by German Lopez
Anti-P&G protesters face court, 3CDC to resolve project, mayor denies politics in board pick
A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on
the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb
outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the
company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in
Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G
officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they
already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in
to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower
project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means
to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses
to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn
down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a
path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the
project.Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that
they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty
surrounding their salon business.Cranley insists politics were not involved in an
appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints
from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace
Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel
Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time
advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,”
Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf
of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in
December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into
what the next phase of the project would cost.Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to email@example.com.
by German Lopez
Mayor blocks downtown development, city leaders push for Google Fiber, budget gap grows
Mayor John Cranley could dismantle a deal that would
produce a grocery store, 300 luxury apartments and a new parking garage
downtown. Cranley says he doesn’t want millions put toward the deal, even
though the developer involved plans to invest another
$60 million. Councilman Chris Seelbach says the deal isn’t dead just
because of the mayor’s opposition, and City Council could act to bypass
the mayor, just like the legislative body did with the streetcar project
and responsible bidder. To Seelbach, the deal is necessary to bring
much-needed residential space and an accessible grocery store downtown.Cincinnati officials and startup executives will try to
bring Google Fiber, which provides Internet speeds 100 times faster than
normal broadband, to Cincinnati. Google plans to hold a national
competition to see which cities are most deserving of its fiber
services. “Over the last several years, Cincinnati’s innovation
ecosystem has made tremendous strides,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said
in a statement. “We’re increasingly becoming a magnet for talented
entrepreneurs across the country who want to come here to bring their
big ideas to life. We need to ensure that we have the modern
technological infrastructure to make Cincinnati nationally competitive.”Cincinnati’s operating budget gap for fiscal 2015 now
stands at $22 million, up from an earlier forecast of $18.5 million,
largely because of extra spending on police pushed by Cranley and a
majority of City Council. The city must balance its operating budget
each year, which means the large gap will likely lead to layoffs and
service cuts.Commentary: “Budget Promises Spur Fears of Cuts.”Cranley won’t re-appoint the chair of Cincinnati’s Board
of Health. When asked why, Chairwoman Joyce Kinley told City Council’s
Budget and Finance Committee that Cranley told her “he had to fulfill a
campaign promise.” Some city officials say they worry Cranley is putting
politics over the city’s needs.Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s needs to pay back rent or
move out, The Banks’ landlord declared Monday. The deciding moment
for Mahogany’s comes after months of struggles, which restaurant owner
Liz Rogers blames on the slow development of the riverfront.Kathy Wilson: “Mahogany’s: Turn Out the Lights.”Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino supports 1,700 workers, making it the largest of Ohio's four voter-approved casinos.At least one airline, Allegiant Air, plans to add flights from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.Headline: “Man wakes up in body bag at funeral home.”“A 30,000-year-old giant virus has been revived from the frozen Siberian tundra,” the Los Angeles Times reports.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by German Lopez
Tax abatements benefit wealthy, group to market Cincinnati, winter raises city’s costs
About 1 in 20 Cincinnatians, many of them in the
wealthiest neighborhoods, pay less in taxes because their home
renovations and constructions are subsidized by a local tax program.
While the program benefits the wealthy, it also hits Cincinnati Public
Schools and other local services through lost revenue. The tax abatement
program aims to keep and attract residents and businesses by lowering
the costs of moving and living in Cincinnati. Anastasia Mileham,
spokeswoman for 3CDC, says the tax abatements helped revitalize
Over-the-Rhine, for example. Others say the government is picking winners and losers
and the abatement qualifications should be narrowed.With hotel room bookings back to pre-recession levels,
Source Cincinnati aims to sell Cincinnati’s offerings in arts, health
care, entrepreneurism and anything else to attract new businesses and
residents. The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau
established the organization to reach out to national journalists and
continue the local economic momentum built up in the past few years.
“Successful cities are those that have good reputations,” Julie
Calvert, interim executive director at Source Cincinnati, told The Cincinnati Enquirer.
“Without reputation it’s difficult to get businesses to expand or
relocate or get more conventions or draw young diverse talent to work
for companies based here.”The harsh winter weather this year pushed Cincinnati’s
budget $5 million over, with nearly $3 million spent on salt, sand and
. The rest of the costs come through increased snow
plowing shifts and other expenses to try to keep the roads clean. The
extra costs just compound the city’s structurally imbalanced budget
problems. The need for more road salt also comes despite Councilman Charlie
Winburn’s attempts to undermine the city’s plans to stockpile and buy
salt when it’s cheap.Mayor John Cranley says the success of The Incline Public
House in East Price Hill, which he helped develop, speaks to the pent-up
demand for similar local businesses in neglected Cincinnati
neighborhoods.Less than a month remains to sign up for health insurance plans on HealthCare.gov.
