by German Lopez
Posted In: Budget
at 10:31 AM | Permalink
Plan includes property tax hike, police and fire layoffs
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. released his operating
budget plan for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 today. The plan makes
lower-than-expected cuts to police, fire and other city departments to
help balance the $35 million deficit in the operating budget for fiscal
year 2014, but it would also effectively raise property taxes.
The City Charter allows the city to leverage 6.1 mills in
property taxes, but City Council only approved the use of 5.7 mills for
the operating budget in 2014, up from 4.6 mills in 2013. The budget plan
would leverage the full 6.1 mills in 2015, effectively raising annual
property taxes between 2014 and 2015 by $34 for every $100,000 in property value.Water Works rates would also be reworked with a new
pricing structure, which would add $3.11 to a Water Works customer’s
bill each quarter.
The budget plan recommends laying off 66 employees in the
Police Department, down from a previous estimate of 149. Fire
personnel layoffs were also reduced to 71, down from 118. In other
departments, 64 would be laid off.
The budget release estimates the fire layoffs would lead
to an estimated 10 brownouts a day in which one truck in a firehouse would not run.About $20.4 million of the fiscal year 2014 budget gap would
be closed by cutting expenditures, while the rest would be closed with
changes in revenue.
The budget release says the cuts are a result of the
city’s parking plan falling through in light of a referendum effort and
legal challenges: “While the Manager’s budget, with support from policy
makers, has typically centered on strategies for growth to expand the
local economy, this budget is constructed in light of the lack of
revenue from the Parking Modernization and Lease, approved by the
majority of City Council but held up in litigation.”
With the reduced layoffs, the city will save money by paying less in accrued leave and unemployment insurance.
Previously, city officials estimated it would cost about $10
million to lay people off, but that number was reduced to
$3.5 million in the revised budget plan.
The budget plan would also eliminate 17 vacant full-time
positions in various departments and delay filling other vacant
positions, which the budget release says would cause some strain: “These
vacant position eliminations and prolonged position vacancies would
further challenge departments that have already experienced significant
funding and position reductions in prior budget years.”
The plan would also increase employees’ cost share for
health care from 5 percent to 10 percent, reduce cost of living
adjustments and force furloughs, which would span to executive and
senior level management positions, including the city manager. The
changes effectively add up to a 1.9 percent salary reduction, according to the
Other cuts in the budget were selected through the
Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, which used
surveys and public meetings to gauge what city programs are most important
to local citizens. About $1.7 million would come from
personnel and service reductions in the Health Department’s Community Health Environmental
Inspections programs, the Law Department and the Department of Recreation.
Another $1.5 million would be cut from funding to outside entities, including human services agencies, the Neighborhood Support Program, the Greater
Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the African American Chamber of
Furthermore, subsidies for “Heritage Events,” such as the
Findlay Market Opening Day Parade and St. Patrick’s Day Parade, would be
eliminated, along with all arts funding.
The budget plan would also eliminate various other
services, including the Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills, the
Office of Environmental Quality’s Energy Management program and the
Cincinnati Police Department’s mounted patrol unit.
The budget plan includes a slew of new fees: a $75 fee for
accepted Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement
applications, a $25 late fee for late income tax filers, a $100 fee for
fire plan reviews, an unspecified hazardous material cleanup fee, a
50-cent hike for admission into the Krohn Conservatory and an
unspecified special events fee for city resources used for special
The budget plan would also use casino revenue: $9.1 million in 2013 and 2014 and $7.5 million in 2015.
The city was originally planning to lease its parking
assets to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to help balance the
operating budget and fund economic development projects (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but the plan will be on the November ballot this year if court challenges are successful.
But if the city is successful in court, the budget release
claims many of the cuts could be undone by using revenue from the
The city manager’s office says the budget must be approved
by City Council and the mayor by June 1 to provide 30 days for the
budget’s implementation in time for fiscal year 2014, which begins July
Previously, the city could have used an emergency clause
to eliminate a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws, but City
Solicitor John Curp says the court challenges have effectively
eliminated the power behind emergency clauses by making all laws, even
laws passed with an emergency clause, susceptible to referendum within
The operating budget is separate from the streetcar budget, which is also facing a $17.4 million budget shortfall.
The streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which can’t be used
to balance the operating budget because of budgeting limits established
in state law.
by German Lopez
City manager defends streetcar, student who shot himself identified, city to sell defunct mall
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. defended the streetcar project
at a special four-hour session of City Council yesterday, but the city
manager did not reveal any specifics over how the project’s $17.4
million budget gap could be closed. Dohoney revealed the price of
halting the project would be $72 million: the project has already cost
the city $19.7 million, the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs and another $38.1 million in federal grants
would have to be returned to the federal government. Most of Dohoney’s
presentation focused on the streetcar’s economic benefits, but opponents
say the budget gap proves the streetcar project is unsustainable and
its costs are too high.
The Cincinnati Enquirer identified the 17-year-old honors student at LaSalle High School who tried to commit suicide
in front of a classroom of 22 other students yesterday, even though parents asked press to provide privacy. The student remains
alive and in critical condition this morning. No other students were physically hurt, and classes are
resuming as normal. (Update: The student’s name was removed from this post upon the family’s request.)
The city is moving to sell Tower Place Mall for $1
to Brook Lane Holdings, an affiliate of JDL Warm Construction, so the
construction company can pour $5 million into the defunct mall and
convert it into a garage with street-level retail space. Financing the
project at Pogue’s Garage, which is across the street from Tower Place
Mall, is still being worked out now that the parking plan has been
delayed by court battles and a referendum effort.
Cincinnati’s police and firefighter unions are filing a lawsuit
over the city’s health care dependent audit. The city is asking employees
to verify whether spouses and children are legitimately eligible for
health care benefits by turning over documents such as marriage
licenses, birth certificates and tax returns. The unions’ attorney told WVXU
the unions are willing to provide the necessary documents, but he said
they’re concerned the process is too intrusive and difficult.
Two firms are getting tax credits
for creating jobs in the Greater Cincinnati area: 5Me, which creates
manufacturing software, and Festo Americas, which specializes in factory
and process automation. Altogether, the credits could create 312 jobs
in the region.
A Democratic state senator hinted yesterday at letting voters decide
whether Internet sweepstakes cafes should be allowed in Ohio. State
officials, particularly Attorney General Mike DeWine, claim
Internet cafes are hubs for criminal activity. The Ohio House already
passed a measure that would effectively ban the cafes, but some are
cautious of the ban as the Ohio Senate prepares to vote.
An intelligent headlight makes raindrops disappear.
Some people may prefer death to being saved by this terrifying robot snake.
0 Comments · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Convening in packed City Council chambers
on April 29, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of
the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by
the city administration on April 16.
by German Lopez
Streetcar budget fixes detailed, Senate kills 'right to work,' county fights infant mortality
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave his suggestions for fixing the streetcar budget gap Tuesday, and CityBeat analyzed the details here. The suggestion, which include temporarily using front-loaded Music Hall funds and pulling money from other capital projects, are capital budget items that can't be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits in state law, so if City Council approved the suggestions, the streetcar would not be saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other city employees being laid off to balance the operating budget.Ohio Senate Republicans seem unlikely to take up so-called "right to work" (RTW) legislation after it was proposed in the Ohio House. RTW legislation prevents unions and employers from making collective bargaining agreements that require union membership to be hired for a job, significantly weakening a union's leverage in negotiations by reducing membership. Since states began adopting the anti-union laws, union membership has dropped dramatically around the nation. Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald, were quick to condemn the RTW bills and compare them to S.B. 5, a 2011 bill backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich and Ohio Republicans that would have limited collective bargaining powers for public employees and significantly reduced public sector unions' political power.Hamilton County commissioners approved a county-wide collaborative between health and government agencies to help reduce the county's infant mortality rate, which has exceeded the national average for more than a decade. Funding for the program will come in part from the sale of Drake Hospital to UC Health.With a 7-2 vote yesterday, City Council updated its "responsible bidder" ordinance, which requires job training from contractors working with the Metropolitan Sewer District, to close loopholes and include Greater Cincinnati Water Works projects. Councilman Chris Seelbach led the charge on the changes, which were opposed by council members Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn.Ohio Senate Democrats are still pushing the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found would insure 456,000 Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade. Ohio House Republicans effectively rejected the expansion with their budget bill, which the Ohio Senate is now reviewing. CityBeat covered the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.The state's Public Utilities Commissions of Ohio approved a 2.9 percent rate hike for Duke Energy, which will cost customers an average of $3.72 every month.Concealed carry permits issued in Ohio nearly doubled in the first three months of the year, following a wave of mass shootings in the past year and talks of federal gun control legislation.Real headline from The Cincinnati Enquirer: "How much skin is too much skin for teens at prom?"A Pennsylvania woman who had been missing for 11 years turned herself in to authorities in Florida.New research shows early American settlers at Jamestown, Va., ate each other.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:12 AM | Permalink
