obamacare,
health insurance companies are required to provide contraceptive
coverage — a measure that may save insurance companies money by
preventing expensive pregnancies, according to some estimates. But DeWine and other Republicans say the requirement violates religious liberty.
Ohio and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are partnering up
to use technology to crack down on fraud in the federal food stamp
program that costs the U.S. taxpayer millions of dollars a year.
A public Ohio school is taking down a portrait of Jesus after being threatened with a lawsuit for allegedly violating separation of state and church.
Duke Energy reached a settlement that will allow the company to raise the average electric bill for its Ohio customers by $3.72 per month.
Hamilton County’s SuperJobs Center and the Ohio Department
of Job and Family Services’ Veterans Program are partnering with 28
employers, ranging from the University of Cincinnati to Coca Cola, to host the
annual veteran hiring event at the SuperJobs Center, located at 1916
Central Parkway, on April 4 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
The Midwest Homeschool Convention at the Duke Energy Convention Center will bring former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and 15,000 visitors to Cincinnati.
President Barack Obama says he wants to fund a research project that would map the human brain.
By 2020, scientists estimate the world’s solar panels will have “paid back” the energy it took to produce them.
Scientists are growing immune cells in space to study how astronauts’ immune systems change in space.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
City officials frame budget debate with two choices, but there are more options
Councilman Chris Seelbach says Mayor Mark Mallory and other city officials are wrong to claim Plan B,
which would lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters and make other cuts to
city services, is the only solution to the city’s budget deficit if the
parking plan isn’t implemented.Seelbach and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld called for a
special City Council session on April 4 to get the city administration
to answer questions about alternatives to laying off cops or
Seelbach, who opposes the parking plan, has pointed to
casino revenue and cuts in programs ranked poorly by the city’s
priority-driven budgeting process as two potential alternatives to
eliminating at least 269 public safety positions.
“We spent $100,000 on the priority-based budget process to
give the public and a diverse cross-section of the entire city input on
what the Council and the city should be spending money on,” Seelbach
says. “We should be using those results when deciding where we should
In the midst of the parking plan debate, Seelbach
proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to
help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the
city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments
on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month
trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent.
At a press conference on March 28, Mayor Mark Mallory
implied the plan is unworkable because it relies on November ballot
initiatives. “We don’t have until November,” he said.
But Seelbach says City Council could pass a stub budget that
would sustain the city financially until the ballot measures are voted
on. If both the measures are rejected, City Council would then be
required to make further adjustments to balance the budget.
Even without the ballot initiatives, Seelbach’s
suggestions for casino revenue and cuts based on the priority-driven
budgeting process could be approved by City Council to avoid at least
two-thirds of the $18.1 million in public safety cuts outlined by
Dohoney’s Plan B memo. Seelbach says further cuts could be made through
the budget-driven priority process if necessary.
“It worries me that these threats of 344 layoffs is just
an attempt to sell the parking plan,” he says. “Every option should be
on the table.”
Meg Olberding, city spokesperson, previously told CityBeat that City Council could choose its own cuts and use other revenue, including casino revenue, to balance the budget.
“Council can use whatever revenue sources they want,” she
said. “That’s why the memo … says we can either use this plan or another
In the 2013 mayoral race, the threat of laying off cops
and firefighters has played a prominent role in the parking plan debate.
Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley has repeatedly said the
threats are “the boy crying wolf.” On Friday, he proposed his own budget plan that he says would avoid layoffs, but critics say Cranley’s casino revenue estimates ignore recent trends.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, another Democratic candidate
for mayor, said the city will have to lay off cops and firefighters if
the parking plan doesn’t go into effect, echoing earlier comments she
made in a blog post Sunday.
On March 6, City Council passed a plan that would lease
the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Development Authority
to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund
development projects, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). But the plan is being held up by a referendum effort after a ruling from Judge Robert Winkler on March 28.
4 Comments · Wednesday, March 20, 2013
LGBT-supporting Cincinnatians had a
bipolar March 15, with Sen. Rob Portman coming out in support of
same-sex marriage and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network
(GLSEN) being publicly barred from the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the
by German Lopez
Parade blocks LGBT group, parking plan awaits ruling, Boehner still against gay marriage
Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade drew a lot of criticism
Friday for excluding the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, a
group within K-12 schools that works to prevent bullying by striving for
equality regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and
expression. Councilman Chris Seelbach led the criticisms and a boycott
on the parade — an effort that gained national attention.
Chris Schulte, who was on the board that organized the parade,
apparently told Seelbach that the board did not want to be affiliated
with gays and lesbians due to the parade’s Catholic roots, but Schulte
said in a follow-up press release that the parade does not allow any
political or social movement, no matter the cause.
Cincinnati’s plan to lease its parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains in legal limbo,
even after a court hearing on Friday. Judge Robert Winkler, who
presided over the hearings, did not hand down a ruling after hearing
extensive legal arguments from the city and opponents of the parking
plan. Opponents argued the city charter’s definition of emergency
clauses is ambiguous, and legal precedent supports siding with voters’
right to referendum when there is ambiguity. The city said legal
precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law
is not contradicted in the city charter. Cincinnati’s city charter does
not specify whether emergency legislation is subject to referendum, but
state law explicitly says emergency laws are not subject to referendum.
Despite the reversal of his friend and Republican colleague Sen. Rob Portman, House Speaker John Boehner says he doesn’t see himself ever supporting same-sex marriage. Portman gained national recognition Friday for reversing his position two years after finding out his son is gay.
Mayor Mark Mallory will announce details about the City’s
Summer Youth Jobs Program tomorrow, and he’s also seeking as many
employers as possible to participate in his eighth Annual Youth Job Fair.
Employers can sign up for free booths at www.mayormallory.com.
Due to a policy that encourages doctors to work overtime, psychiatrists are among the state’s top paid employees.
State officials say the policy saves money because overtime rates are
lower than psychiatrists’ normal hourly wages. On average, the doctors
end up working 80 hours a week, but state officials say there are
precautions in place to ensure the highest levels of care.
The Steubenville rape case came to a close over the weekend, with two teenagers being found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.
While most people were appalled by the teenagers’ audacity on Twitter
and other social media regarding the rape, CNN decided to report the
story with sympathy for the convicted rapists:
A University of Cincinnati study found a cholesterol drug could prevent colorectal cancer recurrence.
Sometimes science can do gross things, like resurrecting a frog that gives birth from its mouth.
Popular Science has been covering 3-D printer plans for houses, and the latest one actually looks like a house.
by German Lopez
Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters
The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters
if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and
complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.
A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C.
The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory
were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely
inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to
improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the
72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.
For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair
tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter
tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.
The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4
percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public
The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington,
D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s
parking meters today.
The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha
Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged
ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996
and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or
denying the charges.
All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal,
which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction
and economic development, in detail.
Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the
plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to
pass a possible City Council vote today.
On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S,
an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use
$7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of
the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a
$10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward
his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human
Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other
changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and
Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget,
while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.