The estimated 24,000 students who drop out of Ohio schools
each year might cost themselves and the public hundreds of millions a
year, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says meth abuse has reached “epidemic” levels in the state.Ohio gas prices continued to rise this week.Developers say they have funding for the first phase of a Noah’s Ark replica coming to Williamstown, Ky.There’s a Netflix hack that pauses a movie or TV show when the viewer falls asleep.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to email@example.com.
by German Lopez
Council backs parking plan, strong mayor gains support, museum keeps Dr. Seuss cartoons
City Council yesterday expressed support for a barebones
parking plan that would upgrade all meters to accept credit card
payments and increase enforcement around the city, which should boost
annual revenues. The plan does not increase rates or hours at meters, as
Mayor John Cranley originally called for. It also doesn’t allow people
to pay for parking meters through smartphones. The plan ultimately means
death for the parking privatization plan, which faced widespread
criticism after the previous city administration and council passed it
as a means to jumpstart new investments and help fix the city’s
operating budget and pension system.Councilman Christopher Smitherman plans to pursue changes
to the city’s political structure to give more power to the mayor and
less to the city manager. Smitherman says the current system is broken
because it doesn’t clearly define the role of the mayor. Under
Smitherman’s system, the mayor would run the city and hire department
heads; the city manager, who currently runs the city and handles hiring,
would primarily preside over budget issues; and City Council would pass
legislation and act as a check to the mayor. Smitherman aims to put the
plan to voters this November.Commentary: “WCPO’s Sloppy Streetcar Reporting Misses Real Concerns.”The Cincinnati Art Museum maintains five political
cartoons from the famed Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel), but none are
currently on public display. The cartoons call back to the history before
World War II, when most of the world played ignorant to the horrors of
the Holocaust and Americans had yet to enter the war. Dr. Seuss loathed the villains on the world stage, and his cartoons promoted a
message of interventionism that would eventually lead him to join the
Army to help in the fight against the Axis powers. When he returned home, he would
write the famous stories and books he’s now so well known for.Mayor Cranley and some council members appear reluctant to
accept a routine grant application that would allow the Cincinnati Health
Department to open two more clinics because of the potential effect the
clinics could have on the city’s budget. Cranley and other council
members also seem concerned that the Health Department played a role in
the recent closing of Neighborhood Health Care, which shut down four
clinics and three school-based programs after it lost federal funding.Ohio legislators approved a bill that forces absentee
voters to submit more information and reduces the amount of time
provisional voters have to confirm their identities from 10 days to one
week. For Democrats, the bill adds to previous concerns that Republicans
are attempting to suppress voters. The bill now goes to Gov. John
Kasich, a Republican who’s expected to sign the measure into law.The Ohio legislature continues wrangling over how to give schools more snow days.More than 175,000 claims have been filed over winter damage, potentially making this winter one of the costliest in decades.Robot suits could make mixed martial arts blood-free.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by German Lopez
Preschool could save money, domestic partner registry coming, mayor seeks inclusion
Universal preschool could save Cincinnati $48-$69.1
million in the first two to three years by ensuring children get through
school with less problems and costs to taxpayers, according to a
University of Cincinnati Economics Center study. The public benefits
echo findings in other cities and states, where studies found expanded
preschool programs generate benefit-cost ratios ranging from 4-to-1 to
16-to-1 for society at large. For Cincinnati and preschool advocates,
the question now is how the city could pay for universal preschool for
the city’s three- and four-year-olds. CityBeat covered universal preschool in further detail here.Cincinnati leaders intend to adopt a domestic partner
registry that would grant legal recognition to same-sex couples in the
city. Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office says the proposal would
particularly benefit gays and lesbians working at small businesses,
which often don’t have the resources to verify legally unrecognized
relationships. Seelbach’s office says the registry will have two major
requirements: Same-sex couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove
strong financial interdependency. In a motion, the mayor and a
supermajority of City Council ask the city administration to structure a
plan that meets the criteria; Seelbach’s office expects the full
proposal to come back to council in the coming months.Mayor John Cranley plans to take a sweeping approach to
boosting minority inclusion in Cincinnati, including the establishment
of an Office of Minority Inclusion. The proposal from Cranley asks the
city administration to draft a plan for the office, benchmark inclusion
best practices and identify minority- and women-owned suppliers that
could reduce costs for the city. The proposal comes the week after
Cranley announced city contracting goals of 12 percent for women-owned
businesses and 15 percent for black-owned businesses.Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted eliminated early voting
on Sundays with a directive issued yesterday. Husted’s directive is
just the latest effort from Republicans to reduce early
voting opportunities. Democrats say the Republican plans are voter suppression, while
Republicans argue the policies are needed to establish uniform early
voting hours across the state and save counties money on running
elections.The Butler County Common Pleas Court ruled Tuesday that
the village of New Miami must stop using speed cameras. Judge Michael
Sage voiced concerns about the administrative hearing process the
village used to allow motorists to protest or appeal tickets.Ohio officials expect to get 106,000 Medicaid applications through HealthCare.gov.The first shark ray pups born in captivity all died at the Newport Aquarium.
