WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by German Lopez 04.08.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 02:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
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The Banks Manager Could Take Over Streetcar Project

City Council committee passes measure allowing “double dipping”

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee moved forward with two controversial measures in two 5-4 votes today that will allow the city to rehire retirees while still paying their pensions and create an executive project director position for the streetcar project.One of the measures repeals the city’s ban on “double dipping,” which means rehired retirees will be able to simultaneously cash in a salary and pension payments. The measures will allow the city to hire John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to head the streetcar project. The city could not previously hire Deatrick because he formally retired from the city and is currently receiving pension payments. The city says Deatrick has the experience and expertise necessary to help bring the streetcar project’s costs in line, but critics say the city should not be hiring someone for the streetcar project when the city is considering laying off 344 employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters, to balance the budget. Deatrick says the layoffs are unfortunate, but he emphasizes that they are occurring through the general fund. If he was hired, Deatrick’s salary would be paid through the capital budget, a completely separate fund that the city uses for major development projects. Because of legal and traditional constraints, capital budget funds generally can’t be used to balance the general fund. “The capital budget generates projects that bring money into the general fund,” Deatrick says. Deatrick’s point is similar to an argument often touted by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., who says the city needs to economically grow out of structural budget deficits. Dohoney and other city officials say the true cause of Cincinnati’s structural budget imbalance has been the city’s dwindling population in the past decade, and bringing people back to Cincinnati through economic development projects, including the streetcar, is a better approach than austerity that would cause more layoffs and economic pain. Others, particularly Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, aren’t convinced. In a press statement that used vocabulary that often comes from streetcar opponent COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes), Cranley said, “Since day one the streetcar has been a poorly conceived, poorly managed boondoggle that is now costing the city even more money. The fact that this being done while police officers and firefighters are facing layoffs is a slap in the face of those who risk so much to make sure that our city is safe.” But the city says Deatrick’s involvement could help bring the streetcar project’s costs down, and Deatrick seems to agree. “That’s been my whole ‘shtick,’ ” Deatrick says, before citing numerous aspects of the streetcar project he would be interested in looking at to bring costs in line.Opponents have pointed to the streetcar’s multiple problems, including unexpected costs and delays, as proof the project has been doomed from the start. But Deatrick says it’s normal for big projects to deal with hurdles, and he cautions he would expect to deal with more rising problems if he takes the job. “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues,” he says. “These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.” Deatrick says he has long supported the streetcar, and he plans to expand the project up to the University of Cincinnati and the rest of the uptown area if he’s put in charge. While Deatrick has discussed heading the streetcar project with city officials, no formal offers have been made yet. Still, City Council members and Dohoney repeatedly named Deatrick as a potential candidate in the special session of City Council today. Some council members said they were concerned the double-dipping measure will be used for more similar hires in the future, which could raise hiring costs as the city pays for multiple employees’ salaries and pensions at the same time. Democratic council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young supported the measures. Democrats Chris Seelbach and P.G. Sittenfeld, Republican Charlie Winburn and Independent Chris Smitherman voted in opposition. Deatrick’s resume shows experience going back decades. Since June 2008, Deatrick has headed The Banks project, which recently won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation (“Bank On It,” issue of Jan. 16). Before that, he worked as deputy director and chief engineer at the District of Columbia Department of Transportation from May 2002 to August 2007, where he says he helped manage parts of the D.C. streetcar, among other projects. Prior to his work at D.C., Deatrick started his career as an urban development technician at Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering on September 1973. He helped with many projects around the city before eventually rising to the director position in November 1999, where he remained until May 2002. The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing Democratic mayoral candidates Cranley and Qualls, making the 2013 mayoral race another important election for the future of the project (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
 
 

Poor Messaging Holds Back Parking Plan

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 3, 2013
When Cincinnati found out about the city manager’s parking plan, it was not through a press conference or a widely dispersed announcement from the city; it was through a silently released memo that media outlets stumbled upon almost by accident.    

Lease or Layoffs?

