0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Following years of political controversy,
the Cincinnati streetcar is scheduled to open for service on Sept. 15,
0 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
The focus on the
Zimmerman trial and its surrounding racial controversy has left out
discussion of systemic racial problems in America.
Cincinnati loses a major outlet for community voices with closing of Media Bridges
2 Comments · Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Rufus Johnson remains optimistic he can
maintain his roles as a television producer and community activist in
Cincinnati, despite Media Bridges closing later this year as a result of
city and state funding cuts.
by German Lopez
City debt outlook worsens, Port apologizes for email about parking memo, fracking tax fails
It may become more expensive for the city to issue debt after Moody’s downgraded the city’s bond rating.
The credit rating agency pinned the blame on the city’s exposure to
local and state retirement systems, as well as the city’s reliance since
2001 on one-time sources to balance the operating budget. Still,
Moody’s does give the city some credit for its economically diverse
population and recently stabilized earnings tax, despite docking the city for bad socioeconomic indicators, particularly resident income levels and historical unemployment rates.
The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority’s CEO Laura Brunner is apologizing to the public and council members
following the exposure of an email that implied she was trying to keep a
critical parking memo away from public sight. Brunner says she was just trying
to buy time so she could directly show the memo to the Port Authority’s
board before it was reported by news outlets, but she acknowledges that
her email was ill-conceived and came off as an attempt to stifle
transparency. The memo suggests Cincinnati is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Port Authority and several private operators, but the Port Authority and city officials argue the memo is outdated and full of technical errors.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has a report detailing political contributions from oil and gas companies
that may have helped bring down a state “fracking tax,” which was supposed to
raise state revenue from Ohio’s ongoing oil and gas boom. Apparently,
many of the Republican legislators who staunchly opposed the oil and gas
severance tax also took in a lot of money from the same companies who
would have to pay up. The tax proposal was effectively dead on arrival,
even with the hyperbolic support of Republican Gov. John Kasich. Fracking is an
extraction technique that pumps millions of gallons of water underground
to free up oil and gas. CityBeat covered its effects on Ohio in further detail here.
Water utility leaders are meeting in Cincinnati this week to discuss sustainable business models.
In Cincinnati, water usage has dropped while expenses to treat water
and waste water have escalated, causing the Metropolitan Sewer District
to take in less money. The conference will discuss models that can
adjust around this trend while keeping rates low for customers.
The owners of The Hanke Exchange, a collection of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, say occupancy is going up
as a result of the promise of the Cincinnati streetcar. The property is
now at 84 percent occupancy rate, up from 28 percent three years ago.
Dayton and Cincinnati will hold rallies Saturday showing support for Trayvon Martin,
the unarmed black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman last
year. Zimmerman was acquitted of murder by a jury last Saturday.
Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general, was confirmed to direct the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the top agency that will regulate the financial institutions that played a role in causing the Great Recession.
The Hamilton County Young Democrats are hosting a free event
today to meet Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner, who’s also running for
secretary of state next year against Republican incumbent Jon Husted.
If the sun suddenly went out, humanity could take a few weeks to die out and perhaps live in Iceland.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:52 AM | Permalink
Previously unreleased memo spurs renewed calls to reject parking lease
The city administration today disputed the findings of a June 20 memo that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but it has not said why the memo wasn't passed along to City Council members and Port Authority during the three-plus weeks since the administration received the memo. In its own memo released today, the city claims that the June 20 memo, which was first reported by WCPO yesterday, is outdated and makes a few technical errors.The June 20 memo from Walker Parking Cosultants, a parking consultant hired by the city, found it will be 257 percent more expensive for the new private parking operator to run the city’s
on-street parking services in comparison to what the city currently spends. It also
concludes the city isn’t getting as much revenue as other cities got
under their own parking leases.
“The on-street operating expenses shown in the model are
projected to grow at a faster rate than operating revenues,” the June 20 memo
claims. “The city should expect a private operator to run the parking
system more cost effectively than the current operation, not less
effectively. Therefore, revenues should be expected to increase at a
rate faster than expenses, not slower.”
The memo’s numbers come through estimates provided by
ParkCincy, the operating team set to take over the city’s parking meters, lots and garages
following a decades-long lease agreement between the city and the Port
In particular, the memo highlights what it claims are
extraordinary payments requested by Xerox under the deal: The private
parking operator is asking for a $627,063 fee in 2013, putting about
14.6 percent of projected net operating income to management fees.
