by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 01:51 PM | Permalink
Council measures increase capital funding, require more transparency
The streetcar project remains on track following today's votes by City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability measures that aim to keep the public informed on the project's progress.The increased funding was previously proposed by City Manager Milton Dohoney to fix a $17.4 million budget gap. The money will come from more issued debt and pulled funding from various capital projects, including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. Under state law, none of the capital funding could be used for operating budget expenses, such as police and fire.The accountability measures also require the city administration to report to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports."The progress reports should be easy-to-understand and made available online to ensure transparency and accountability to City Council and to citizens," the motion reads.Council members Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young voted for the measures. Council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against both. Councilwoman Pam Thomas voted against the funding ordinance, but she abstained from voting on the motion imposing accountability measures.Qualls, who revealed the accountability measures in a press conference prior to today's committee meeting, said the measures will move the streetcar forward and help keep the public informed."I will vote today to continue the streetcar project because we need to continue moving Cincinnati forward," she said. "At the same time, while I remain a supporter, it is with the recognition that it is time for a reboot on the project to instill public confidence in its management."Smitherman did not seem convinced."I believe the administration will be back asking for
more money on the streetcar," he claimed, pointing to pending
litigation with Duke Energy over who is legally obligated to pay for
moving utility lines to accommodate the project.Smitherman and Sittenfeld also criticized their colleagues for not bringing the accountability measures to a vote earlier in the process."You would think seven years ago there would have been a motion like this in front of us," Smitherman said, referencing when City Council first approved the streetcar project.Among the accountability motion's items is an operating plan, which streetcar critics have long demanded. The city administration estimates operating the streetcar will cost about $3.5 million a year, indicating in the past that casino tax revenue would be used to pay for the costs.Supporters say those costs will be outweighed by the city's estimated three-to-one return on investment for the streetcar project — an estimate backed by studies from advising company HDR and the University of Cincinnati. Simpson in particular argued the costs will be made up through increased revenue as the streetcar brings in more businesses and residents to Cincinnati.Still, Simpson says those estimates don't matter to streetcar opponents."If it was $5, there would be individuals who don't support this project," she said.Winburn responded by saying he supports the streetcar as a concept, which roused laughter from streetcar supporters in the audience. Throughout the project's many hearings, opponents of the streetcar have often said they support streetcars as a concept — at least until they have to put their support to a vote or commit funding.Still, Winburn added, "Even if you all are wrong, I want to commend you for fighting for what you believe in."The streetcar project's $17.4 million budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget — a result of "errors in bid documents," according to Qualls.Besides increasing funding, the city is also hiring John Deatrick, project manager of The Banks, to head the streetcar project. Multiple city officials, including Qualls and Quinlivan, have praised Deatrick for his ability to bring down project costs and put large projects on track.The funding currently set for the streetcar will only go to the first phase of the project. The final plan calls for tracks stretching from The Banks to the Cincinnati Zoo."If the intent of the streetcar would only be to go from
The Banks to just north of Findlay Market, then I never would have said
it's a project worth doing," Dohoney previously told City Council. "The intention has always
been to connect the two major employment centers of the city and go
beyond that."But Smitherman says talk of another phase is financially irresponsible: "I want to indicate to the public that they (the city administration) don't have a budget for the second leg."The funding ordinance and accountability motion must now be approved by a full session of City Council, which has the same voting make-up as the Budget and Finance Committee.If it's approved, the federal government has committed another $5 million to the streetcar that will help restore certain aspects of the project previously cut because of budget concerns.
3 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Against all the odds, naysaying and
obstructionism it’s faced, Cincinnati’s streetcar project is moving
0 Comments · Wednesday, June 26, 2013
City Council on June 24 approved
increased funding along with additional accountability measures that
will close a $17.4 million budget gap and keep the streetcar project on
by German Lopez
Streetcar moves forward, sewer compromise hits impasse, Kasich's approval at all-time high
The streetcar project is moving forward
following yesterday’s votes from City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee, which approved increased capital funding and accountability
measures that will keep the public updated on the project’s progress.