Rising home prices might lead to more babies for homeowners.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to email@example.com.
by German Lopez
Seelbach touts measure to boost Cincinnati’s LGBT inclusion score
The mayor and a supermajority of City Council backs
efforts to establish a domestic partner registry for same-sex couples in Cincinnati,
Councilman Chris Seelbach’s office announced Tuesday.If adopted by the city, the registry will allow same-sex
couples to gain legal recognition through the city. That would let
same-sex couples apply for domestic partner benefits at smaller businesses, which typically don’t
have the resources to verify legally unrecognized relationships, according to Seelbach’s office.Specifically, the City Council motion asks the city administration to
reach out to other cities that have adopted domestic partner registries,
including Columbus and eight other Ohio cities, and establish specific guidelines.Seelbach’s office preemptively outlined a few requirements to sign up: Same-sex
couples will need to pay a $45 fee and prove strong financial
interdependency by showing joint property ownership, power of attorney, a
will and other unspecified requirements.“As a result of a $45 fee to join the registry, we believe
this will be entirely budget neutral, meaning it won't cost the city or
the taxpayers a single dollar,” Seelbach said in a statement.If the plan is adopted this year, Cincinnati should gain a perfect
score in the next “Municipal Equality Index” from the Human Rights
Campaign, an advocacy group that, among other tasks, evaluates LGBT inclusion efforts from city to city.
Cincinnati scored a 90 out of 100 in the 2013 rankings, with domestic
partner registries valued at 12 points.Seelbach expects the administration to report back with a full proposal that City Council can vote on in the coming months.
by German Lopez
Proposal could increase parking enforcement, hours and rates
Mayor John Cranley on Feb. 12 officially unveiled his
plan for Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages, providing the
first clear option for the city’s parking system since the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority agreed to halt the previous plan.
The proposal seeks to effectively replace the previous
administration’s parking privatization plan, which outsourced the city’s
parking assets to the Port Authority and several private companies, and maintain local control of the city’s parking assets.Here’s a breakdown of the plan and all its finer details.
What is Cranley’s parking plan?
It’s a plan for Cincinnati’s parking
meters, lots and garages. More specifically, Cranley calls his proposal a
“framework” that focuses on upgrading the city’s parking meters and keeps City Council’s control of parking rates and hours.
Cranley’s plan, based on a Feb. 7 memo from Walker Parking Consultants, achieves his goals in a few ways:
• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to upgrade all parking meters to accept credit card payments.
• The amount of enforcement officers under the city’s
payroll would increase to 15, up from five, to provide greater coverage
of the city’s parking meters. (Currently, a few areas, including major
hubs like the University of Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, are
effectively unenforced for two to five hours a day, according to Walker.)
• Neighborhood meter rates would go up by 25 cents to 75 cents an hour. Downtown rates would remain at $2 an hour.
• Sundays and holidays remain free.
Cranley says the underlying idea is to maintain a few key
principles, particularly local control over rates and hours. He cautions
Walker’s proposal, including expanded enforcement hours, could change with public input and as City Council puts together the final plan.Does the plan let people use smartphones to pay for parking meters?
No. Cranley says the upgraded meters will support the
technology, but it will be up to council to decide whether it’s enabled in the
Smartphone capability is a double-edged sword: It introduces its own set of costs, including shorter battery life for meters. It also allows customers to avoid under- and overpaying at parking meters, which decreases citation and meter revenues. But smartphone access also increases ease of use, which could lead to higher revenues by making it easier to pay.
The parking privatization plan promised to provide smartphone access at all parking meters. The previous administration and Port
Authority championed the feature as key to increasing convenience and revenue.
