WHAT SHOULD I BE DOING INSTEAD OF THIS?
 
 
by German Lopez 05.06.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Police, Republicans at 09:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Morning News and Stuff

Parking hearing today, police chief may go, tea party planning against GOP

The First District County Court of Appeals heard arguments over the city’s parking plan and emergency clause powers today, with both sides making similar arguments as before — except this time the city acknowledged it will probably have to move forward with layoffs because the city only has a few weeks remaining before it has to balance the budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1. The city claims it can use emergency clauses to expedite legislation, such as the parking plan, by eliminating a 30-day waiting period and the possibility of a referendum, but opponents argue the wording in the City Charter doesn’t justify terminating referendum efforts. If courts side with opponents, the city’s plan to lease its parking assets to the Port Authority, which CityBeat covered here, will likely appear on the ballot in November, forcing the city to lay off cops, firefighters and other city employees instead of using the parking plan to help balance the budget. It’s looking more and more likely that Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig will take the top police job in Detroit, despite Cincinnati officials asking Craig to reconsider. Previously, Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, pushed city officials to do more to encourage Craig to stay, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said Craig’s motivations may be personal because his family resides in Detroit, a city that is in desperate need of a turnaround. Ohio’s tea party groups are preparing to either split from the Republican Party or punish Republican leaders for recent actions, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Tea party groups have been particularly upset with Gov. John Kasich’s endorsement of the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here and here, and Ohio Republicans’ election of Matt Borges, who once lobbied for a gay rights group, as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party. Since the 2010 elections, tea party groups have kept political footholds in some areas, but they have consistently lost favor with voters. In case you missed it, here was CityBeat’s news coverage for the current week’s issue, which went online late because of Internet issues:News: “Think of the Children: Local leaders pledge to support efforts to put more low- and middle-income kids in preschools.”City Desk: “City Manager Defends Streetcar in Light of Budget Gap.”Commentary: “The Many Merits of Cycling Infrastructure.” A portion of the Ohio House budget bill would make it more difficult for out-of-state students to vote in Ohio by forcing public universities to decide between extra tuition money and providing documents that students need to vote. Republicans say the rule is meant to lower tuition and prevent out-of-state students from voting on local issues they may know little about, but Democrats, backed by university officials, say the rule suppresses college-going voters, who tend to support Democrats over Republicans. Ohio Senate President Keith Faber said there is no substantial Republican support in the Ohio House, Ohio Senate or governor’s mansion for so-called “right to work” legislation. The lack of support for the anti-union laws, which prevent unions and employers from making collective bargaining agreements that require union membership, may be linked to 2011’s voter rejection of Senate Bill 5, which would have limited public unions’ collective bargaining and political powers. S.B. 5 was one reason unions, including the Republican-leaning Fraternal Order of Police, supported Democrats in 2012. Despite security concerns in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon, Sunday’s Flying Pig Marathon had a record 34,000 participants. Ohio gas prices are trending up this week. Now on Kickstarter: Genetically modified plants that glow.
 
 

The Many Merits of Cycling Infrastructure

3 Comments · Thursday, May 2, 2013
To cyclists, it’s a given that Cincinnati desperately needs more bike lanes. But recent research shows bike lanes don’t just pose advantages for cyclists; they can also help local economies and public health.   
by German Lopez 04.24.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Parking, City Council at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
fountainsquare-downtowncincinnati-resized

Morning News and Stuff

Day of fasting today, local joblessness drops in March, parking petition process questioned