The increased funding fixes the project’s $17.4 million budget gap by
issuing more debt and pulling funding from various capital projects,
including infrastructure improvements around the Horseshoe Casino. The
accountability measures will require the city administration to report
to City Council on the streetcar's progress with a timeline of key
milestones, performance measures, an operating plan, staffing
assessments and monthly progress reports.
At the same committee meeting, council members failed to carry out a repeal of “local hire” and “local preference” laws,
which was part of an earlier announced compromise
between the city and county that would allow work on sewer projects to
continue. At this point, it’s unclear whether the Hamilton County Board of
Commissioners will repeal the funding hold on sewer projects. The
commissioners passed the hold after City Council modified its
“responsible bidder” law in May. The city says the laws encourage local
job creation and training, but the county claims the rules favor unions
and impose extra costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects.
Republican Gov. John Kasich’s approval ratings hit an all-time high of 54 percent
in a new Quinnipiac University poll, helping him hold a 14-point lead
against likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald. “All in all, at this
stage, Kasich has done a pretty good job appealing to voters across the
state,” said Quinnipiac's Peter Brown. “FitzGerald remains pretty much
an unknown to most Ohioans, with only one in four voters knowing enough
about him to have formed an opinion. The election is a long way away,
but the next stage will be the race to define FitzGerald, positively by
the candidate himself and negatively by the Kasich folks.”
The Cincinnati office for the Internal Revenue Service also targeted liberal groups,
particularly those who used the terms “progressive” and “occupy.” The
IRS has been under scrutiny in the past few months for targeting
conservative groups by honing in on terms such as “tea party” and
Ohio gave tax incentives
to four more Cincinnati-area businesses. Overall, 15 projects received
the breaks to supposedly spur $379 million in investment across Ohio.
Miami University banned smoking in cars on campus and raised tuition.
Headline: “Columbus man rips off his penis while high on drugs.”
Here is a history of red panda escapes.
A study found people find others more attractive after getting a shock to the brain.
by German Lopez
Streetcar vote today, sewer project compromise reached, "megadeals" fail expectations
The federal government is committing another $5 million to Cincinnati’s streetcar project,
but the city must first close the budget gap that has recently put the
project in danger. The U.S. Department of Transportation is also asking
the city to restore certain aspects of the project, including a
passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power
substations from public view. City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee is expected to vote on the project’s $17.4 million budget gap
today. The latest proposed fixes from the city manager would pull funding from multiple capital projects, including improvements around the Horseshoe Casino, and issue more debt.
Cincinnati and Hamilton County announced a compromise
Friday that will end the county's funding hold on sewer projects. As a
result, the city will be required to rework its “responsible bidder”
ordinance and repeal the “local hire” and “local preference” laws that
incited county commissioners into passing the funding hold in the first
place. The city says its responsible bidder law creates local jobs and
encourages job training, but the county argues that law’s rules favor
unions and push up costs on Metropolitan Sewer District projects. CityBeat covered the city-county conflict in further detail here.
Ohio is No. 3 in the nation for “megadeals”
— massive government subsidies to corporations that are meant to
encourage in-state job creation — but a new report found many of the
deals rarely produce the kind of jobs initially touted by public
officials. For Cincinnati, the risks of megadeals are nothing new: In
2011, the city’s $196.4 million megadeal with Convergys collapsed when the company failed to keep downtown employment at or above
1,450, and the company agreed to pay a $14 million reimbursement to the city.
As of Friday, Cincinnati is officially leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. The Port announced it had signed the lease Friday, putting an end to a four-day controversy
over whether the agency was going to sign the lease at all. The city
will get a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million a year from the
deal, according to city estimates. Current plans call for using the
money to help balance city budgets and fund economic development
projects, including the I-71/MLK Interchange.
The prison company that owns and operates a northeastern Ohio prison lost four contracts around the nation in June, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In May, CityBeat released an in-depth report
looking at the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the
Lake Erie Correctional Institution, finding evidence of rising violence
and unsanitary conditions.
