by German Lopez
Rally precedes City Council vote to pause and potentially cancel construction
Several hundred people from various local neighborhoods on Sunday gathered at Washington Park and walked along the planned streetcar route to show their support for Cincinnati's $132.8 million streetcar project.The rally preceded a City Council vote planned for Dec. 2 that would pause the streetcar project as the freshly sworn-in city government reviews the costs of cancellation versus the costs of completion.On Nov. 21, Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced canceling ongoing construction for the project could nearly reach the cost of completing it after accounting for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November, a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and up to $44.9 million in federal grant money that would be lost if the project were terminated.Supporters at the rally vowed to hold a referendum on any council action canceling or pausing the streetcar project. If they do, construction could be forced to continue until voters make the final decision on the project in November 2014.Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Nov. 26 announced his support for continuing the streetcar project,
which gave streetcar supporters the four of nine council votes
necessary to block an emergency clause that would make a pause or
cancellation ordinance effective immediately and insusceptible to
referendum.But Ryan Messer, leader of the "We Believe in Cincinnati" group backing the streetcar project, warned that council could attempt a special legislative maneuver, such as attaching some sort of funding measure to a bill, to immunize a cancellation or pause ordinance from referendum.Supporters of the streetcar project claim even a pause in the project could effectively act as cancellation. Federal Transit Administration Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Nov. 25 told council members that the federal government could consider a delay in the project grounds for pulling federal funds.Streetcar supporters argue the 3.6-mile loop, which will span from The Banks to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, will produce economic development along the route and a 2.7-to-1 return on investment over 35 years — an estimate conceived through a 2007 study from consulting firm HDR that was later validated by the University of Cincinnati. But opponents of the project, including Mayor John Cranley and at least five of nine council members, say the project is far too costly and the wrong priority for Cincinnati.Streetcar supporters will hold a press conference the day after council's vote to announce their steps forward.
by German Lopez
Opponents might not have enough votes to prevent referendum if project is canceled
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld on Monday announced he will vote to continue the $132.8 million streetcar project.
Sittenfeld’s support for the project means the incoming
City Council might not have the six votes required for an emergency clause
that would immediately halt the project and make a cancellation vote
insusceptible to referendum.
If streetcar supporters successfully put a cancellation
vote to referendum, the project would be forced to continue until the
streetcar once again appears on the ballot in November 2014. The
continuation would sink more costs into the project as construction is
forced to progress for nearly a year.
Sittenfeld’s announcement preceded a vote from the
outgoing City Council to officially write the streetcar project into
law, which means Mayor-elect John Cranley, a streetcar opponent, won’t
be able to take administrative action to halt the project and instead
must bring the project to a City Council vote after he and other newly
elected officials take office on Sunday.
The two remaining swing votes in the incoming council — David Mann, who Cranley on Monday named as his choice for vice mayor,
and Kevin Flynn — previously discussed delaying the project as council
analyzes whether it should permanently cancel or continue with currently
But Sittenfeld equated a delay to total cancellation after
warnings from the federal government made it clear that the city could
lose federal funds for the project even if it only delayed progress.
If either Flynn or Mann move to support the streetcar
project, streetcar proponents would gain a five-vote majority on
the nine-member council to continue the project and preclude a
Sittenfeld characterized his decision as the better of “two bad choices.”
“We can pursue a project that has never earned broad
public consensus and that has yet to offer a viable and sustainable
budget,” he said at a press conference, “or we can scrub the project and
throw away tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money, forgo a
massive federal investment and have nothing to show for the enormous
effort and expense.”
To explain his decision, Sittenfeld cited concerns about
how much money has been dedicated to the project at this point,
including $32.8 million in sunk costs through November and a potential
range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, according to estimates
from the city. Sittenfeld noted that, at the very least, half of the
city’s $87.9 million share of the project will be spent even if the city
pulls the plug now.
Sittenfeld also voiced concerns that pulling back from the project and effectively forfeiting $44.9 million in allocated federal funds
would damage Cincinnati’s reputation with the federal government. That
could hamper projects he sees as much more important, such as the $2.5
billion Brent Spence Bridge project.
“I did my part to avoid getting us into this reality, but it cannot be wished away,” Sittenfeld said.