That’s far higher than the typical 2.1 percent to 2.3 percent found in
similar parking deals in other cities, according to the memo.
The city disputed the findings in its own memo this morning.
“The information that Walker used was from an early point
in time; the deal was subsequently negotiated from that point to improve
the deal,” wrote City Manager Milton Dohoney in his own memo. “For
example, the profit margin used was based on different parking deals in
other cities that are not the same as ours. As we know, the Cincinnati
model is unique in many ways.”One such trait: Cincinnati’s parking deal includes modernizing the city’s parking meters to accept credit cards and mobile payment.
The city cited a letter from the Port Authority sent to
City Solicitor John Curp during an email exchange on July 12, the same day the Port Authority was given the June 20 memo. The letter contradicted what Port Authority CEO Laura Brunner claims are inaccuracies.
“In its memo, Walker Consulting bases its comparisons on
price, yet doesn’t qualify the information with what level of service
capabilities are included in the price,” the Port Authority’s letter
reads. “The Port Authority is basing its purchasing decisions on price,
but also level of enhancement to the on-street system that mirrors the
City’s desire to modernize these vital assets and position them to
enhance economic development opportunities downtown and in City
Besides this “‘apples to oranges’ comparison,” the Port
Authority’s letter disputes many of the technical details behind
the June 20 memo, particularly questioning some of the measurements
used and comparisons that don’t account for differences between Cincinnati’s parking lease and other cities’ agreements. It also emphasizes that contracts with Xerox and other companies
are not finalized yet.
Much of the focus is now on why the June 20 memo
was kept from City Council, the Port Authority and the public for nearly a month, given the
memo’s controversial findings about a controversial deal.
“The city administration misled the public for months on
the need for the deal, saying it was needed to avoid laying off cops and
firefighters and then they don’t do it. Now it’s keeping vital
information from the public and council. It’s a violation of the public
trust of the highest order,” Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley said in a statement. “I am urging the
Port to reject this deal that is bad for the City.”
Cranley and other city officials, including several City
Council candidates and council members P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher
Smitherman and Charlie Winburn, signed a letter to the Port Authority
asking the city-funded agency to reject its agreement with Xerox.
The city manager’s office couldn’t be immediately reached for comment. This story will be updated if further comments
The parking lease was finally signed by the city and Port
Authority in June after months of political and court battles. The
deal was signed even though a majority of City Council now opposes the
lease after the city managed to balance its budget without the parking
deal and without laying off cops and firefighters.City Council approved the parking lease on March 6, more than three months before the June 20 memo was given to the city administration.
In return for the lease, Cincinnati is getting a $92
million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual payments, according
to city estimates. The city plans to use that money to pay down future
budget gaps and fund development projects, including the I-71/MLK
Interchange.Update: Clarified Port Authority didn’t receive the memo until July 12.
by German Lopez
Memo doubts parking plan, city manager defends hiding memo, streetcar to open 2016
The city administration yesterday disputed the findings of a June 20 memo
that suggested the city is getting a bad deal from its parking lease
agreement with the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, but controversy
remains about why the city administration withheld the memo from City Council and the
Port Authority for three-plus weeks. Opponents of the parking plan are
now attempting to use the memo to convince the Port Authority to reject
the lease with Xerox, but the Port Authority insists that the memo is
laced with inaccuracies and technical errors. The city is pursuing the
lease to obtain a $92 million lump sum and at least $3 million in annual
payments, according to city estimates. The money will be used to pay
for future budget gaps and development projects, including the I-71/MLK
City Manager Milton Dohoney defended the city administration’s decision to withhold the June 20 memo,
but several council members are angered by what they call a “lack
of transparency.” Still, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls argued the
administration’s decision to keep the memo from City Council was
understandable because the memo was based on faulty information.
The Cincinnati streetcar got an opening date yesterday: Sept. 15, 2016.
The grand opening comes after years of political controversy, pulled
funding and two referendum efforts nearly killed the project. Ever
since it was first proposed, the streetcar project has been engulfed in
misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered here.
A federal judge made permanent his earlier decision that Ohio must count provisional ballots
if they’re submitted in the right polling place but wrong precinct. The
ruling is being taken as a victory by voting-rights advocates.