About one in three Ohio children live in a home where neither parent has a full-time, year-round job,
and a quarter now live in poverty. Although Ohio’s overall ranking
improved in Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual report card on the
well-being of children, the state worsened in three out of four economic
President Barack Obama will make a speech
tomorrow unveiling sweeping plans for climate change. The president is
expected to impose a series of regulations, particularly on power
plants, with executive powers, which means the plans won’t require
Ohio gas prices are still coming down this week.
Plants apparently do math to get through the night.
Some diseases, including some types of cancer, are now being diagnosed by smell.Got questions for CityBeat about anything related to Cincinnati? Today is the last day to submit your questions here. We’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.
CityBeat is looking to talk to convicted drug offenders
from Ohio for an upcoming cover story. If you’d like to participate or
know anyone willing to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:19 PM | Permalink
City Council expected to vote on budget updates Monday
Cincinnati's streetcar project is getting another $5 million in federal funding. But before the money is handed over, the city must first eliminate cost overruns that have recently put the project in danger.U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood unveiled the news in a letter to Mayor Mark Mallory dated June 19. The letter acknowledges the project's recent cost overruns, but goes on to claim the federal government still backs the project."The DOT (Department of Transportation) continues to support your bold vision for economic development and enhanced transportation choices for the city of Cincinnati, and we believe that this project is a significant component of that vision. With that in mind, I want to provide up to $5 million in additional assistance from DOT," LaHood wrote.But the money comes with two conditions: The city must first fix the streetcar project's cost overruns and restore certain aspects of the project, including a passenger information system and a screen or wall that would block power substations from public view.The $5 million will be on top of the nearly $40 million the federal government has already contributed to the project through various grants and programs.The funding bump comes just in time for City Council's Monday vote on the streetcar project's cost overruns.In February, the city received construction bids that were $26 million to $43 million over budget, effectively leading to a $17.4 million budget gap and a $133 million overall cost for the project.Since then, City Manager Milton Dohoney proposed a few fixes to City Council, including pulling funding from various capital projects and issuing more debt.At the same time, Dohoney told City Council the city administration was working with federal officials to find opportunities for more federal funding. The new commitment is presumably the result of those discussions.City Council is expected to vote on the budget fixes Monday. So far, council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Wendell Young and Laure Quinlivan have vowed support, but Council will need a fifth vote — perhaps from Chris Seelbach or Pam Thomas — to pass the changes.Read the full letter below: Streetcar Letter to Mayor MalloryUpdate (3:55 p.m.): This story was updated with additional context.
by German Lopez
Ohio unemployment unchanged in May, budget overhauls taxes, streetcar vote Monday
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7 percent in May, unchanged
from April and down from 7.3 percent in May 2012, according to Bureau of
Labor Statistics data released today by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Although the number of unemployed increased by 5,000 between April and May, the number of
employed also increased by 32,100, keeping the rate relatively stable.
Most sectors tracked in the report, including government, gained jobs.
The final version of the state budget would cut income taxes and create a state-based earned income tax credit,
but it would also hike the sales tax and make changes to property taxes
that effectively increase rates. Republican state legislators rolled
out the tax plan yesterday as a compromise between the Ohio House and
Senate plans. The final version looks a lot more like Gov. John Kasich’s
original tax proposal, which left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio criticized for favoring the wealthy. The budget must be signed by Kasich by June 30.
City Council is expected to vote on the streetcar project’s $17.4 million budget gap on Monday. The gap is a result of construction bids coming in much higher than expected, and solving it would involve making cuts for a slew of capital programs,
including infrastructure projects around the Horseshoe Casino. The cuts
will all come from the capital budget, which can’t be used to fund
operating budget expenses like police and fire because of limits established in
Three days after City Manager Milton Dohoney signed an
agreement leasing the city’s parking meters, lots and garages to the
Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Port Authority still hadn’t signed the lease, and it remains unclear when the agency plans to do so. City spokesperson Meg Olberding told CityBeat
she’s confident the Port Authority will sign the lease. But the delays
have raised questions about whether there truly will be local control
over the city’s parking assets through the Port Authority, given that
the agency is already going against the wills and assumptions of the
city government by failing to sign the lease.