There was one major caveat to Sittenfeld’s decision: the
operating costs for the streetcar, which the city estimates at $3.4-$4.5
million a year.
Sittenfeld said the cost must not hit Cincinnati’s
already-strained operating budget and instead must be paid through
fares, sponsorships, private contributions and a special improvement
district that would raise property taxes near the streetcar line.
A special improvement district would require a petitioning
process in which property owners holding at least 60 percent of property frontage near the streetcar line would have to sign in favor of taking
on higher property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
“Ultimately, that’s a decision for the citizens,” Sittenfeld said.
If the special improvement district doesn’t come to
fruition, Sittenfeld cautioned that the streetcar project would be more
difficult to support going forward.
Asked whether Sittenfeld thinks some of the people who
voted for him will see his decision as a betrayal, he responded that his
conclusion shows the “thoughtfulness and carefulness” people expect of
him when it comes to taxpayer dollars, given the costs of cancellation.
by German Lopez
Swearing in sets path to contentious moves on streetcar project, parking plan
Mayor John Cranley and the new City Council were officially sworn in on Sunday after nearly a month of contentious political battles that effectively doomed the parking privatization plan and put the $132.8 million streetcar project in danger.Cranley was joined by three newcomers to City Council — Kevin Flynn, David Mann and Amy Murray — and six re-elected council members — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn and Wendell Young — as they were sworn in on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m., as required by the city charter.Already, the new mayor and council plan to move decisively on the streetcar project and parking plan. On Dec. 2, council will hold committee and full meetings to consider pausing the streetcar project as the costs of cancellation are weighed with the costs of continuation.Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Nov. 21 revealed that cancellation costs could nearly reach the the costs of completion, even before considering the cost of potential litigation from contractors already committed to ongoing construction of the project.Council is expected to have five of nine votes to pause the project. But with Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young on record in support of the streetcar project, council might not have the six votes for an emergency clause that would make a pause or cancellation ordinance immediately effective and insusceptible to referendum. If streetcar supporters successfully place a council action on the November 2014 ballot, construction could be forced to continue on the streetcar for nearly a year until voters make a final decision.Supporters of the streetcar project argue pausing the project would effectively act as cancellation, given the federal government's warnings that any delay in the project could lead the Federal Transit Administration to yank $40.9 million in grants that are funding roughly one-third of the overall project.A larger majority of council and Cranley also plan to quickly terminate the parking plan, which would outsource the city's parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority and private companies. The previous administration pursued the deal to obtain a lump sum payment of $85 million that would have paid for various development projects around the city and helped balance the city's operating budget.On Friday, Cranley announced his appointments to the committee chair positions that play a crucial role in deciding what legislation comes before the full body of City Council.The appointments for two of the most powerful council committees became particularly contentious after Cranley, a Democrat, snubbed members of his own political party to build what he calls a bipartisan coalition. Winburn, a Republican, will take the Budget and Finance Committee chair, and Smitherman, an Independent, will take control of the Law and Public Safety Committee.Mann, a Democrat who will also act as vice mayor, will lead the newly formed Streetcar Committee. He opposes the streetcar project.Sittenfeld, a Democrat, will lead the Education and Entrepreneurship Committee; Simpson, a Democrat, will run the Human Services, Youth and Arts Committee; Murray, a Republican, will head the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee; Smitherman will chair the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee; and Flynn, an Independent, will preside over the Rules and Audit Committee.Democrats Seelbach and Young won't be appointed to any committee chair positions. Both publicly supported former Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in her bid against Cranley for the mayor's office.Cranley on Wednesday also unveiled Willie Carden, current director of Cincinnati Parks, as his choice for the next city manager. With council's approval appearing likely, Carden will replace City Manager Milton Dohoney, who, during his more than seven years of service, fostered Cincinnati’s nationally recognized economic turnaround, the streetcar project and the parking plan.Beyond the streetcar project and parking plan, a majority of the new council is determined to structurally balance the operating budget without raising taxes. Some council members argue that's much easier said than done, especially since specific proposals for budget balance are few and far between.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick
on Nov. 21 revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if
it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project.