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of Fasting today and put off lunch to help support the Freestore Foodbank. Sittenfeld’s office said in a press release that the event will allow participants to “experience a small measure of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives.” There will be a ceremony for the event at noon in Fountain Square, where participants will be able to donate to the Freestore Foodbank. March was another decent month for jobs in Cincinnati, with the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropping to 7.5 percent, down from a revised 7.9 percent in February and 8 percent in March 2012. Michael Jones, research director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, says most of the job growth is attributable to Cincinnati’s growing health care services, but manufacturing has also provided a local boon. An anonymously posted video questions the legitimacy of some parking plan referendum petitions, but so far no formal challenges have been filed against the referendum effort. Even if somebody were to file a challenge, Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke says it would required a lot — nearly 4,000 signatures — to halt a referendum: “Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond those five or six sights shown in the video.” There is now a local effort to embrace the Cincinnati Preschool Promise, a private-public partnership that would get more local children in preschool. The current goal is to get 25 to 50 children in preschool in a pilot program this fall. Studies show preschool is one of the best investments that can be made for the economy in the long term. Local preschool services were recently cut as a consequence of federal sequestration, a series of across-the-board federal spending cuts that began March 1. UC President Santa Ono is recommending the school freeze in-state tuition for the next school year — a measure the UC Board of Trustees will consider in June. Ono also said he will not take a salary increase or bonus for the next two years, and he is asking the school to sell the presidential condo and use the money to pay for scholarships. While testifying to legislators reviewing his two-year budget request, State Treasurer Josh Mandel said his office has been targeted by cyberattacks, and the technology currently available to his department is not good enough to hold off the attacks. Humana will hire 60 people for its customer service center in downtown. Brain cells will control the power plants of the future.In a press release, Mayor Mark Mallory proclaimed today Zips’ Cafe Day because the restaurant is finally adding bacon to its cheeseburger lineup.
 
 
by German Lopez 04.23.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, News, Parking at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
downtown grocery

Video Questions Legitimacy of Parking Petitions

Board of Elections looking into anonymous video, but no formal challenge filed

A YouTube video posted Sunday suggests that some of the parking plan referendum petition signatures might have been gathered without a legitimate witness, but city and county officials are so far unsure whether the video, which was posted anonymously, will amount to much.Under Ohio law, petitions require signatures from both a supporter, who must reside in Cincinnati in the case of parking petitions, and a witness, who must be an Ohio resident and witness the act of someone signing the petition. The video shows what seems to be parking petitions placed on business counters with limited supervision — potential evidence that some of the parking petitions were signed without a witness present. Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party and Hamilton County Board of Elections, says the Board of Elections is currently looking into what process needs to be followed as a result of the video. Traditionally, Burke says, someone has to file a challenge, which would then be investigated by the board. At that point, the board would rely on subpoenas to get testimony from witnesses to determine whether their petitions were valid. “Under oath, circulators are likely to tell us the truth,” Burke says. “Did you witness all the signatures on that parking petition? If he says no or she says no, ... then none of those signatures are valid.”But Burke says it’s so far unclear whether that process will happen. “The video is interesting, but it doesn’t prove anything,” he says. “Any challenger would have to link each one of those shots in the video to specific petitions that were signed by the circulator of the petition that was on those counters.” Even if someone did bring a challenge, it would require nearly 4,000 invalid signatures to halt the parking plan referendum effort. Yesterday, the Board of Elections announced the referendum effort had gathered 12,446 valid signatures — considerably more than the 8,522 required. “Because they are so far over, there’s going to have to be more evidence by any petitioner that there are problems well beyond those five or six sights shown in the video,” Burke says.Circulators who mishandled the process would not face charges; instead, the signatures would simply be discarded, according to Burke. City Solicitor John Curp says the city’s law department is taking “no side on whether there’s a vote,” and the city administration has not taken action based on the video. Curp says he would like to confirm whether those are parking petitions and if the video is factual in its presentation. “If those were parking petitions, that was certainly troubling,” he says. “I hope this gets worked out in a timely manner.” The parking plan would lease the city’s parking assets to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to help balance the city’s operating budget deficits for the next two years and fund development projects around the city, including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). Opponents say they’re concerned the plan will lead to higher parking rates and extended hours that will hurt the local economy. With 12,466 valid signatures, their referendum effort is expected to culminate in a vote this November. City officials previously warned that without the parking plan the city will have to lay off cops and firefighters. The full video is embedded below:
 
 
by German Lopez 04.22.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Budget, City Council at 09:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Democrats endorse candidates, parking petitions scrutinized, Senate to rework state budget