Recommendations would pull capital funding from multiple sources
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. released a memo yesterday detailing how the streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap could be fixed by pulling funds from various capital projects and issuing more debt, upholding a promise he made at a contentious City Council meeting Monday.The five-page memo says none of the proposed capital funding sources can be used to balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit because of limits established in state law, which means the streetcar project is not being saved at the expense of cops, firefighters and other city employees being laid off to balance the operating budget."Neither Capital nor TIF funds can be used to help with the operating budget deficit that the City is facing," the memo reads. "They are separate sources of funds and by State Law, cannot be used for operating expenses like police and fire personnel."At least $5.4 million would be temporarily pulled from the $10.6 million planned for the Music Hall renovation project, but the redirected Music Hall funds would eventually come back in capital budgets for fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019. City spokesperson Meg Olberding explained in an email that moving funds around would not hinder the Music Hall project."The use of $5.4 million of Funds set aside for Music Hall this year is
money currently sitting in a fund for this year that will not be needed
this year," she wrote. "Funds for Music Hall will not be needed until 2016, the
agreed upon deadline for fundraising
for the Music Hall renovation with the Music Hall Revitalization
Company. Therefore, the City is still keeping its commitment to Music
Hall, while also advancing the streetcar project."About $6.5 million would be taken from infrastructure projects surrounding the Horseshoe Casino, including funds that would otherwise go to lighting the trees along Reading Road and a study that would look at adding a turn lane from Reading Road. The memo acknowledges the trade-off, but it also justifies the redirected spending: "However, since the Streetcar passes within two blocks of the Casino Site, it is a project within the Casino Area that both benefits the TIF District and the Casino."The memo also recommends pulling $400,000 that was originally set for traffic signal replacement, which would be used for the traffic replacement component of the streetcar project. Another $500,000 would come from funding currently set for water main relocation and replacement. The memo says the water main funding is simply Water Works' share: "Of the $21.7 million cost overrun for the Streetcar project, approximately $1 million was for water main relocation (and) replacement work. Water Works' share of this is $0.5 million."The remaining $4.6 million would come from the city issuing general capital debt, which would be paid back through a small portion of the income tax that is established in the City Charter for permanent improvement purposes. The memo acknowledges this would cost other economic development and housing projects $340,000 a year over the next 20 years, but it claims the funding is justified because the streetcar project is a permanent improvement project.The memo outlines other vague capital funding options that could be used to balance the budget, but Dohoney does not explicitly recommend them. The memo also leaves open the possibility of future sources of funding, including $15 million that could be opened up if the city prevails in court against Duke Energy over who has to pay for moving utility lines to accommodate streetcar tracks — but this was money that was originally supposed to go to neighborhood development projects — and the sale of remaining city-owned land at the Blue Ash Airport.City Council still has to consider and approve the memo's recommendations for them to become law.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An April 16 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7
million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:00 AM | Permalink
House budget bill may suppress student voters, tax plan favors wealthy, police chief may go
An amendment in the Ohio House budget bill last week would make it so universities have to decide
between providing voting information to students or retaining millions
of dollars in out-of-state tuition money. The amendment would make it so
universities have to classify students as in-state — a classification
that means lower tuition rates — when providing documents necessary for
voting. Republicans claim the measure is “common sense” because anyone
voting for Ohio’s elections should be an Ohio resident. But the
amendment has provoked criticism from Democrats and universities alike,
who say universities are being thrown into the middle of a voter
An analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found
the tax plan currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio
legislature favors the wealthy.
The analysis also claimed there’s little evidence the across-the-board
tax cuts suggested would significantly help Ohio’s economy.
The plan still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio
Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Council members are asking Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to remain in Cincinnati
instead of taking a job in Detroit, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
didn’t seem convinced that much can be done. Dohoney said Craig’s
hometown is Detroit, a city that has suffered in recent years as the
local economy has rapidly declined.
Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is running for governor, and he will make Cincinnati one of his first stops
for his campaign kick-off tour. FitzGerald is challenging Republican
Gov. John Kasich in 2014, who has held the governor’s office since 2010. A recent poll found Kasich in a comfortable position with a nine-point lead on
FitzGerald, but many respondents said they don’t know enough about
FitzGerald to have an opinion on him.
