1 Comment · Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Two council members are proposing a budget plan that would eliminate fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25 by making cuts elsewhere.
by German Lopez
Public safety layoffs reduced, state unemployment drops, county agency wins award
Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach proposed a motion
yesterday that would reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25 and
eliminate all firefighter layoffs previously proposed in budget plans
for fiscal year 2014. The huge layoff reduction comes despite months of
warning from the city administration that the city would have to carry
out big public safety layoffs without the parking plan, which is currently stalled in court.
But it’s come with large cuts and shifted priorities in other areas of
the budget, such as reduced funding to parks, health, human services, parades
and outside agencies. (For example, the Health Department warned that cuts to its
services could lead to more rats and bedbugs.) The motion from Qualls and Seelbach came just in time for last night’s public hearing, which mostly focused on the cuts to parks and public safety.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.0 percent
in April, down from 7.1 percent the month before, thanks to increases
in the amount of people employed and decreases in the amount of people
unemployed. The gains coincided with decent job growth throughout the rest of
the nation in April, which dropped nationwide unemployment from 7.6 percent
to 7.5 percent. But the state gains were fairly
mixed, and the amount of construction, professional and business services and federal
and local government jobs actually dropped. The mixed, slow growth helps
explain why conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly disagree with Gov. John Kasich that Ohio is undergoing an “economic miracle.”
The Hamilton County Public Health’s (HCPH) food protection program is apparently the best in the United States and Canada.
The Conference for Food Protection awarded the program the 2013 Samuel
J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award, which “recognizes unsurpassed
achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to
communities,” according to a statement from HCPH.
Homophobic Boy Scouts supporters are rallying nationwide today to support the continuation of the Boy Scouts’ homophobic rules.The Taste of Cincinnati and the the Cubs-Reds series may have helped downtown Cincinnati earn the No. 42 spot in Priceline.com’s top 50 Memorial Day destinations.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed
Ohio has been undergoing a boom in oil and gas production in the past
two years thanks to developments in a drilling process known as
fracking, which CityBeat previously covered in further detail here.Duke Energy hired a new contractor — Southern Cross Co. — to carry out gas and line inspections.
Cincinnati-based Kroger developed a new system that will convert food that can’t be sold or donated into clean energy to power one of its distribution centers.
Convergys is selling is downtown Cincinnati headquarters as the company goes through big changes. So far the buyer is unknown.
Jim Kingsbury, CEO of UC Health since 2010, is retiring.
Using an optical illusion to make white people look darker can diminish racial biases, according to a new study.
Earth’s super-dense core is weak.
by German Lopez
Posted In: Budget
at 12:33 PM | Permalink
Qualls, Seelbach propose budget plan that would avert layoffs despite months of warnings
A budget plan proposed by two council members today would eliminate layoffs at the fire department and reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25, down from 49, by making cuts elsewhere, particularly by forcing city employees to take 10 furlough days in fiscal year 2014.Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach are co-sponsoring the motion. If it's approved by City Council, the amount of city employee layoffs in the fiscal year 2014 budget would drop to 84, down from the original "Plan B" estimate of 344, by amending Mayor Mark Mallory's budget proposal, which was announced yesterday.The news is being well received by public safety advocates, but it's also vindication for some of the city's harshest critics. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley previously said the city was acting like "the boy who cried wolf" by suggesting it had to lay off 344 city employees, including 80 firefighter and 189 police positions."In 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 … they threatened to lay off police and firefighters, and it never happened," Cranley previously told CityBeat.But avoiding the layoffs comes with large cuts and shifted priorities elsewhere: Furlough days for supervisory and leadership personnel would be bumped up from five to 10 ($250,000 in savings), all council members would be asked to take 10 furlough days ($22,700), City Council's office budgets would be reduced ($18,000), the clerk of council's office budget would also be reduced ($46,000), the departments of community development and economic development would be merged ($171,000) and the account for firefighter's protective gear would be reduced ($100,000). In total, the cuts in the motion add up to $607,000.The cuts would be in addition to larger cuts proposed by the city manager and mayor, which include reduced funding to parks, human services, parades and outside agencies.The motion will be formally introduced at tonight's Budget and Finance Committee meeting, which will also act as a public hearing for budget issues. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Duke Energy Convention Center.The layoff reductions come after the city manager and mayor spent a bulk of the past six months repeatedly warning that the city would have to carry out significant public safety layoffs if the city didn't lease its parking assets to the Port Authority. That plan would have opened up funds to help balance the budget for two years and pay for economic development projects, including a downtown grocery store ("Parking Stimulus," issue of Feb. 27).But the parking plan is now held up in court, and the city is apparently able to avoid most of the layoffs despite the repeated warnings.The city must enact a budget by May 31, which will give the city the required 30 days to implement the plan by fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
1 Comment · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Politicians here are like helicopter
parents, mishandling the city in the same blatantly narcissistic manner
as parents who bear children for the sole purposes of shaping those
children in their images.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
by German Lopez
Streetcar meeting today, Ohio Senate to modify energy law, state is no 'economic miracle'
City Hall will be hosting a meeting on the streetcar project at 6