5 Comments · Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Mayor-elect John Cranley has been confidently wrong before, and the same could be playing out with the streetcar project.
by German Lopez
Federal funds tied to streetcar project, Mann named vice mayor, local life expectancy varies
For the third time, a representative from the federal government yesterday reiterated to Cincinnati officials that if the $132.8 million streetcar project is canceled, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal funds and another $4 million would be left to the discretion of the state government, which could allocate the money anywhere in Ohio. The repeated reminders are necessary as Mayor-elect John Cranley and the incoming City Council prepare to delay or potentially terminate the project once they take office in December. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter said even a mere delay could lead to the federal government restricting or outright terminating the federal grant deals. But Cranley, a long-time opponent of the streetcar project, appeared unfazed by the news at a press conference following Carter's thorough explanation. "If we have to, we’ll give the money back," he said.Cranley yesterday announced his intent to appoint Councilman-elect David Mann as his vice mayor. Cranley said Mann passed the "bus test," an unfortunate hypothetical scenario in which the mayor dies after being hit by a bus. Cranley also cited Mann's numerous accomplishments, ranging from achievements at Harvard University to previous stints as mayor when top vote-getter in the City Council race automatically assumed the position. Mann promised to work with Cranley to make his administration a success and respectfully disagree but move on when the two men differ.A Cincinnati Health Department report found life expectancy can vary by 20 years from one part of Cincinnati to another. Black men in particular can expect to live nearly 10 years less than white men. The Health Department said in a press release that it wants to find out why there's such a disparity.A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican Gov. John Kasich still ahead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald in a 44 to 37 percent match-up, but FitzGerald is gaining ground. About 71 percent of Ohioans in the poll said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him, so FitzGerald still has time to build positive name recognition while Kasich has an opportunity to paint his opponent in a negative light before the November 2014 election.Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters might be investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for improperly voting.Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan asked the Hamilton County Board of Elections to cancel an automatic recount of the Nov. 5 vote, which Quinlivan was entitled to after she placed 10th place in the City Council race by only 859 votes.The grand jury for the Steubenville, Ohio, rape investigation indicted four people, including a school superintendent.Four Ohio corrections officers were fired over the escape of an inmate serving a life sentence for rape, officials announced Monday.The University of Cincinnati is aiming for an attendance record when it hosts Louisville for a Dec. 5 game at Nippert Stadium.The deadline to select Medicare coverage is Dec. 7 at midnight.Scientists could be on the verge of learning how to erase and rewrite memories.Morning News and Stuff will most likely be out of service until Monday, Dec. 2 as CityBeat staff celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday.Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Clarification necessary as mayor-elect discusses canceling project
Although it has already been explicitly stated in two
letters from the federal government, Federal Transit Administration
(FTA) Chief Counsel Dorval Carter on Monday reiterated that if Cincinnati were to unravel the
$132.8 million streetcar project, the city would lose $40.9 million in federal grants and another $4 million in federal funds would be
transferred to the state government, which could appropriate the money
to any project in Ohio.
The clarification is necessary because Mayor-elect John
Cranley and a majority of the incoming City Council are looking into
pausing and potentially canceling the streetcar project once they take office in December. Cranley says he
will lobby the federal government to reallocate the federal funds, even
though the federal government has repeatedly insisted it’s not
going to happen.Carter joined City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on the phone on Monday to walk council members through the legal
technicalities involved in cancellation and how the federal government
would react to such circumstances.
According to Carter, merely delaying the project at this point would
break the city’s agreement with the federal government and
lead the federal government to restrict the federal funds,
ask the city to repay the money it already spent or terminate the
Still, Carter said cancellation might not hurt the city’s chances, at least from a legal perspective, of obtaining federal funds for other projects.
“It will not preclude you from pursuing other projects,” he said. “You would just have to pursue those on their own merits.”
But Carter agreed with Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls that
the city’s credibility could be weakened if the streetcar project were
canceled.President Barack Obama’s administration has prioritized light rail projects like the streetcar, according to Carter, so the reclaimed federal money would likely go to other cities pursuing similarly ambitious transit projects.