OK, that explains the parking meters. What about the parking garages?
Cranley’s plan makes two changes to garages:
• The Port Authority would take over Fountain Square South
Garage. The Port would be required to cover expenses for the garage,
but any net revenue could be used on projects within the city.
• The city would issue bonds, backed by future parking revenues, to build a garage at 7th and Broadway streets.
Otherwise, things remain the same as today.
In other words, the city would be on the hook for
parking garage repairs and upgrades, which Walker estimates would cost
roughly $8 million in capital expenses over the next five years.But the city would also continue directly receiving around $2 million per year in net revenue from parking garages, according to Walker.
Still, the city isn’t allowed under state law to use the revenue from parking garages for anything outside the parking system.The parking privatization plan tried to do away with the restriction by putting the Port Authority in charge of garages. State law allows agencies like the Port to tap into garage revenues for other uses, such as development projects.But without the previous administration’s plan, Cranley claims the Port Authority declined to take over more facilities beyond Fountain Square South
Garage. Given the rejection, Cranley says it’s up to council to figure out another way to leverage garage
revenues beyond putting them back in the parking system.What does Cranley’s plan do about the thousands of parking tickets already owed to the city?
Nothing. By Cranley’s own admission, the city needs to do a
better job collecting what it’s owed. But he says that’s something City
Council will have to deal with in the future.
So why did Cranley oppose the parking privatization plan?
Cranley vehemently opposed giving up local
control of the city’s parking assets. He warned that outsourcing meters to the Port Authority and private companies would create a for-profit incentive to
ratchet up parking rates and enforcement.
The previous administration disputed Cranley’s warnings.
They pointed out an advisory board, chaired by four Port Authority
appointees and one city appointee, would need to unanimously agree on
rate and hour changes, and the changes could be vetoed by the city
manager.Without any changes from the advisory board, the 30-year privatization plan hiked downtown parking meter rates by 25 cents every three years and neighborhood rates by 25 cents every six years. The plan also expanded enforcement hours to 8 a.m.-9 p.m. in Over-the-Rhine and parts of downtown.
Still, City Council would lose its control of rates and hours under the privatization plan. Cranley and other opponents argued the outsourcing scheme could insulate the parking system from public — and voter — input.
Cranley also opposed the privatization plan’s financial
arrangement. Under the old deal, the city would receive a lump sum of
$85 million and annual installments of $3 million, as long as required
expenses, such as costly garage upgrades or repairs, were met.In comparison, the city currently gets roughly $3 million in net revenue from parking meters and another $2 million in net revenue from parking garages. (As noted earlier, the parking garage revenue can only be used for parking expenses.) Cranley characterizes the lump sum as
“borrowing from the future” because it uses upfront money that could
instead be taken in by the city as annual revenue.Related: Compare Cranley’s plan with the parking privatization plan.
Why does Cranley think his proposal is necessary? It solidifies the death of the parking privatization plan. That’s important to begin the process of legally dismantling the previous plan.The plan also increases net parking meter revenues from roughly $3 million to $6 million in the next budget year and more than $7 million per year within five years, according to Walker’s original estimates. (The estimates are likely too high because they assumed evening hours would expand around the University of Cincinnati, Short Vine in Corryville, Over-the-Rhine and downtown. But Cranley shelved the expansion of hours, with no estimates for how the changes will affect revenues.)Since parking meter revenue, unlike garage revenue, can be used for non-parking expenses, the extra revenue could help plug the $20 million gap in the $370 million operating budget.Why do some people oppose Cranley’s plan?
Some people supported the parking privatization plan. They
saw the lump sum as a great opportunity to invest in development
projects around the city. Without the lump sum, critics claim Cranley’s
plan accepts all the pain of the previous plan — increased
enforcement, rates and hours — for very little gain, even though the city would get more annual revenue and upgraded parking meters and garages.
Politics are also involved. After the contentious
streetcar debate, there’s not much Cranley can do without some critics speaking out.
When will Cranley’s plan go into effect?
City Council first has to approve Cranley’s plan for it to
become law. Council will likely take up and debate the plan at the
Neighborhood Committee on Feb. 24 and set a more concrete timeline
after that.This blog post will be regularly updated as more information becomes available. Latest update: Feb. 19.