City Councilman Chris Seelbach announced on Twitter
that he and Hamilton County Commissioner Chris Monzel will release a
joint statement on the city’s “responsible bidder” ordinance later today. The city
and county have been clashing over the ordinance, with county
commissioners most recently putting a hold on all Metropolitan Sewer
District projects. CityBeat covered the conflict in greater detail here.
Federal data released this week shows Ohio has some of the weakest gun laws and, as a result, is a top source for guns for crimes committed in other states.
Construction is expected to cause some downtown ramp closures and restrictions next week, so prepare for delays or a change in commute.
A Japanese scientist may have to grow his human organs in pigs.
The world’s first 3-D printed battery is as small as a grain of sand.
by German Lopez
City advances without parking plan, Kasich on budget defense, Seelbach questions Cranley
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Even without the parking plan, the city passed a budget with no public safety layoffs and is moving forward
with plans for the Uptown interchange project, a downtown grocery store, a new garage to replace Pogue’s Garage, Wasson Way and the Smale Riverfront Park. The turnaround has
prompted some critics to question whether city officials were being
honest when they cited a list of potential problems if the city failed
to semi-privatize its parking assets to raise funds, but Mayor Mark
Mallory and supporters say a lot changed between the time the threats
were made and now, including tax revenues coming in at $4.5 million
better than projected.
The Columbus Dispatch says Gov. John Kasich has found himself “playing defense”
in the current budget cycle — a sharp contrast to the budget cycle in
2011. Both the Ohio House and Senate have greatly changed Kasich’s original budget plan. Instead of
taking up Kasich on his plan to expand the sales tax while lowering the
rate, cut income taxes by 20 percent across the board and cut small
business taxes, the House approved a 7-percent across-the-board income tax
cut and the Senate replaced the House plan with a tax cut aimed at small businesses. Both
chambers also rejected the Kasich-backed, federally funded Medicaid
expansion and the governor’s education funding plan.
Democratic Councilman Chris Seelbach says he was yelled and sworn at for several minutes
by Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s campaign manager
following open questions about whether Cranley is still a Democrat.
Cranley has long opposed the city’s streetcar project and parking plan, which have both received support from a majority of Democrats in City Council, and tacitly supports Amy Murray, a Republican City Council candidate.
Estimates for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino improved last month,
coming in at $2 million more than April’s estimates. The $20 million
estimate is still nearly $2 million less than the casino received on
Former mayor Eugene Ruehlman died Saturday night at the age of 88.
Ohio gas prices remain at nearly $4 this week, above the national average.
The self-proclaimed “whistleblower” who leaked details about two NSA surveillance programs has revealed himself in Hong Kong.
Apparently Kings Island is open, and Adventure Express was evacuated due to a “mechanical problem.”
The latest design for skateboard wheels is a square.
Cold War-era radiation apparently has the answer for whether adults keep making new brain cells.
by German Lopez
Another anti-abortion amendment, Kasich prevents JobsOhio audit, streetcar funds remain
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.Also, take our texting while driving survey here.The Ohio Senate proposed a budget amendment
yesterday that would ban abortion providers from transferring
patients to public hospitals. The rule continues a series of
conservative pushes on social issues in the ongoing budget process that began in the Ohio House. The
Ohio House budget bill effectively defunded Planned Parenthood and funded anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, while the Ohio Senate accepted those measures and added another rule that potentially allows the health director to shut down abortion clinics.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed a bill
that will prevent a full public audit of JobsOhio, the private
nonprofit entity established by Kasich and Republican legislators to
replace the Ohio Department of Development. The bill defines liquor
profits, which were public funds before JobsOhio, and private funds in a
way that bars the state auditor from looking into any funding sources
that aren’t owed to the state. Last week, Democratic gubernatorial
candidate Ed FitzGerald called on Kasich to veto the bill,
claiming, “The people’s money is the people’s business, and this bill,
which slams shut the door on accountability, is simply unacceptable.”
The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) says the $4 million going to the streetcar is a done deal.