Mayor, city manager warn of public safety layoffs, but some still weighing alternatives

0 Comments · Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Speaking at a press conference on March 28, Mayor Mark Mallory and other city officials did not mask their contempt for the ruling that put the parking plan on hold earlier in the day.  
by German Lopez 03.29.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Economy, Fracking at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Morning News and Stuff

City officials warn of budget cuts, budget woes pinned on Kasich, fracking causes earthquake

Yesterday, Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler gave a ruling that effectively opened the parking plan to referendum, but city officials said the decision poses major fiscal and legal challenges to the city. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the lack of a parking plan will force the city to lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, to balance fiscal year 2014’s budget in time for July 1, and City Solicitor John Curp said the ruling, which concludes emergency clauses do not eliminate the possibility of a referendum, greatly hinder the city’s ability to expedite the implementation of laws. The parking plan, which was previously approved by City Council, would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two years and fund economic development projects, but the court ruling means the plan must be put on hold at least until a referendum effort is complete. Ohio Democrats say Gov. John Kasich’s local government funding cuts are to blame for Cincinnati’s budget woes. In a statement, Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said, “Make no mistake, the only reason Cincinnati has been forced to debate firing hundreds of police and firefighters is because Gov. Kasich cut tens of millions of dollars to the city in his last state budget. As communities like Cincinnati struggle to deal with the last round of cuts, Kasich’s at it again, proposing to steal another $200 million from local communities to help pay for tax giveaways to the rich. If Kasich gets his way and passes his proposed handout to his friends, more communities across the state will see layoffs, skyrocketing local tax levies, and deep cuts to schools.” Kasich’s local government funding cuts have caused Cincinnati to lose $40.7 million in state funding over two years, according to Policy Matters Ohio. CityBeat covered Kasich’s local government funding cuts here and his budget proposal here. A study found a wastewater injection well used for fracking caused Oklahoma’s largest-ever earthquake. The findings echo fears from Youngstown residents, who experienced an earthquake early in 2012 that was pinned on nearby wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of waste produced during the fracking process. CityBeat covered fracking, the relatively new drilling technique that injects water underground to open up oil and gas reserves, in further detail here. In private budget news, a survey by Card Hub found Cincinnati residents have some of the nation’s worst budgeting habits. In the 30-city survey, Cincinnati ranked No. 28 for budgeting habits, ahead of only Tampa, Fla., and Orlando, Fla. Boston was ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Port Authority is carrying out a demolition in Jordan Crossing that will pave the way for $75 million in redevelopment. Mayor Mark Mallory described his experience with the development, “This has been a source of frustration, but also a source of hope. … This area is prime for job creation and redevelopment.” State legislators are once again trying to get student members of schools’ board of trustees the ability to vote — a move that would empower students in public universities. The bill was introduced last year, but it died a slow death after facing opposition from administrators at Ohio University and Bowling Green State University. Gov. John Kasich and Ohio State officials reportedly support the idea. A Sunday school teacher at a local church near Dayton was fired after declaring her support for same-sex marriage. Cincinnati Financial Corp. and Meridian Bioscience Inc. were named among the country’s most trustworthy firms. Headline: Man accused of using fake penis for drug test. New national science education guidelines say climate change should be in classrooms. Caffeine-addicted bacteria die if they get decaf. Scientists say they want to use the bacteria to clean caffeine-polluted waterways.
 
 
by German Lopez 03.28.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Budget at 01:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
city hall