0 Comments · Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The group heading a supportive housing
project in Avondale announced Feb. 14 that it will initiate monthly
“good neighbor” meetings to address concerns about the facility.
by German Lopez
State plans for fracking in parks, mayor to help Obamacare, airport’s flood levee decertified
Gov. John Kasich’s administration in 2012 privately discussed a
public relations campaign to help bring fracking to three state parks. The
plan was apparently abandoned. But ProgressOhio, which released documents showing the discussions, says the plan highlights a trend in the Kasich administration
of looking out for business interests first. Fracking is a drilling technique
in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped
underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. In the past couple years,
the technique has been credited with bringing about a natural gas
production boom in much of the United States, including Ohio. But
environmentalists worry the poorly regulated practice contaminates air
and water. CityBeat covered fracking in greater detail here.Mayor John Cranley and Enroll America today plan to announce a partnership to get people enrolled in Obamacare. The goal is to fill the insurance pool
with healthier, younger enrollees, many of whom qualify for financial
assistance through HealthCare.gov, to help keep costs down. CityBeat previously interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio director of Enroll America, about the outreach efforts here.The two Republicans in charge of City Council’s Budget and
Finance Committee want to know why the city decertified a flood levee
surrounding Lunken Airport, instead of bringing it up to federal standards,
without consulting City Council. The decertification forced property
owners around the airport to buy costly flood insurance. City officials
say they made the decision because the city did not have the $20-$100
million it would cost to bring the levee up to standards.The W. Va. chemical spill cost Greater Cincinnati Water
Works about $26,000 in treatment chemicals, or about 11 cents per
customer.Getting ex-prisoners enrolled in Medicaid as they are
released could save Ohio nearly $18 million this year, according to state
officials.Duke Energy plans to sell 13 power plants, including 11 in Ohio. The company says the move is necessary because of the state’s increasingly unpredictable regulatory environment for electricity generators. Last week, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio rejected Duke’s request for a $729 million rate increase.With algorithms now capable of breaking CAPTCHA 90 percent
of the time, companies might need to find other anti-spam
protections.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy • News: @CityBeat_News • Music: @CityBeatMusic • German Lopez: @germanrlopezGot any news tips? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
by German Lopez
City’s rule for MSD projects attempts to increase local employment, job training
Following county commissioner’s Feb. 12 meeting, the
dispute between Cincinnati and Hamilton County over contracting rules
for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) projects appears to be heading to
The court battle comes after the county dismissed multiple
concessions from the city and put MSD’s revamp of the local sewer
system on hold in protest of the city’s rules. With a federal mandate
looming, both sides agree a resolution is needed soon to avoid costly
fines from the federal government.
For many across the city and county, the conflict is
understandably confusing. The debate has often been mired down by biased
media reports and political talking points that obfuscate the issue.
Jargon referencing “responsible bidder,” “local hire,” “local
preference,” unions, apprenticeship programs, a pre-apprenticeship fund
and contractors make it even more difficult to grasp what is going on.
Cutting through the politics, here is what the responsible
bidder rules actually do and why the city and county seem incapable of
What is responsible bidder?It’s a city ordinance that essentially forces MSD
contractors to adopt job training measures known as apprenticeship
programs and pay for a pre-apprenticeship fund. By requiring the
training options, the city hopes workers will be able to improve their
skills and successfully transition to other jobs once their MSD work is
Apprenticeship programs take workers through extensive
on-the-job and classroom-based training in which they can hone their
skills in a specific craft, such as electrical or plumbing work. Because
workers get paid for their work while participating in an
apprenticeship, the programs are typically characterized as an
The pre-apprenticeship fund will put money toward programs
that will teach newcomers basic skills, such as math and reading, so
they can eventually move up to an apprenticeship program.
The rules don’t apply to every MSD contractor. Contracts
worth less than $400,000, which make up roughly half of MSD’s sewer
revamp, are exempted.
What about local hire and local preference?Those are ordinances separate from responsible bidder that
give preference to Cincinnati-based businesses. They try to keep MSD
contracts within local companies.
What’s the conflict about?
The conflict is between Cincinnati and Hamilton County,
which jointly run MSD. The Democrat-controlled city supports the rules,
while the Republican-controlled county opposes them.
The city and county also dispute which governing body can
set policy for MSD. Under a 1968 agreement, the county owns and funds
MSD, and the city operates and maintains it. City Council argues the
agreement allows the city to set policy for MSD, but the county
disagrees. Both sides acknowledge the set-up is far from ideal.
So, did the city’s rules halt MSD projects?
No. Nothing in the city’s ordinances forces MSD projects
to stop. County commissioners singlehandedly halted MSD projects in
protest of the city’s rules. If it were up to the city, work would
Why are these projects so important?
