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Council Denies Car Allowances

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 25, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Sept. 24 unanimously stripped budget restorations that would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners.  
by German Lopez 09.25.2013
Posted In: News, Business, City Council, Budget at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pride_seelbach_jf

Morning News and Stuff

Seelbach helps gunshot victim, Pure Romance to stay in Ohio, Council denies car allowances

Councilman Chris Seelbach last night helped a gunshot victim before the man was taken to the hospital. Seelbach posted on Facebook that he was watching The Voice with his partner, Craig Schultz, when they heard gun shots. They went to their window and saw a man walking across Melindy Alley. When Seelbach asked what happened, the man replied, “I was shot.” Seelbach then ran down and held his hand on the wound for 10 to 15 minutes before emergency services showed up. “We have a lot of work to do Cincinnati,” Seelbach wrote on Facebook. Police told The Cincinnati Enquirer the victim seemed to be chosen at random.Pure Romance yesterday announced it will remain in Ohio and move to downtown Cincinnati despite a decision from Gov. John Kasich’s administration not grant tax credits to the $100 million-plus company, which hosts private adult parties and sells sex toys, lotions and other “relationship enhancement” products. The reason for Pure Romance’s decision: The city, which was pushing for Pure Romance despite the state’s refusal, upped its tax break offer from $353,204 over six years to $698,884 over 10 years. Kasich previously justified his administration’s refusal with claims that Pure Romance just didn’t fall into an industry that Ohio normally supports, such as logistics and energy. But Democrats argue the tax credits were only denied because of a prudish, conservative perspective toward Pure Romance’s product lineup. City Council yesterday unanimously rejected restoring car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. Councilman Seelbach said he hopes the refusal sends “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The restorations were part of $6.7 million in budget restorations proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city administration previously argued the car allowances were necessary to maintain promises to hired city directors and keep the city competitive in terms of recruitment, but council members called the restorations out of touch. The Cincinnati area’s jobless rate dropped from 6.9 percent in August 2012 to 6.7 percent in August this year as the economy added 11,500 jobs, more than the 3,000 required to keep up with annual population growth. The former chief financial officer for local bus service Metro is receiving a $50,000 settlement from the agency after accusing her ex-employer of retaliating against her for raising concerns about issues including unethical behavior and theft. Metro says it’s not admitting to breaking the law and settled to avoid litigation. Ohio House Democrats say state Republicans denied access to an empty hearing room for an announcement of legislation that would undo recently passed anti-abortion restrictions. But a spokesperson for the House Republican caucus said the speaker of the House did try to accommodate the announcement and called accusations of malicious intent “absurd.” The accusations come just one week after the state’s public broadcasting group pulled cameras from an internal meeting about abortion, supposedly because the hearing violated the rules. The legislation announced by Democrats yesterday undoes regulations and funding changes passed in the state budget that restrict abortion and defund family planning clinics, but the Democratic bill has little chance of passing the Republican-controlled legislature. Ohioans will be able to pick from an average of 46 plans when new health insurance marketplaces launch on Oct. 1 under Obamacare, and the competition will push prices down, according to a new report. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s marketplaces and efforts to promote and obstruct them in further detail here. Ohio lawmakers intend to pursue another ban on Internet cafes that would be insusceptible to referendum, even as petitioners gather signatures to get the original ban on the November 2014 ballot. State officials argue the ban is necessary because Internet cafes, which offer slot-machine-style games on computer terminals, are hubs of illegal gambling activity. But Internet cafe owners say what they offer isn’t gambling because customers always get something of value — phone or Internet time — in exchange for their money. Ohio tea party groups can’t find candidates to challenge Republican incumbents. The U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed the first openly gay U.S. appeals court judge. The Cincinnati area is among the top 20 places for surgeons, according to consumer finance website ValuePenguin. A graphic that’s gone viral calls Ohio the “nerdiest state.” Insects apparently have personalities, and some love to explore.
 
 
by German Lopez 09.24.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, City Council at 11:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Council Denies Car Allowances, Other Budget Restorations

Human services and parks funding to be restored; more than $70,000 stripped from motion