At a press conference following the council meeting, Cranley appeared unfazed by the news.“If we have to, we’ll give the money back,” he said.Although much noise was made about the council meeting, there wasn’t much news in the way of substance. The federal government already outlined the cancellation costs in separate letters sent to Mayor Mark Mallory in June and earlier in November.
by German Lopez
Streetcar cancellation costs outlined, Ohio joblessness spikes, state to repay overpaid taxes
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick yesterday revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels the $132.8 million streetcar project,
after accounting for $32.8 million in sunk costs through November, a
potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs and $44.9
million in lost federal grant money. But Mayor-elect John Cranley flatly
denied the numbers because he claims the current city administration
“is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of
the voters.” Meanwhile, at least two of the potential swing votes —
incoming council members David Mann and Kevin Flynn — showed skepticism
toward the estimates, although Mann said, “If they do hold up, that’s
fairly persuasive.” Three elected council members already support the
streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would
need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.
Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent in October, up from 6.9 percent a year before. The state added only 27,200 jobs, which wasn’t enough to make up for the 31,000 newly unemployed throughout the past year. The numbers
paint a grim picture for a state economy that was once perceived as one of the
strongest coming out of the Great Recession. In comparison, the U.S.
unemployment rate actually decreased to 7.3 percent from 7.9 percent
between October 2012 and October 2013. (This paragraph was updated with the nonfarm numbers.)
The Ohio Department of Taxation (ODT) will repay $30 million plus interest to businesses
that overpaid taxes throughout the past three years. The announcement
came after Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer found ODT had illegally
withheld $294 million in overpayments over the years. Meyer’s findings
were made through what was initially a probe into alleged theft at ODT.
Outgoing Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan could request an automatic recount
because she came tenth out of the nine elected council members, right
after Councilwoman-elect Amy Murray, by only 859 votes. But Quinlivan
and Hamilton County Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke agreed the
recount would be a long-shot. Still, Quinlivan noted that a flip in the
count could be a big deal because she supports the streetcar project and
Murray opposes it.
Cincinnati Public Schools are trying to expand their recycling efforts.
Here is an interactive infographic of meat production in 2050.
Follow CityBeat on Twitter:• Main: @CityBeatCincy• News: @CityBeat_News• Music: @CityBeatMusic• German Lopez: @germanrlopez
by German Lopez
Only $7.5-$24.5 million left after fully shutting down project, paying back feds
Streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick on Thursday
revealed that the city might only keep $7.5-$24.5 million if it cancels
the $132.8 million streetcar project.
That means the city could potentially spend more than 94
percent of the project’s total costs before it manages to fully close
down the streetcar project, which is currently undergoing construction
and tied up to various federal grants and business contracts.
The presentation was given in advance of Mayor-elect John
Cranley and the newly elected City Council taking office in December.
Cranley is an ardent opponent of the streetcar project, and a majority
of the City Council says it wants to pause the project and consider
Cranley’s proposed alternative to the streetcar — a trolley bus system
— would cost $10-$15 million in capital funds, according to supporters of the rubber-tire trolley alternative. If streetcar cancellation costs were to reach the high end of the city’s estimate and the trolley bus is paid for, the city could end up spending $140.3 million to cancel the streetcar project and build a
considerably less ambitious trolley bus line — about $7.5 million more
than it would cost to simply complete the streetcar project. If it’s completed, Cincinnati Budget Director Lea Eriksen says operating the streetcar would cost between $3.4-$4.5 million each year, which city officials say could come from various potential sources, including a special improvement district that would raise property taxes within three blocks of the streetcar route.But the operating budget cost would be a wash if Cranley pursues the trolley bus system, which, according to advocates, will cost slightly more to operate than the streetcar. Cranley says the operating cost for the trolley bus is concerning if it holds true.Following Deatrick’s presentation, Cranley held a press conference in which he flatly denied the current city administration’s estimates. He says he will tap new experts to run over the numbers while the project is put on pause.“We’re going to bring in new, objective leadership, not the current leadership that is clearly biased toward the project and intent on defying the will of the voters, which was clearly expressed a couple weeks ago in this election,” Cranley says.