Cincinnati is negotiating to claw back
its incentive with Kendle International Inc., which agreed in 2008 to
keep its headquarters and create jobs at the city’s Carew Tower. The
agreement gave Kendle $200,000 over 10 years on the
condition it steadily grew jobs. The failure may add further doubt to
the value of job deals, which were criticized earlier in the year by a
report CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Christ
Hospital and Bethesda North Hospital are among the best hospitals in the
nation, according to U.S. News’s “Best Hospitals” feature.
Here are some of the odd things that made it into the two-year state budget.
Gov. John Kasich signed a Columbus school plan that will allow levy money to be shared with charter schools that partner with the Columbus school district.
The Senate is the best place in the country to eat hot dogs, according to Food & Wine.
More U.S. hospitals now treat gay parents equally.
Dogs apparently can watch television, which is good news for an Israeli channel explicitly aimed at dogs.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:16 AM | Permalink
Grand opening among several dates set after construction deal finalized
Following years of political controversy, the Cincinnati streetcar is scheduled to open for service on Sept. 15, 2016.
The news was unveiled in a city memo this morning, which
detailed the streetcar project’s future following a construction deal
with Messer Construction, Prus Construction and Delta Railroad.
The news comes after Messer revealed it will need nearly $500,000 more to do construction work, which will be covered by the project’s $10 million contingency funds.
The memo detailed other upcoming milestones for the streetcar project:• March 1, 2015: Substantial completion of a 3,000-foot test track and maintenance center.• June 29, 2015: Substantial completion of Over-the-Rhine loop.• March 15, 2016: Substantial completion of all work.
City Council recently approved $17.4 million in
additional capital funding for the streetcar project, along with various
accountability measures that will require the city manager to regularly update
council and the public on the project’s progress. The project’s estimated cost now stands at $133 million.Ever since its inception, the Cincinnati streetcar has been mired in political controversies and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
by German Lopez
Inclusion becomes mayoral issue, streetcar clears hurdle, state budget cuts local funding
Following Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley’s announcement Friday to increase city contracts with minority- and women-owned businesses once elected, fellow Democratic mayoral candidate and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls echoed support for the proposals, although she disputed Cranley’s record on the issue.
One issue in particular is the Croson study that would allow the city
to prepare for a broader inclusion plan for minorities and women. Qualls has repeatedly proposed a Croson study during her time in
City Council and previous time in the mayor’s office, but she says
Cranley failed to publicly raise the issue at all during his time on
council between 2000 and 2009.
Cincinnati’s streetcar project cleared another hurdle
Friday when Messer Construction announced it needed $500,000 to carry
out construction work, which is easily covered by the project’s $10
million contingency fund.
With a construction contract, new funding and accountability measures
now moving forward, the only potential issue is who has to pay to
move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. The city claims
Duke Energy does, while the energy company puts the onus on the city.
That issue is currently being worked out in court, although the city has
already set aside $15 million to carry out the work for now and just in
case Duke isn’t forced to carry the costs. Throughout the streetcar’s
history, the project has been mired in misrepresentations and
exaggerations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.
The recently approved two-year state budget provides about $517 million less local government funding than the budget did in 2011,
even though it pays for $2.7 billion in new tax cuts. Democrats have been highly critical of the cuts, but the
governor’s office says local governments are effectively getting more
funding through other sources not particularly geared for city and
county governments. CityBeat covered local government funding in greater detail here and the state budget here.
Some state officials are pushing to establish an online, searchable database that would allow Ohio taxpayers to track state spending penny-by-penny. The state treasurer’s office already maintains a database for teacher and state employee salaries.
The Health Careers Collaborative, an organization working to increase health care employment in Greater Cincinnati, has a new leader.
Amish communities in Ohio are questioning whether they should take royalties for land that would be used for fracking,
an oil and gas extraction process that environmentalists claim is
dangerous for surrounding air and water. For the Amish, the issue is
spiritual, rooted in their religious restrictions against technology and
many facets of the modern world. CityBeat covered fracking and its ongoing effect on some Ohio communities in greater detail here.
Ohio gas prices are starting up this week.
Twinkies are returning to store shelves today.
HD 189773b, a blue exoplanet, may look hospitable, but the planet has a bad habit of raining glass sideways.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 11:18 AM | Permalink
Public access media organization to close by end of year
Local public access media organization Media Bridges is shutting its doors for good by the end of the year, ending nearly 25 years of public service.