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday unanimously stripped budget restorations that would have reinstated car allowances, paid work days and office budgets for the city government’s top earners, including the mayor, city manager and council members. “It seems disingenuous that we would restore funding to the top earners in our city for car allowances and cost-saving days and also show, as we did last June, that we are willing to make sacrifices along with our employees,” Councilman Chris Seelbach said at the committee meeting. “When we ask people not to take a raise for five years or to not take a car allowance, it’s important for us to also make sacrifices.” Seelbach added that he hopes City Council’s decision will send “a signal to the administration that this Council is not interested in making the wealthy more wealthy or giving more executive perks to people who already make hundred-plus thousands of dollars.” The city previously eliminated some paid work days and car allowances as part of broader cuts to balance the city’s operating budget without laying off cops or firefighters. But City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 asked council members to use higher-than-projected revenues to undo $6.7 million in cuts, including $26,640 in car allowances for city directors, $18,000 in council members’ office budgets and $26,200 in paid work days for council members and the mayor.City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat on Friday that restoring the car allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness. She said the car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she added, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job. But some council members, particularly Seelbach, called the restorations out of touch. “I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” Seelbach told CityBeat on Friday. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.” The City Council motions passed on Tuesday remove the provisions for car allowances, paid work days and City Council office budgets but keep earlier proposals from council members, including restorations to human services funding and city parks.
 
 
by German Lopez 09.23.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Poverty, Pensions at 08:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Food stamp rules to hit locals, city defends allowances, charterites oppose pension initiative

Gov. John Kasich’s refusal to seek another waiver for federal regulations on food stamps will force 18,000 current recipients in Hamilton County to meet work requirements if they want the benefits to continue. That means "able-bodied" childless adults will have to work or attend work training sessions for 20 hours a week starting in October to continue getting food assistance. The renewed rules are coming just one month before federal stimulus funds for the food stamp program are set to expire, which will push down the $200-a-month food benefits to $189 a month, or slightly more than $2 a meal, in November. In light of the new requirements, the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services will help link people with jobs through local partnerships and Hamilton County's SuperJobs Center, but that might be difficult for food stamp recipients who have past convictions, mental health problems and other barriers to employment.The city administration defended its proposal to restore $26,640 in car allowances for the mayor, city manager and other director-level positions in the city government, just a few months after the city narrowly avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees by making cuts in various areas, including city parks. City spokesperson Meg Olberding says car allowances are part of traditional compensation packages in other cities Cincinnati competes with for recruitment, and she says that the compensation was promised to city directors when they were first hired for the jobs. But Councilman Chris Seelbach says the proposal is out of touch and that he's more concerned about lower-paid city employees, such as garbage collectors, who haven't gotten a raise in years, much less a $5,000 car allowance. The Charter Committee, Cincinnati's unofficial third political party, came out against the tea party-backed pension ballot initiative. The committee recognizes Cincinnati needs pension reform soon, but it says the tea party proposal isn't the right solution. The tea party-backed amendment would privatize Cincinnati's pension system so future city employees — excluding cops and firefighters, who are under a different system — would have to contribute to and manage 401k-style retirement accounts. Under the current system, the city pools and manages pension funds through an independent board. Supporters argue the amendment is necessary to deal with the city's growing pension liability, but opponents, including all council members, argue it would actually cost the city more and decrease employees' benefits. CityBeat covered the amendment and the groups behind it in further detail here.State Rep. John Becker of Clermont County wants U.S. Judge Timothy Black impeached because the judge ruled Ohio must recognize a Cincinnati same-sex couple's marriage in a death certificate. The judge gave the special order for locals James Obergefell and John Arthur, who is close to death because of a neurodegenerative disease with no known cure called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says if the city were to synchronize its mayoral primary elections with other state and county elections, it could save money by spreading the share of the costs. The Sept. 10 primary cost Cincinnati $437,000. The change would require altering the city charter, which needs voter approval.The Ohio Department of Education will soon release revised report card grades for Cincinnati Public Schools and other school districts following an investigation that found the school districts were scrubbing data in a way that could have benefited their state evaluations.An Ohio bill would ban drivers younger than 21 from driving with non-family members in the car and bump the driving curfew from midnight to 10 p.m., with some exceptions for work and school.A University of Cincinnati football player is dead and three others are injured following a single-car crash.Ohio gas prices rose as the national average dipped.Here is a map of air pollution deaths around the world.
 
 
by German Lopez 09.20.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Budget at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
city hall