City Officials Warn of Parking Ruling's Consequences

City manager says he's already made preparations for layoff notices

Speaking at a press conference today, city officials did not mask their contempt for the ruling that put the parking plan on hold earlier in the day, saying it will force the city to make cuts and layoffs to balance the 2014 budget and potentially eliminate the passage of expedited legislation. The press conference was in response to a ruling from Hamilton County Judge Robert Winkler, which opened the parking plan to referendum and ordered a permanent injunction on the plan pending any referendum effort. City Solicitor John Curp said the city is appealing the ruling. Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained the city will now have to close a $25.8 million shortfall in the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. Dohoney said he has already ordered city departments to begin preparations for Plan B, which will lay off 344 employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions, to balance projected deficits. “Part of the irony is we're swearing in a recruit class tomorrow,” he said, then shook his head. “Too bad.” In addition to meeting the July 1 budget deadline, the city has to expedite some layoff notices to meet union contracts, which typically require a notice 30 days in advance. Curp said the ruling also poses significant legal challenges that will hinder the city’s ability to expedite legislation with emergency clauses. Emergency clauses are often used by City Council to remove a 30-day waiting period on passed laws, and the city argues they also remove the ability to referendum. The layoffs could be retroactively pulled back if the city wins in appeals courts or if the referendum effort fails to gather enough petitions. “Don't sign the petition,” Mallory said. “If you sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter.” Dohoney said the delays make the city look sluggish — an image that he says the city has been trying to overcome. “One of the criticisms I’ve gotten is that this city takes too long to get deals done,” he said. “This complicates that.” City Council approved the parking plan to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority to help balance the budget for the next two fiscal years and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). Opponents of the plan argued that there were alternatives that did not involve laying off cops or firefighters. Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the deficit, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting process and put two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. At the press conference, Mallory called the alternatives “unworkable.” He said Plan S in particular does not work because it relies on a ballot initiative that would have to be voted on in November. “We don’t have until November,” he said. Opponents say they’re concerned the parking plan will cede too much control over the city’s parking meters, which they say will lead to a spike in parking rates. The city says rate increases are initially capped at 3 percent or inflation — whichever is higher — but the rates can change with a unanimous vote from a special committee, approval from the city manager and a final nod from the Port Authority. The special committee would be made up of four people appointed by the Port Authority and one appointed by the city manager. In the legal proceedings, the two sides are arguing whether emergency clauses eliminate the ability to hold a referendum on legislation. Opponents of the parking plan, headed by the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), say the city charter is ambiguous with its definition of emergency clauses, and legal precedent demands courts side with voters’ right to referendum when there’s ambiguity. Supporters of the parking plan cite state law, which says emergency legislation is not subject to referendum. Terry Nestor, who represented the city in the court hearings, said legal precedent requires the city to defer to state law as long as state law is not contradicted in the city charter. Winkler sided with opponents of the parking plan in his decision. He wrote in his ruling, “If the people of Cincinnati had intended to exempt emergency legislation from their referendum powers, they could have done so when adopting Article II, Section 3 of the City Charter.” Mallory says the city is not disputing voters’ right to referendum in a general sense; instead, he says the city needs to expedite the budget process to balance the budget before fiscal year 2014.City officials say the parking plan is necessary largely because of Gov. John Kasich’s local government funding cuts, which Dohoney previously said cost Cincinnati $22.2 million in annual revenues (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20). Opponents argue Cincinnati had structurally imbalanced budgets years before Kasich took office, but the city says Kasich’s policies have made the situation much worse.The parking plan is one of the few issues dividing Democratic mayoral candidates John Cranley and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls. Cranley opposes the plan, while Qualls supports it.
 
 

City Manager Presents Deficit Reduction Options

0 Comments · Wednesday, March 13, 2013
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council March 6 explaining how Cincinnati could work to reduce its structural budget deficits.    
by German Lopez 03.06.2013
Posted In: Budget, News, Privatization, Parking at 02:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
milton dohoney