Deatrick’s cancellation projections account for $32.8 million in estimated sunk costs through November and a potential range of $30.6-$47.6 million in close-out costs, which include
construction to close the project — such as
repaving torn-up roads — and orders on vehicles and other
supplies that are already placed but not officially billed.The federal government has also allocated $44.9 million in
federal grants to the streetcar project. In a letter released by the
city administration on Nov. 14, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA)
explicitly stated that $40.9 million would be taken back if the project
didn’t adequately progress; the remaining $4 million would be left
under the supervision of Gov. John Kasich, who could shift the money to
other parts of the state.
But Deatrick’s estimates don’t consider the unknown cost
of litigation, which would need to come out of a city operating budget that is already structurally imbalanced,
according to Meg Olberding, the city’s spokesperson.
The estimates also don’t consider that the city could
potentially forgo spending $7.4 million in contingency funds on the
project if it goes through completion and remains within budget, which
would lower the project’s effective cost to $125.4 million.
If the city cancels the project, Deatrick says it’s also
more likely that the city would lose in its legal battle against Duke
Energy, which could add up to $15 million in costs. That money is
tentatively allocated from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport as the city
and Duke argue in court as to who has to pay for moving utility lines to
accommodate for the streetcar tracks.
Those are the potential financial costs, but city
officials also warn that canceling the project could have a detrimental
impact on the city’s image.
“That’s what the city would be known for forever,” says
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan. “To throw this away would be
City officials also warn that canceling would be pulling
back on a light rail project that President Barack Obama’s
administration has clearly prioritized.
“The city-federal relationship is excellent right now,” Deatrick says. “There would be immediate damage to that.”
The 200-plus workers currently involved the project would
also be displaced. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson points out pausing or
canceling the project in December would leave those workers jobless for
the holiday season.
Another concern is the impact of cancellation on the
relationship between the federal government and Southwest Ohio Regional
Transit Authority (SORTA), which operates the Metro bus system and will
operate the streetcar if it’s completed. If the city is unable to pay back
the grants to the federal government within 30 days, Deatrick says
the FTA could cut SORTA grants for bus service and potentially halt some
local bus services.
One concern raised by Councilman Chris Seelbach and
Councilman-elect Kevin Flynn, one of the three potential swing votes in
the incoming council of nine, is whether the project’s estimated return on
investment is still 2.7-to-1 over 35 years. That number is derived from a
2007 study conducted by consulting firm HDR, which was later evaluated
and affirmed by the University of Cincinnati.
Deatrick points out the numbers were re-evaluated by HDR
in 2011, and they still seem to hold true. He says there are still
plenty of vacant buildings along the 3.6-mile streetcar line that could use the encouraged investment, despite
some of the revitalization seen in the Over-the-Rhine and downtown areas
that the streetcar route would cover.
The 2.7-to-1 return on investment is also “a very, very
conservative estimate,” says Deatrick. He claims HDR could have relied
on numbers from other cities, such as Portland, Ore., that saw
considerably better returns on their streetcar systems.
Still, Flynn and Councilman-elect David Mann, another
potential swing vote, say they want to scrutinize the cancellation
estimates before making a final decision on the project.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, a long-time streetcar supporter
who lost to Cranley in her mayoral bid, encourages a re-examination of
the numbers. But she cautions, “If what has been presented today stands up to scrutiny,
there’s absolutely no reason to cancel the project.”
Flynn won’t say whether he would reconsider his past
opposition to the project if the numbers hold up. But Mann says, “If
they do hold up, that’s fairly persuasive.”Both Flynn and Mann also say that they would be willing to pause the project while clearer estimates are crunched.
But that could present a short time window. If the project
doesn’t adequately progress, the federal government could take back its
grant money. Based on city officials’ estimates, that provides a 30-day
window to re-calculate cancellation costs and the potential return on investment.
Pausing the project would also impose its own set of costs as some workers and equipment are retained.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who’s also seen as a swing
vote, could not be reached for comment. He’s currently in Washington,
D.C., to meet with White House officials for an issue unrelated to the
streetcar.Three elected council members already support the streetcar project, so only two of the three potential swing votes would need to vote in favor of it to keep it going.Updated with Mayor-elect John Cranley’s comments and clearer, corrected numbers.
11 Comments · Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The streetcar project has empirical evidence to back it up. Mayor-elect John Cranley's trackless trolley idea doesn't.