City Administration Defends Car Allowances

Restorations would subsidize car use for mayor, city manager, other directors

Just a few months after the city avoided laying off cops, firefighters and other city employees, City Manager Milton Dohoney on Sept. 15 proposed restoring $26,640 in vehicle allowances that would subsidize car use for the city manager, the mayor and other director-level positions in the city administration. City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat that restoring the allowances is a matter of basic fairness and keeping both the city’s word and competitiveness. Olberding says car allowances are typically part of compensation packages offered in other cities that compete with Cincinnati for recruitment. The allowances, she explains, were also promised to city directors as part of their pay packages when they were first hired for the job. “Cutting it reneges on their original offer and part of the pretense under which they took the job,” Olberding says, adding that failing to restore the compensation promises could make future potential hires reluctant to work in Cincinnati. But given Cincinnati’s ongoing budget problems, some council members say the proposal is out of touch. “Are you kidding me?” asked Councilman Chris Seelbach at the Sept. 16 Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “I just question the judgment of an administration that would make that kind of recommendation given our current financial situation. I’m offended that it would be even recommended.” Even though City Council managed to avoid layoffs in this year’s budget, Cincinnati’s operating budget remains structurally unbalanced, which means the city will have to come up with new revenue or cuts to balance the budget in upcoming years.Seelbach told CityBeat he doesn’t agree with the competitiveness arguments. “I’m more concerned with the garbage worker who’s making barely enough to get by and would love to get a quarter-on-the-hour raise, much less a $5,000 car allowance,” he says. “If someone wants to leave their position when they’re making $100,000-plus because we’re not going to give them a $5,000 car allowance, I’m convinced we can find someone just as capable, if not more capable, that would be thrilled with a $100,000-plus salary with no car allowance.” Still, Olberding points out that city directors often need to drive more than the typical worker, whether it’s to get to public meetings, in case of an emergency or as a natural consequence of being on call 24/7. She says that justifies what she sees as a small cost. The restoration was tucked into a proposal from the city manager that restores more than $6.7 million in previous cuts by using revenue left over from the previous budget cycle. The car allowance portion is about 0.3 percent of the total proposal and less than one-hundredth of a percent of the city’s overall operating budget. For some city officials, the issue gets to what they perceive as a disconnect between private individuals and the government: Although thousands of dollars might seem like a lot of money to the typical person, the sum is usually worth much less than a penny on the dollar in city budget terms.But Seelbach says garbage collectors and other city workers who haven’t received a raise in years would be thrilled to split $22,000, even if the sum doesn’t mean much in total budget terms.“It shows a lack of respect for the people who make this city work,” Seelbach says. The proposal also comes shortly after a tense budget showdown and in the middle of an election year for City Council and the mayor’s office. Dohoney repeatedly said throughout the past year that the city would have to lay off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters, if it didn’t lease its parking meters to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The city ultimately avoided the layoffs without the parking lease by making cuts in various areas, including the city’s parks, and tapping into higher-than-expected revenues, but the city is still pursuing the lease to pay for economic development projects. City Council will take up the restoration measures at a Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 24.Updated at 4:09 p.m. with comments from Councilman Chris Seelbach.
 
 
by German Lopez 09.18.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Homelessness at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
avondale housing

Group Aims to Reduce Local Homelessness by Half in Five Years

First progress report outlines strategy, initial outcomes

Strategies to End Homelessness on Wednesday released its first annual progress report detailing how the organization intends to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County by half from 2012 to 2017. That means reducing the county’s homeless population of more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 in five years. The plan doesn’t focus on providing shelter services to the needy; instead, Strategies to End Homelessness is advocating tactics that prevent homelessness entirely and attempt to permanently address the issue. The main strategies, according to the report: prevention, rapid rehousing that lasts six to 12 months, transitional housing for up to 24 months and permanent supportive housing that targets the chronically homeless and disabled. For the organization, the goal is to reduce homelessness by using supportive services to get to the root of the issue, whether it’s joblessness, mental health problems or other causes, and ensure shelter services aren’t necessary in the first place. “Of the various types of programs within our homeless services system, households served in prevention were least likely to become homeless within the next 24 months,” the report reads. “Among supportive housing programs, Rapid Rehousing programs cost less, serve households for significantly shorter periods of time, and have increased long-term success compared to other supportive housing program types.” The cost savings get to the major argument repeatedly raised by homeless advocates: If society helps transition its homeless population to jobs and permanent housing, governments will see savings and new revenue as less money is put toward social services and the homeless become productive economic actors who pay taxes. Prevention in particular had particularly strong financial results, according to the Strategies to End Homelessness report: “In 2012, the estimated average cost per person served in homelessness prevention was $787, which is 60 (percent) less than the estimated cost of $1,322 per person served in an emergency shelter.” Meanwhile, permanent supportive housing topped the list of costs, coming in at an average of $6,049 per person. Despite the ambitious goals and promising results, the group’s prevention program has run into some problems. The federal government never renewed temporary federal stimulus funding that was financing a bulk of the prevention program, which cut off a major source of money starting in July 2012. Strategies to End Homelessness managed to pick up funding later in the year through the federal Emergency Solutions Grant, but the financial support is much more modest, according to the report. Still, Strategies to End Homelessness appears undeterred. The report claims 78 percent of shelter residents transitioned to housing in 2012. The organization intends to continue prioritizing its resources to achieve similar sustainable outcomes in the next few years. Strategies to End Homelessness is a collaborative that pools local homeless agencies, including the Drop Inn Center, Lighthouse Youth Services and the Talbert House, to tackle homelessness with a less redundant, more unified strategy. In 2009, City Council and Hamilton County commissioners approved the organization’s Homeless to Homes Plan to “ensure that homeless people receive high-quality emergency shelter with comprehensive services to assist them out of homelessness.” But the plan has run into some recent problems. The permanent supportive housing facility proposed for Alaska Avenue in Avondale has been met with community resistance, which convinced City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday to place a two-week hold on the project while an independent mediator helps the two sides reach a compromise. In Cincinnati, homelessness-reduction efforts have also obtained less local support in the past decade as City Council consistently fails to uphold its human services funding goal.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.29.2013
Posted In: Airport, 2013 Election, News, Health care at 08:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