Republican county commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann tried to
get OKI to pull the funds, but there now seems to be a general
consensus that the money is contractually tied to the Southwest Ohio
Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) and, therefore, the streetcar
project. City Council is likely to consider a plan to plug the streetcar project’s budget gap later this month.
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns is handing out marijuana plants
at a campaign event today, even though the event may run foul of state
law. Democratic candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are generally
considered the top contenders in this year’s mayoral race, but Berns
has differentiated himself by putting marijuana legalization in his
platform. While drug prohibition policies are generally dictated at
state and federal levels, cities can decriminalize or legalize certain
drugs and force police departments to give prohibition enforcement lower priority.
Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is retiring July 1
following controversial remarks about “those damn Catholics,” the
University of Notre Dame and others. Gee, a Mormon, says he has regrets,
but the gaffes didn’t compel him to retire. In a statement, OSU
credited Gee with helping the school build an academic profile of a
“highly selective, top-tier public research institution.”
Local officials cut the ribbon yesterday for the Roebling Bridge, the latest piece of infrastructure to debut at The Banks.
Fort Hamilton Hospital has a new president.
Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank has loaned more than any other big bank in the country, according to a new study.
How do mosquitoes survive storms? Popular Science has the answer.
Researchers unveiled a drone that can be controlled by thoughts. Next stop: the Iron Man suit.
by German Lopez
State could block JobsOhio audit, council approves budget, streetcar budget fixes in June
The Ohio Senate sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that prevents the state auditor from auditing private funds
at JobsOhio and other publicly funded private entities. State Auditor
Dave Yost has been pursuing a full audit of JobsOhio in the past few
months, but state Republicans, led by Kasich, have opposed the audit.
Ohio Democrats were quick to respond to the bill by asking what JobsOhio
and Republicans have to hide. JobsOhio is a privatized development
agency established by Kasich and Republican legislators meant to eventually
replace the Ohio Department of Development.
City Council passed an operating budget
yesterday that slashes several city services but prevents laying off
cops and firefighters. Human services funding, which goes to programs
that aid the homeless and poor, is getting some of the largest cuts,
continuing what Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition
says is a decade-long trend that has brought down human services
funding from 1.5 percent of the budget to 0.3 percent. The budget also
makes cuts to other programs and raises property taxes and several fees.
City Council will likely vote in June on how to fix the
streetcar budget gap. So far, the only known plan is the city manager’s
proposal, which would pull funding from various capital funding sources.
The streetcar budget is part of the capital budget, which can’t be used
to balance the operating budget because of limits established in state
The Ohio Senate budget bill increases education funding
over the Ohio House bill. The Senate bill raises the limit on how much a
school district can see its state funding increase, potentially putting
fast-growing suburban schools at an advantage. The House and Senate
bills use a model that gives schools base funding for each pupil — a
model entirely different from Kasich’s proposal, which critics labeled wrongheaded and regressive.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted broke a tie vote in the Hamilton County Board of Elections that will send 39 more “double voters” to the prosecutor.
In most cases, the “double voter” filed an absentee ballot and voted
in-person with a provision ballot on Election Day. The provisional
ballots always ended up being tossed out, but Republicans say they want
to find out if there were any bad intentions. Board of Elections
Chairman Tim Burke, who’s also head of the Hamilton County Democratic
Party, called Husted’s decision a “travesty,” labeling the investigation a
“witch hunt, aimed at scaring the hell out of voters.” Husted, a
Republican, said the cases at least deserve an investigation, even if
they don’t lead to an indictment.
Mayor Mark Mallory and local business leaders are calling
on Congress to take up immigration reform, which they argue will come as
a boost to the economy. “In order to continue to have the strongest
economy in the world, we need to have the most innovative and creative
ideas being developed right here in Cincinnati and across the country,”
Mallory said in a statement. “That requires the best and brightest
talent from around the globe being welcomed to our country through a
fair and sound system of immigration.”
WVXU says the list of local bike friendly destinations keeps growing.
Traveling to Mars could get someone fried by radiation.