The organization’s demise is a result of the city eliminating funding for Media Bridges in its latest budget, which was passed by City Council in May.
“It is with great sadness that I must announce that Media Bridges will close its doors by the end of 2013. The city has made it extremely clear that we will not be receiving any more funding from them. While we have tried many other avenues for revenue it has become clear that we will be unable to sustain operations beyond 2013,” Media
Bridges Executive Director Tom Bishop announced Tuesday in the organization’s newsletter.The shutdown will be a steady process, with Media Bridges completely closing once its channels are
transferred or Dec. 13 — whichever comes first.The city’s budget cuts were originally considered in December, but City
Council managed to restore some funding to keep the organization
afloat. Prior to the partial restoration, Bishop had called the cuts a “meteor” to his organization’s budget.
City officials previously defended the cuts to Media Bridges, citing city
surveys that ranked the program poorly in terms of budgetary importance.
For the surveys, the city used meetings and mailed questionnaires to gauge public
But Bishop claims the surveys’
demographics were lopsided against low-income Cincinnatians, the income
group that benefits the most from public access programs like Media
For both the meeting-based and mail-in surveys, Bishop’s
claim checks out. His concern is even directly acknowledged and backed in the documented survey results for the meetings:
“Twenty-two percent of meeting participants earned less than $23,050
per year, compared to 40.8 percent of the population at large who earn
less than $24,999 per year. While this is not representative of the
population at large, the data does indicate strong participation from
low income residents.”
Meanwhile, wealthier Cincinnatians were much better
represented, with 11 percent of meeting participants making
$150,000 or more per year despite only 6 percent of the city at large
belonging to that income group, according to the survey results.
The same issue can be found in the mail-in survey: Only 22 percent of respondents made less than $25,000, while 10 percent made $150,000 or more.“It’s ridiculous that they would call that representative of the city of Cincinnati,” Bishop says.
Instead of using its skewed survey results,
Bishop argues the city should have looked at the 2010 Spring Greater
Cincinnati Survey from the University of Cincinnati’s Institute for
Policy Research. In that survey, Cincinnati respondents were asked how
important it was to provide recording equipment to citizens and
neighborhoods so they can “produce educational and public access
programs for cable television.” About 54.3 percent called it “very
important,” 33.9 percent labeled it “somewhat important” and 11.7
percent said it was “not too important.”
City officials also defended the cuts by claiming that funding was only provided as a
“one-year reprieve” after Media Bridges lost state funding that came
through Time Warner Cable, which successfully lobbied to end its
required contributions in 2011.
Bishop disputes the city’s claim, saying Media Bridges and its staff weren’t informed that the city funding was meant to be temporary — at least until it was too late.
Media Bridges is a public access media organization founded in 1988 that
allows anyone in Cincinnati to record video and sound for publicly
broadcasted television and radio. It also provides educational programs for people new to the process.
Although Media Bridges is closing down, the city is still
funding CitiCable, which, among other programming, broadcasts City
Council and county commissioner meetings, through franchise fees from
Cincinnati Bell and Time Warner.
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 10:08 AM | Permalink
Messer Construction asks for less than $500,000 more; easily covered by contingency fund
Messer Construction says it needs nearly $500,000 more than the original $71 million it asked for to
do construction work for the streetcar project, but the extra money is
easily covered by the project’s $10 million contingency fund that the
city established in case of further cost overruns.In June, City Council approved an extra $17.4 million and
accountability measures for the streetcar project, which require the city manager to publicly update council with a timeline of key milestones, performance measures, an
operating plan, staffing assessments and monthly progress reports. During discussions for
the funding and accountability proposals, some council members, particularly Councilman P.G.
Sittenfeld, raised concerns that Messer would require more money than
the city could afford. Sittenfeld said he was especially concerned Messer would have all the leverage going forward, considering the city supposedly needed the lower construction bid to keep the project within its new budget.Messer was the lowest bidder for the project’s
construction work, but even that bid came $26 million higher than
the city’s original estimates, forcing the city to close a budget gap if
the project was to continue.
With the construction bids taken care of, the only known
funding concern for the streetcar is who has to pay $15 million for moving utility
lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks. Duke Energy argues the cost burden is on
the city, while the city says the energy company has to pay up. The
issue is currently being decided in court.Ever since Cincinnati began pursuing the streetcar
project, it’s been mired in misrepresentations and political
controversy, which CityBeat covered in further detail in this week’s cover story.