The Democratic Party’s nominating committee announced who it’s supporting for City Council Friday: Greg Landsman, who heads the Strive Partnership and worked for former Gov. Ted Strickland; Shawn Butler, Mayor Mark Mallory’s director of community affairs; Michelle Dillingham, a community activist; and the six incumbents, which include Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas and Wendell Young. The nominations still have to be approved by the Cincinnati Democratic Committee. Petitioners against the city’s parking plan are supposed to get their final tally on referendum today, but a new video shows at least some of the petitions may have been signed without a legitimate witness, which are needed to validate a signature. The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced Thursday that petitioners had met the necessary threshold of 8,522 signatures, but the video casts doubts on whether those signatures were legitimately gathered. The city wants to lease its parking assets to help balance the deficit for the next two years and fund development programs around the city (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), but opponents worry higher parking rates and extended hours will harm the local economy. Here is the embedded video: The Ohio Senate could restore Gov. John Kasich’s tax, school funding and Medicaid plans when it votes on the biennium budget for 2014 and 2015. Kasich’s tax and education funding plans were criticized by Democrats and progressive groups for favoring the wealthy, but the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would expand Medicaid coverage to 456,000 low-income Ohioans and save the state money, was mostly opposed by state Republicans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here. New polling from Quinnipiac University found a plurality of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage rights — granting promising prospects to Freedom Ohio’s ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year. An audit on JobsOhio could take months, according to State Auditor Dave Yost’s office. Gov. John Kasich was initially resistant to a full audit, but Yost eventually won out, getting full access to JobsOhio’s financial records. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that is meant to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development. In response to not getting a Democratic endorsement for his City Council campaign, Mike Moroski, who was fired from his job at Purcell Marian High School for supporting gay marriage, launched the Human Party. Cincinnati received an “F” for business friendliness in the 2013 Thumbtack.com U.S. Small Business Friendliness Survey from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Embattled attorney Stan Chesley will no longer practice law in Ohio. Chesley, who has been criticized for alleged misconduct, was recently disbarred in Kentucky. He recently resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to in a letter from fellow board members. Ohio gas prices are shooting back up. PopSci has an infographic showing sharks should be much more scared of humans than humans should be afraid of sharks.
 
 
by German Lopez 04.19.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Parking, Terrorism at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
dzhokhar tsarnaev

Morning News and Stuff

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 04.17.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Streetcar at 03:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
qualls

Budget Gap Threatens Streetcar Project

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 necessary. “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 country. “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.”
 
 
by German Lopez 04.16.2013
Posted In: News, City Council, Government at 11:15 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
cecil-thomas-1

Councilman to Resign, Wife to Take Seat

Cecil Thomas recommends Pam Thomas for replacement

Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas’ last City Council meeting will be Wednesday, after which he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas. “Her qualifications are impeccable,” Thomas told reporters Tuesday. “She will give this city a good representation.” Thomas’ wife ran for Hamilton County clerk of courts last year, ultimately losing to Tracy Winkler. But Thomas said she won 70 percent of the vote in Cincinnati, making her an obviously strong contender as a local candidate. Thomas’ recommendation has raised questions among critics about how council members are replaced upon resignation. Incumbents can only make recommendations to successor designees, who make the final decision, but as Councilman Wendell Young, one of Thomas’ designees, noted at the meeting, the designees typically give great weight to the incumbent’s recommendation. When asked whether council members should have so much power in recommending appointees, Thomas said, “I just follow the rules.” He said if City Council wants to change the rules, it can. Thomas said he will now run for the State Senate seat being left vacant by State Sen. Eric Kearney, who is term limited. He acknowledged the State Senate may be a more difficult place for Democrats, which are in the minority at the state level, but he said he hopes to “bridge divides” if he serves. Until then, Thomas said he is looking forward to his time off, although he will miss having a role in local politics: “It's going to be tough to not be able to have that direct hands-on.” Thomas said he wanted to step down earlier in the year, but he decided to stay in office to see if the city could avoid laying off cops and firefighters by balancing the fiscal year 2014 budget through the parking plan (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), which Thomas strongly supports. With the parking plan now in legal limbo and the layoffs going through, Thomas is stepping down.
 