p.m. today to figure out what the project’s options are now that it has a $17.4 million budget gap. The meeting was called by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained in a memo that the project has a budget gap because construction bids came in
$26 million to $43 million over budget.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the the Senate Public Utilities Committee, says he wants to “modify,” not repeal, Ohio’s Clean Energy Law
to have more clear-cut compliance standards. Environmentalists say
they’re concerned Seitz will use the review as a front to
water the law down, especially since electricity giant FirstEnergy is pushing
against the law’s energy efficiency standards. CityBeat wrote more about the conflict between environmentalists and FirstEnergy here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading liberal and conservative think tanks apparently agree on: Ohio is not the “economic miracle”
often touted by Gov. John Kasich. In the past year, job numbers for the
state have been particularly weak, with public sector losses nearly
making up for very weak private sector gains. The right-leaning Buckeye
Institute for Public Policy Solutions says a complicated tax system is
largely to blame for the stagnant job growth, while the left-leaning
Policy Matters Ohio is mostly focusing on governments’ budget austerity.
A student allegedly shot himself
in front of classmates at LaSalle High School today. Police say he is
currently at a hospital, and there are currently no reports of anyone
else being shot. As of 10:30 a.m., the situation was still developing.After misleading media reports sent the public into a furor, Mayor Mark Mallory agreed to rescind salary raises
that were part of his office’s deficit-reducing budget plan. The plan
gave the mayor’s top aides raises to make up for an increased workload following staff reductions. Even with the raises, the plan
reduced the deficit by $33,000 during the mayor’s remaining time in
office — a fact originally omitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Music Hall’s facelift is not happening just yet,
even though approvals from City Council and the Music Hall
Revitalization Company have already paved the way for Cincinnati Center
City Development Corporation (3CDC) to begin renovations. As project
manager, 3CDC will take four to six months to develop a budget, review
designs and go over the legal and financial work necessary to start the
project.Hamilton County is currently tracking to be $1.5 million over budget this year — a budget hole the Board of Commissioners hopes to plug by using the rainy day fund.
One section of the Ohio House budget bill would allow charter schools to enroll out-of-state students and charge them tuition. The policy could involve online schools, which were previously found to have poor results in a CityBeat report.
The relaxed rules potentially add more controversy to a budget plan that’s
already mired in criticism for defunding Planned Parenthood and forgoing
the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.Ohio gas prices are starting 9 cents down this week.
Bad news: The largest HIV vaccine study was shut down after patients contracted the AIDS virus more often than those who didn’t take it.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 24, 2013
An April 16 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7
million budget gap is threatening to put an end to the streetcar
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 09:17 AM | Permalink
Ohio courts hurt poor, Qualls calls for streetcar hearing, House to vote on budget today
A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio (ACLU) found Ohio's poor are regularly victimized by illegal practices in courts that jail the state's poor for failing to pay fines they can't afford. The problem particularly afflicts the state's rural counties, which sometimes openly admit to jailing people even when they can't afford to pay fines. The ACLU says courts need to be more transparent in communicating defendants' rights, provide retroactive credits to those wrongfully incarcerated based on circumstances of poverty and consistently hold hearings to assess defendants' financial viability and willfulness to pay fines.The streetcar is being threatened by a $22.7 million budget gap, and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a Democrat who is running for mayor and has long supported the streetcar, is calling a meeting to get all the details on how the project got here and whether it's still economically viable. Qualls says it's too soon to jump to conclusions about the project's fate, and she says she would like to see the options and details laid out by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. at the hearing. But Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, a longtime opponent of the streetcar, is already using the news to call for the project's demise. The streetcar is one of few issues dividing the Democratic candidates in the mayoral race, which the latest poll has Qualls leading by 14 points.The Ohio House is expected to vote on a budget
today that would defund Planned Parenthood, ban comprehensive sex
education and fund crisis pregnancy centers that promote
abstinence-only, anti-abortion education. This week, the budget has been
regularly mocked by Democrats for potentially opening teachers to lawsuits if
they explain condoms, other forms of birth control and other basic sex facts to students in a
way that could lead to "gateway sexual activity."The Ohio House budget bill also fails to expand Medicaid — a failing that Moody's is warning could put hospitals at risk for budgetary shortfalls. The report points out that hospitals were supposed to get more patients through a Medicaid expansion, which would be funded almost entirely by the federal government through Obamacare, to make up for a reduction of federal reimbursements for uncompensated care. The Medicaid expansion would have insured 456,000 Ohioans and saved the state money, according to a report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in greater detail here.For student voters, the Ohio House budget bill would also make it more difficult to vote by forcing public universities to withhold essential documents that can be used as voter identification. The rule would make it so universities have to declare students in-state for tuition purposes when issuing them a letter or utility bill to vote, effectively costing universities extra revenue from out-of-state students if they choose to issue the documents. Democratic State Rep. Kathleen Clyde says the move will likely make it so universities never hand over the documents.This week's CityBeat commentary: "Bad Budget Ideas Confound Public Discourse."As the city wrestles with laying off cops and firefighters to balance the budget, Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig is considering a potential job offer in Detroit "very carefully." Craig interviewed for the top cop position in Detroit last week. "I'm humbled they would consider me a top candidate," Craig