City Manager Presents Deficit Reduction Options

Long-term plan could swing City Council’s parking vote

City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council today that explained how Cincinnati could work to reduce its structural budget deficits. The presentation was presumably in response to Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who said Monday that she wanted to see a long-term deficit reduction plan before she could approve the city manager’s proposal to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. Even with the parking plan’s one-time infusion of money (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), Cincinnati will need to make further changes to balance budgets for the next three fiscal years. To help tame these deficits, Dohoney says the city could reduce or eliminate lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, reduce subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare, semi-automate solid waste collection or introduce new or increased fees for certain programs, among other changes. But some council members said they were more concerned about how the city will manage once it loses the parking plan’s one-time injection of funding after the 2016 fiscal year. “I think this is a bit muddled,” Quinlivan said. “It doesn’t get to the systemic problem we have.” Quinlivan, who has long argued for “rightsizing” police and fire departments, says the city should draw down its public safety spending to “sustainable” levels, but she says she would prefer attritioning public safety forces over abrupt, short-term cuts. Dohoney acknowledges attrition would help balance budgets, but he cautions that even attrition “would have to be married” with a plan that reduces the public’s expectations for public safety services — particularly if the city decides to not answer every 911 call by dispatching officers, which is currently required. Dohoney says City Council needs to be clearer with its long-term budget policy. “If we’re going to make adjustments, I need clear policy direction, and I do not feel that I have it,” he says. “Give me a clear direction on where you want the police department to be, and I can get it there.” The city manager says the city will have to approve a tax hike or cuts to government spending, which poses the possibility of layoffs, if it’s serious about eliminating structural deficit problems. For every 1,000 residents, Cincinnati has less cops than only two comparable cities: Cleveland and St. Louis. The fire department has higher numbers, with Cincinnati equal to Pittsburgh and above other comparable cities. The high levels of cops and firefighters per capita comes despite downsizing in the police and fire departments in the past five years. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says the city may have drawn down its police force between 2000 and 2012, but the local police department has also been reorganized in a way that actually puts more cops out on patrol. Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, says street strength has moved from 832 police officers out of 1,034 officers available in 2002 to 864 out of 981 in 2012. Between 2000 and 2012, the fire department was the only city agency to see an increase in employment, while the city had slight employment reductions overall. In the same time span, the General Fund increased by more than $30 million, and Cincinnati’s population fell by about 10 percent.
 
 

City Council Committee Passes Parking Plan

0 Comments · Wednesday, March 6, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on March 4 approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port Authority in a 4-3 vote, but part of the plan was separated from the budget, leaving it open to referendum.    
by German Lopez 03.04.2013
Posted In: Budget, Economy, Privatization, Parking, News at 05:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

City Council Committee Approves Parking Plan

Plan will fund development projects, help balance deficit for two fiscal years

City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote on March 6. Council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young voted for the plan, and council members Chris Seelbach, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against it. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was absent, and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan abstained, although she said she could vote yes if she sees more details about how the city will curb its long-term budget problems. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration. Before the vote, several City Council members said the parking plan would not solve Cincinnati’s structural deficit problems, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan would help reduce the deficit by generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and development.  “The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate growth right now, not later,” he said. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to have further negative ramifications to deal with.” Still, Dohoney admitted the plan would not solve all the city’s budget woes — just like he has repeatedly said in the past. Even with the parking plan, the city projects a $10 million deficit in 2014, $15.5 million deficit in 2015 and $20 million deficit in 2016. The council members insisted there are alternatives to the parking plan and Dohoney’s Plan B, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes.  On March 1, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would not lease the city’s parking assets to balance the budget and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax. On the same day as the hearings, Winburn, the sole Republican on City Council, proposed Plan C, which would reduce city employees’ salaries across the board — with exemptions for police, fire, health, garbage, recreation, parks and road paving — and use casino and parking revenue to clear the deficit. At the City Council hearings, Quinlivan listed a few other possibilities, including sharing public safety services with other local communities. She also advised the city to put together a long-term deficit reduction plan. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road any more,” she said. Thomas suggested putting an earnings tax hike of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent on the ballot. He said, “It would solve this (deficit) problem once and for all.” Some council members also raised concerns about the release of bond documents, which will further detail the framework of the parking agreement. Dohoney and Laura Brunner, president of the Port Authority, said the bond documents have not been crafted because a lease agreement has to be approved by City Council first, but the documents will be made public once they are put together. Before the final committee vote, Smitherman successfully motioned to separate part of the parking plan from the budget, which opens the plan to referendum. The motion was in response to City Solicitor John Curp, who said appropriation ordinances, or ordinances that are essentially budgets, aren’t subject to referendum, according to state law.
 
 
by German Lopez 03.04.2013
Posted In: Privatization, News, Parking, Budget, Economy at 12:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Parking Meter Company's Past Problems Resurface

Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters

The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing. A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C. The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the 72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit. For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS. The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4 percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public management. The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington, D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s parking meters today. The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996 and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or denying the charges. All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal, which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction and economic development, in detail. Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to pass a possible City Council vote today. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S, an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to “non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.
 
 

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