By federal decree, the city needs to revamp the sewer
system to bring it up to environmentally safe standards. The project
will cost $3.2 billion over 15-20 years, making it one of the most
expensive in the city’s history.
If the city and county don’t carry on with the revamp
soon, the federal government will begin issuing fines. By some guesses, the fines could begin rolling in by the end of the year.
Why does a majority of City Council support responsible bidder?
Councilman Chris Seelbach, the Democrat who championed the
rules, says they will boost local employment and create more job
training options for the city’s struggling workforce.
Other Democrats on council agree, although some, like Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, believe the ordinance is “imperfect.”
Does responsible bidder benefit workers?
Some research suggests it would.
The left-leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) in a
December report argued apprenticeship programs provide an opportunity to
revitalize the U.S. workforce.“By 2020, America is projected to experience a shortage of
3 million workers with associate’s degrees or higher and 5 million
workers with technical certificates and credentials,” the report
claimed. “Compounding our inadequate workforce development system,
research shows that employers are now spending less on training than
they have in the past. At the same time, industry surveys show that a
lack of qualified workers is a top concern for many employers.”Citing a 2012 study from Mathematica Policy Research, CAP
estimated apprenticeship programs alone can boost a worker’s lifetime
earnings and benefits by more than $300,000. Over 36 years of
employment, that’s an average gain of nearly $8,400 a year.Why do county commissioners oppose the rules?
In terms of policy, county commissioners say the responsible bidder rules favor unions and burden businesses.
On a legal basis, the county argues the city’s responsible
bidder rules conflict with state law and the local hire and preference
rules enforce unconstitutional geographic preferences.
Does responsible bidder actually favor unions?
Since unions tend to offer better and more apprenticeship programs, yes.
But the rules don’t exclude non-union businesses from
participating. For example, Ohio Valley Associated Builders and
Contractors maintains some non-union apprenticeship programs that would
qualify under the law.
Still, most of the union favoritism debate centered around
a regulation the city actually offered to give up. Specifically, under
current rules employers are only eligible to contract with MSD if they
have apprenticeship programs that have graduated at least one person a
year for the past five years. In October, Seelbach offered to strip the mandate and replace it with an incentive program. The county
seemed unmoved by the proposal.What about businesses? Does responsible bidder burden them?
By requiring businesses to adopt apprenticeship programs
and put 10 cents for each hour of labor into a pre-apprenticeship fund,
the law certainly places more regulations on businesses. Whether the
requirements are a burden is subjective.John Morris, president of the Ohio Valley Associated Builders and Contractors and an opponent of the law, told CityBeat the pre-apprenticeship fund’s requirement will increase business costs by $2-3 million over 15-20 years.Citing MSD estimates for the cost of labor, Rob
Richardson, regional manager of the Laborers’ International Union of
North America, said the fund will cost businesses $1.5 million.Even if someone accepts Morris’ estimate, the requirement adds up to at most 0.1 percent of the $3.2 billion project.
More broadly, some supporters of the city’s rules question
whether placing a burden on businesses is innately a bad thing. The
basic point of government regulations is to make the economy and
businesses work better for the public. In that sense, regulations are
always going to burden businesses to some extent.For example, financial regulations burden big banks and
financial institutions. But many Americans agree the regulations are
necessary to avoid another financial crisis like the one that plunged
the country into the Great Recession.Still, critics argue the extra regulations would increase the cost of business, and the impact could ultimately be felt by MSD ratepayers.Why don’t the city and county just compromise?
They kind of tried, but it seems the philosophical split
between Hamilton County Republicans and Cincinnati Democrats is too
strong to reach a substantial agreement.The city, for example, has offered multiple concessions to
the county. In May, City Council modified the law to ease some
requirements and add an exemption for contracts worth less than
$400,000, which covers half of the contracts involved in MSD’s sewer revamp. In
October, Seelbach offered to replace a strict mandate with a looser incentive
program. Seelbach also told CityBeat on Feb. 6 that he would consider raising the contract exemption from $400,000 to $750,000.In return, the county rejected the concessions and instead
offered to establish aspirational inclusion goals and some funding for
local job training programs — as long as the city repealed its rules
altogether.Which side would win the court battle?
It’s hard to say. Both sides — and their lawyers — seem pretty confident about their legal standing.
So what’s next?
At the current rate, it looks like the city and county are
heading to court. Whether the process involves a full-on legal battle
or mediation between the city and county’s lawyers remains uncertain,
but it’s clear something will eventually have to give.This blog post will be regularly updated as the situation develops.