told The Cincinnati Enquirer.A new poll found Republican Gov. John Kasich in "reasonably good shape" for re-election, beating potential challenger Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald 46-37.Disbarred attorney Stan Chesley resigned from the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to by fellow board members.Metro announced new direct, crosstown routes yesterday. The routes will make it easier to travel from the east to west side and vice versa.The Business Courier has a look at the top 10 worst-paying Cincinnati jobs.Five to 15 were killed and more than 150 were injured in a Texas fertilizer plant explosion yesterday.Even though a majority of 54 voted in favor and only 46 voted against it, the background checks bill for gun buyers failed in the U.S. Senate yesterday, failing to overcome what was essentially a filibuster. Ohio's senators were split on the issue, with Sen. Rob Portman voting against the bill and Sen. Sherrod Brown voting in favor. Universal background checks are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans, according to a poll from The New York Times and CBS.Scientists have found magnetic brain stimulation could remove cravings for cigarettes.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls calls for public hearing to discuss project
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is
threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo,
the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4
million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new
funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26
million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working
with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific
proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and
private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long
supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting
will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if
the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to
conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a
serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need
to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon
fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to
this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what
costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but
also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both
for the public.”But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime
opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement
today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people
of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms.
Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for
the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring
the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of
legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking
assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help
balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city,
including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the
streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are
challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council
regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However,
even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far
outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study
after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these
same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the
proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have
changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must
continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects
that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”
by German Lopez
Case moved back to common pleas court, hearing set for March 15
The plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port
of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority remains up in the air today
after court rulings kept a court-mandated restraining order in place
until at least March 15, when a hearing is scheduled at the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
The hearing on March 15 will establish whether the lawsuit
should move forward and whether the restraining order will remain until the lawsuit is resolved. The latter poses a budgetary challenge to the city; if the restraining
order is kept in place and opponents gather the signatures required for a November referendum on the parking plan, the city says it will have to make cuts before July to balance the budget
for fiscal year 2014, which could result in layoffs.“We’ve been very clear that, by state law, we need to have
a balanced budget starting July 1, so we will need to do all things
necessary at that point,” says Meg Olberding, city spokesperson.The lawsuit was originally moved to federal courts on March 7 because it included complaints regarding civil rights. Plaintiffs removed the mention of civil
rights, which then prompted Judge Michael Barrett to send the lawsuit back to
the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
City Council approved the parking plan in a 5-4 vote on
March 6, but the plan was almost immediately held up by a temporary
restraining order from Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert
Winkler. The restraining order is meant to provide enough time to
process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the
Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of
local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to
“If there was even five seconds without a temporary
restraining order in place, the city’s going to sign that lease,” Chris Finney, another attorney that represents COAST, said in a public
statement after the hearing with Barrett. “At that point, the city will
argue that the case has moved and that the (referendum) petitions are
The legal dispute is focused on City Council’s use of the
emergency clause, which eliminates a 30-day waiting period on implementing laws but takes away the possibility of a referendum.
In an interview on March 7, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who voted for the parking plan, told CityBeat
the dispute over emergency clauses is politically motivated: “I think it’s nothing but a
political controversy that’s generated for political gain and for
political purposes. Council passes many of its ordinances with emergency
clauses. In fact, the other candidate for mayor himself consistently
voted for emergency clauses.”
The other mayoral candidate Qualls is referring to is John
Cranley, a former council member who opposes the parking plan and says he will support a
“Just because the emergency clause may be used too often
doesn’t make it right,” says Cranley. “I never voted for an emergency
clause when there was a stated grassroots effort to have a referendum on
a vote that I was facing.”CityBeat previously covered the parking plan in further detail here.