 
by German Lopez 04.10.2013
Posted In: Health, News, Budget, Courts at 09:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
cover-kasich-2

Morning News and Stuff

House reworks Kasich budget, pro-choice group criticizes budget, city asks for stay on ruling

Ohio House Republicans released their own budget proposal yesterday that does away with many of Gov. John Kasich’s proposed policies. The budget gets rid of the Medicaid expansion, the oil and gas severance tax and the sales tax expansion. It also reduces the state income tax cut to 7 percent, down from 20 percent in Kasich’s plan. The amount of schools getting no increased funding under a new school funding formula decreased from 368 in Kasich’s plan to 175 in the House plan, addressing issues that selective wealthy schools were benefiting too much from Kasich’s proposed school funding formula. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in detail here. NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is criticizing the Ohio House’s proposed budget for defunding Planned Parenthood and redirecting federal funds to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). A study from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, which is highly supportive of abortion rights, found 47 percent of CPCs gave inaccurate medical information regarding a link between mental health problems and abortion, and 38 percent provided false information about the connection between breast cancer, infertility and abortion, among other findings. The city of Cincinnati is asking Judge Robert Winkler to stay his previous ruling so the city can use emergency clauses to expedite legislation. City Solicitor John Curp says the city needs emergency clause powers in case of natural disasters and to advance economic development deals that need to be implemented before 30 days. The city previously used emergency clauses to avoid a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws, but Winkler ruled the clauses do not nullify the right to referendum, effectively eliminating the use of emergency clauses because the city now always has to wait 30 days in case of a referendum effort. The ruling was given after City Council used an emergency clause to expedite the lease of the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority to help balance deficits and fund economic development. With the support of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, City Council is looking to study youth poverty, homelessness and other issues to better prioritize city policy. The $175,000 study, which will be mostly privately funded, will look at multiple factors affecting the city’s youth, including crime, poverty, homelessness and educational opportunities. Simpson says the study will be the first comprehensive look at the city’s youth. Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s bill to end Too Big to Fail was leaked to the press Friday, and The Washington Post has an analysis on what it does here. While the bill doesn’t explicitly break up big banks, it does severely limit big banks in a way that may encourage them to downsize. Brown will co-sponsor the bill with Republican La. Sen. David Vitter, making it a bipartisan compromise. CityBeat covered Brown’s efforts in further detail here. Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign is complaining someone bugged a meeting to listen in on staff’s plans for the 2014 election. Jesse Benton, campaign manager for McConnell, said in a statement, “Today’s developments ... go far beyond anything I’ve seen in American politics and are comparable only to Richard Nixon’s efforts to bug Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate 40 years ago.” During the meeting, McConnell’s staff alluded to labeling potential opponent Ashley Judd as “unbalanced” by bringing up past mental health problems. Meanwhile, recent polling found McConnell is no lock for re-election. As the media ramps up fears of another Korean war, many analysts feel there is no chance of war. Meanwhile, South Koreans seem more bored than concerned with the North’s threats. Scientists discovered evidence of “dark lightning,” which may emanate from thunderstorms alongside visible lightning.
 
 
by German Lopez 04.04.2013
Posted In: News, Budget, Parking at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
city hall