Medicaid expansion vote stalls, Lunken Airport mismanaged, streetcar spurs campaigns

Republican lawmakers say they won’t hold any votes on the Medicaid expansion until October or later, even though state officials say the expansion must be approved by October to have it in place by 2014. Implementing the expansion at the start of 2014 would coincide with the implementation of other major programs in Obamacare. Gov. John Kasich supports the expansion, but he’s had trouble convincing his fellow Republicans to join him. The expansion would be mostly funded by the federal government, which would pay for the entire policy for the first three years then phase down to indefinitely paying for 90 percent of the cost. Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade. Michigan, which is also dominated by Republicans, on Tuesday approved its own Medicaid expansion. An internal audit found the city of Cincinnati has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone toward improving the city-owned Lunken Airport through poor management and technology problems. In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach wrote on Twitter, “Lunken oversights completely unacceptable. Meeting w/ City & Lunken Mngr to work on detailed correction plan later this week.” The city is planning on making changes that should avoid losing revenue in the future. Streetcar supporters plan to hold a fundraiser today for mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls and City Council candidate Wendell Young. The fundraiser shows the extra steps now being taken by streetcar supporters, who have been proudly flaunting their support every month through “streetcar socials,” the latest of which Mayor Mark Mallory attended. Ever since its inception, the streetcar has been mired in controversy and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. A central Ohio lawmaker is renewing a legislative push for attaching drug tests to welfare benefits. The measure is meant to lower costs and ensure welfare money isn’t going to drug dealers. As CityBeat previously covered, the testing requirement can actually increase the cost of welfare programs: In Florida, the state government’s program had a net loss of $45,780 after it reimbursed all falsely accused welfare recipients of their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9 percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana, according to The Miami Herald. Heavy construction and improvements that will modernize and widen Interstate 75 are expected to continue for the next decade. Much of the work is being funded by Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan, which sells bonds that will be repaid with excess Turnpike polls. Jeff Ruby yesterday responded to a lawsuit filed on Monday against his restaurant chain. Ruby says his servers “are highly compensated — averaging $65,000 a year, with shifts that average seven hours a day.” The lawsuit alleges that management at Ruby’s restaurants took tips from three employees, which supposedly left them earning less than minimum wage. United Way of Greater Cincinnati plans to raise $62.8 million with its campaign this year. The organization supports Cincinnati’s human services, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. Google Glass could be used to improve surgeries in the future.
 