Greater Cincinnati home sales hit a six-year high in March,
with 2,190 homes sold. The strong housing market, which is recovering
from a near collapse in 2008, is widely considered by economists to be a
good sign for the overall economy.
But Ohio’s venture capital investments dropped to a two-year low, according to data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
The Ohio EPA and Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District are partnering up to provide a $250,000 grant to help purchase equipment to screen, clean and sort glass — an important part of the recycling industry.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to
forgo lunch on April 24 to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of
Fasting. The event will let participants “experience a small measure
of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives,” according to
a press release from Sittenfeld’s office. Participants are also being
asked to donate money to the Freestore Foodbank. A ceremony for the
event will be held on April 24 at noon in Fountain Square.
The U.S. Senate is moving toward approving bill that would allow states to better enforce and collect online sales taxes.
Mars One is calling all applicants for a mission to colonize Mars in 2023.
The sport of the future is here: combat juggling:
by German Lopez
Boston violence continues, parking referendum moves forward, House budget bill passes
Boston and surrounding communities went through another night of terror and chaos
last night, with the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects allegedly rampaging
through the city just hours after their photos were released to the
public by authorities. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the suspects, died
after apparently suffering multiple wounds from a police shootout and
what’s now believed to have been an explosion, but his brother, Dzhokhar
Tsarnaev, 19, remains at large while a massive manhunt is underway.
Authorities are telling people in Boston and the surrounding area to
stay indoors as the manhunt continues.
Opponents of the city’s plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority gathered enough petitions
to put the issue on the ballot this November. The news comes as a huge
blow to local officials who supported the plan to help balance the
budget for the next two years and fund development projects around the city. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. previously warned that without the parking plan the city will have to lay off cops and firefighters.
Before approving the budget bill in a 61-35 vote, the Ohio House voted to remove an amendment from the bill that would have banned comprehensive sex education in a 76-19 vote
yesterday, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. Still, the budget bill contains language that would defund Planned Parenthood
and redirect other funding to abstinence-only, anti-abortion crisis
pregnancy centers. The budget bill was also amended to ask for a
Medicaid waiver that give Ohio more time to mull over a Medicaid expansion and could lead to a revamp of the state-backed health care program. The budget bill must now be approved by the Ohio Senate and Gov. John Kasich.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in March,
unchanged from February’s revised rate and a small drop from 7.4
percent in March 2012. The number of people unemployed rose by 1,000,
while the amount of people employed dropped by 20,400. March was also a
weak month for the U.S. jobs report, so Ohio’s numbers may be following a
nationwide slowdown. Jobs in manufacturing, mining and logging,
financial activities and trade, transportation and utilities increased,
while other areas dropped by varying degrees.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Mayor Mark Mallory still support the streetcar project, touting its economic benefits to the city. Still, Qualls told CityBeat Wednesday that she wants to have a “very robust public conversation” about the project with the public and city officials to see how it can move forward.
On the two-year anniversary of his death, the lawsuit for David “Bones” Hebert has been expanded
to include the city of Cincinnati and three Cincinnati
Police officers. Since he was killed by
police in 2011, Bones has built a following that wants to bring what
they perceive as justice to his death.
A state representative announced he will run against
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman in 2016 because of Portman’s vote against a
federal gun control bill. State Rep. Bob Hagan wrote on Facebook,
”Senator Portman shows his lack of courage and testicular fortitude. The
NRA Owns him. I am declaring my candidacy for US Senate to run against
him in the next election. I will be his hair shirt for the next three
years.” A poll from The New York Times and CBS found about 92 percent of Americans support universal background checks, the major policy proposal in the gun control bill.
A new app allows Icelanders to make sure their hookups don’t qualify as accidental incest.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls calls for public hearing to discuss project
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is
threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo,
the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4
million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new
funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26
million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working
with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific
proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and
private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long
supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting
will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if
the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to
conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a
serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need
to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon
fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to
this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what
costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but
also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both
for the public.”But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime
opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement
today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people
of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms.
Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for
the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring
the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of
legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking
assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help
balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city,
including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the
streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are
challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council
regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However,
even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far
outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study
after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these
same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the
proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have
changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must
continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects
that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”