Mallory Fires Back at Critics During Testy Council Meeting

Still no budget deficit-solving consensus in sight

If Cincinnati does not lease its parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, it will have to pay off a $35 million deficit in the fiscal year 2014 budget through other means, but those means were disputed at a special session of City Council today. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. and other city administration officials say the city will have to carry out Plan B, which would lay off 344 city employees, including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. But council members Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, Charlie Winburn and Chris Smitherman claim there are other ways — casino revenue and cuts elsewhere — to balance the budget. The meeting got testy after a few council members called the city administration “disingenuous” for framing Plan B and the parking plan as the only two budget options, prompting Mayor Mark Mallory to slam council members for attempting to pin the city’s budget woes on the city administration. “I don’t think anyone in the administration wants to see their colleagues laid off,” Mallory said. “The administration makes a recommendation to this mayor and to this council. The final decision makers are the elected leaders.” He added, “What’s disingenuous is to create a crisis and then criticize the administration for its response to the crisis when those responsible for dealing with the crisis are the elected leaders. It would be like an arsonist setting a building on fire and then complaining about how long it took the fire department to get there and what equipment they used to put out the fire.” Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, said the ideas she heard at the special session today would not be enough to close the budget gap. Throughout the discussion, the city administration repeatedly dismissed ideas presented by council members as not enough to overcome the city’s $35 million deficit and avoid layoffs. By the city administration’s admission, even Plan B would only close about $26 million of the projected deficit. How that budget gap is closed may come with additional expenses. Eriksen said the budget gap may reach $45 million if the city carries out Plan B because the city would also be forced to pay for accrued leave and unemployment insurance. Still, Assistant City Manager David Holmes admitted the city could balance the deficit without Plan B or the parking plan, but the numbers must “add up” and would require direction from City Council. When the discussion came to casino revenues, Holmes said the city administration feels “uncomfortable” projecting casino revenue because the state’s projections have trended downward in the past few years. In 2009, the state government estimated Ohio’s casinos would take in $1.9 billion a year, but that projection was changed to $957.7 million a year in February. Eriksen said the city estimates between $9 million and $11 million in casino funds will be available to the city. She said even if Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino hits its $100 million goal, the city will not be able to get the $21 million previously touted by Horseshoe Casino General Manager Kevin Kline because the money is pooled with money from other casinos around the state, which has fallen far below projections, before it’s distributed to cities and counties. When asked about shifting parking meter revenue to the general fund to help balance the budget, Eriksen said doing so would ultimately be a “wash” because of expenses currently attached to parking meter revenue. Seelbach suggested making more cuts through the priority-driven budgeting process. Eriksen explained Plan B does cut programs that were poorly ranked by the process — the mounted patrol unit, arts funding and recreation centers were a few examples she cited. But only relying on programs ranked poorly by the priority-driven budgeting process would “decimate” departments and programs that the city deems essential, she said. In the original 2013 budget proposal put forward by the city manager, mounted patrol was cut, but Seelbach lobbied for the program’s restoration. Multiple council members brought up traveling and training costs as potential areas to cut, but Eriksen said the city administration had not considered further cuts in those areas because the leftover expenses are currently used to get certifications that city employees “need to do their jobs.” Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on City Council, asked the city administration if they tried to balance the budget without layoffs. Eriksen replied, “Yeah, that was called the parking plan.” She added without the parking plan, it would be “mathematically impossible” to balance the budget without layoffs. When Winburn suggested city employees should take salary cuts, Eriksen said such cuts would require extensive negotiations with unions because about 90 percent of the city’s employees are unionized. In November, Winburn was one of the prominent supporters of giving the city manager a raise and bonus. Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat running for mayor, said she would be open to using any revenues possible for reducing the budget gap, but she said City Council must acknowledge the harsh budget realities facing the city — further re-emphasizing points she made in a blog post Sunday. John Cranley, another Democrat running for mayor, has said in the past that the threat of layoffs is “the boy crying wolf.” Cranley released his own budget plan on March 28 that he says would avoid layoffs and balance the budget without the parking plan, but some critics say the budget’s revenue estimates are unrealistic.Eriksen said Cincinnati has run structurally imbalanced budgets since 2001, but city officials say deficits have been made much worse by state cuts in local government funding carried out by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican legislature since 2010 (“Enemy of the State,” issue of March 20). City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on March 6 that would lease the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority to raise funds that would help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years and pay for new development projects, including the construction of a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27). Opponents of the parking plan, who say they fear it will lead to rate hikes, filed their petitions for a referendum effort today. It is so far unclear whether they have the 8,522 verified signatures required to put the issue on the November ballot.
 
 

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