 

Government Cuts Hurt Ohio’s Economic Recovery

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Over the weekend, The Columbus Dispatch ran a story asking if cutting government hurts the economy and job creation. Really, the only answer to that question is a resounding, “Duh.”   
by German Lopez 08.27.2013
Posted In: News, Governor, Courts, Privacy at 09:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
gilligan

Morning News and Stuff

Former governor dies, facial recognition program criticized, county prosecutor mocks court

Former Gov. John Gilligan, a Cincinnati Democrat best known for winning the creation of the state income tax, died at 92 yesterday. Gilligan’s most lasting accomplishment was also what doomed his career; the state income tax was unpopular when it passed, even though it allowed Gilligan to boost funding for education, mental health and law enforcement programs. Gilligan’s political career began in Cincinnati Council. From there, he rose to U.S. representative and then governor. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio yesterday asked Attorney General Mike DeWine to shut down a facial recognition program used by law enforcement until state officials verify and develop safety protocols that protect Ohioans’ rights to privacy. DeWine formally unveiled the program in a press conference yesterday. It allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information. Previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. The program has been live for more than two months and so far used for 2,677 searches, but until now it was kept hidden from the public and hasn’t been checked by outside groups for proper safety protocols. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters stepped down as Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter’s attorney and called her handling of the court a “judicial circus.” Hunter has been mired in controversy ever since she took the bench: She was found in contempt by a higher court, and she’s been sued multiple times by media, including four times by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Deters, who under state law had to legally represent Hunter, said the legal troubles were too much, but his stepping down also complies with Hunter’s wishes to find her own hand-picked attorney. The University of Cincinnati is one of the top colleges where students can get the most out of their money, according to PolicyMic. UC performs better than average in the graduation rate, debt at time of graduation, percentage of undergraduate students receiving Pell grants and starting salary after graduation, yet the school manages to stay only slightly above the national average for tuition and board and room costs. Mayor Mark Mallory previously approved eliminating city parking requirements, which should allow residential development projects to greatly reduce or completely toss out parking space mandates downtown. “The goal of the ordinance is to encourage development in the urban core by permitting developers to determine their own parking needs for downtown developments,” said Councilwoman Yvette Simpson. “I firmly believe that the market will work to meet parking demands better than government minimum parking requirements.” The tax changes passed in the state budget earlier this year, including an income tax cut and sales tax hike, will go into effect on Sept. 1. The changes have been criticized for favoring the wealthiest Ohioans, as CityBeat covered in further detail here. Gov. John Kasich approved tax credits that are expected to create more than 591 jobs statewide, with at least 40 of the jobs being created at the Benjamin Steel Company in Cincinnati. Nearly one in five workers at Ohio casinos has quit or been fired. High turnover isn’t unusual in the casino business, but the numbers give a clearer glimpse at the volatility. Piloting a military drone can apparently take quite the psychological toll.
 
 
by German Lopez 08.12.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Budget at 03:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
 
 
city hall

Pension Amendment Earns Spot on November Ballot

Campaign paid nearly $70,000 to gather petitions in city

The tea party-backed amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s ailing pension system gathered enough signatures earn a place on the November ballot. Of 14,215 signatures scrutinized so far, 8,653 were valid, according to Sally Krisel, deputy director of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. That clears the requirement of 7,443 signatures, but the numbers will grow as the board continues counting petitions. The success follows a well-funded effort from Cincinnati for Pension Reform, which paid California-based Arno Petition Consultants nearly $70,000 to collect enough signatures, according to petition documents obtained through the city. The amendment would privatize pension plans so city employees hired after January 2014 contribute to and manage their own retirement accounts — a shift from the current set-up in which the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. But unlike private-sector employees, city workers might not qualify for Social Security benefits, which means they would lack the safety net and benefits that shield them from bad investments. Alternatively, the city could be required to pay into Social Security. An Aug. 5 report from the city administration claims that would make the tea party-backed system more expensive than the current pension system, which would defeat the reform’s main intention. Supporters of the tea party amendment say it’s necessary because Cincinnati is dragging its feet in addressing an $862 million pension liability, which earned the city a downgraded bond rating from Moody’s in a July 15 report. Although the city passed reforms in 2011 addressing future pension costs, the unfunded liability actually grew by $134 million between 2012 and 2013. The Cincinnati Retirement System board is working on changes that would address the unfunded liability, but so far no agreement has been reached as board members argue over whether taxpayers or retirees should be hit hardest by more cost-cutting measures. City officials acknowledge the issues with the current pension system, but they claim the tea party-backed amendment would exacerbate cost problems and reduce payments to future city retirees. “Under the guise of ‘reform,’ a well-financed out-of-state group is pushing an amendment that spells economic disaster for the future city retirees and the city’s budget,” Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said in a statement. “Current and future retirees need an income they can live on. This amendment is a budget-buster for retirees and the city.” City Council condemned the amendment in a resolution unanimously passed on Aug. 7. CityBeat’s Aug. 14 news story will give an in-depth look at the amendment and the campaign behind it.This story was updated at 5:07 p.m. with the most up-to-date numbers.
 
 

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