0 Comments · Wednesday, June 12, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee on June 10 approved development plans for Fourth and Race
streets to build a downtown grocery store, a luxury apartment tower and a
parking garage to replace Pogue’s Garage.
by German Lopez
Downtown grocery advances, city pension in trouble, county to investigate “double voters”
Got questions for CityBeat about, well, anything? Submit them here, and we’ll try to get back to you in our first Answers Issue.City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a development plan for Fourth and Race streets to build a downtown grocery store, a luxury apartment tower and a garage that will replace Pogue’s Garage. The project will cost $80 million, with the city paying
$12 million through a five-year forgivable loan and private financing paying for the remaining $68 million. The city’s loan is being financed through urban renewal
funds, which are generated through downtown taxes and can only be used
for capital investment projects downtown. The project was originally attached to the city’s plan to semi-privatize its parking assets, but the city administration says the urban renewal funds opened up after a hotel-convention center deal collapsed.
The city’s pension fund saw a return of 12 percent in
fiscal year 2012, but the amount of money the city owes and should
contribute to the pension fund continues to go up.
The higher costs will likely force City Council to put more money
toward the pension, which means less money for other services. City Council has underfunded the pension system by varying
degrees since 2003 — a problem that was further exacerbated by the
economic downturn of 2008, which cost the city’s pension fund $102
million. Consultants suggested City Council view the pension fund
as “not being of good health” and make changes that would help make the
pension fund more “robust” and less volatile.As county and state officials move to investigate and potentially prosecute 39 “double voter” cases, local groups are pushing back with warnings that the investigations could cause a chilling effect among voters. Most of the cases cover voters who mailed in an absentee
ballot then showed up to vote on Election Day. Although the voters voted
twice, their votes were only counted once. Critics of the investigations, including Hamilton County Democrats, cite Ohio Revised Code Section 3509.09(B)(2),
which says voters who show up to vote on Election Day after filing an
absentee ballot should be given a provisional ballot. Hamilton County
Republicans say they’re not prejudging anyone and just want an
Following a report that found Ohio’s juvenile correction facilities are among the worst in the nation for rape and other sexual assaults against incarcerated youths, the state is assigning assessors to the facilities to ensure proper protections and improvements are being put in place.The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority is looking to expand its coverage to better market the region. The Port Authority’s plans call for enlisting 18 counties across Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
A derailed train hit a local electrical tower yesterday, temporarily shutting down power for part of the region.
Fatal collisions between cars and trains at public railroad crossings increased in 2012 to the highest level since 2008.
The former Terrace Plaza Hotel was sold, but it’s not clear what will come next for the building.An experimental form of male birth control involves injecting gold into testes and zapping them with infrared light.
Another one of Saturn’s moons may contain an underground ocean.
by German Lopez
Group ordains woman priests, Quinlivan suggests budget plan, county halts sewer projects
A group is ordaining Roman Catholic women priests despite Vatican opposition, and Debra Meyers will be Cincinnati's first woman to go through the ordination on May 25. Meyers told CityBeat the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests' movement is about pressuring the Catholic Church to be more inclusive, including with women, LGBT individuals and other groups that may feel left out by the Church's current policies. The full Q&A with Meyers can be read here.In the latest budget plan, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is asking all city employees, including cops and firefighters, to take eight furlough days, which she says would save enough money to prevent all layoffs. That plan follows a motion co-sponsored by council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach, which would eliminate all fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25.Hamilton County commissioners voted to stop all sewer projects yesterday in opposition to the city's "responsible bidder" policy, which requires most contractors working with the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) to have apprenticeship programs. City Council, spearheaded by Seelbach, passed the measure to encourage more job training options for workers, but the county government says the measure is unfair and puts too much of a strain on businesses working with MSD. The issue will likely head to court.Commentary: "Good News Reveals Budget Deception."At last night's budget hearings, Councilman Charlie Winburn repeatedly brought up the city's so-called "credit cards," which are really procurement cards that are often used by the mayor to entertain and attract businesses to Cincinnati. Winburn says the use of the cards is outrageous when the city is considering laying off cops and firefighters, and Councilman Chris Smitherman says the system needs more controls. The cards are set up so they can only be used by city employees for certain services, and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. says the cards make the system more efficient, which means lower prices for the city.A bill in the Ohio House revives the Medicaid expansion, which was previously opposed by Republicans as part of the budget process. Gov. John Kasich is one of the top Ohio Republicans who supports the expansion, but it's unclear how far the bill can move this time, considering many Republicans are still opposed. CityBeat
covered the expansion, which would insure half a million Ohioans and
save the state money in the next decade, in further detail here.The Ohio General Assembly passed a bill
yesterday that would effectively ban Internet "sweepstakes" cafes,
which state officials say are prone to illegal gambling activity. State
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says the bill is a "shoot ‘em
and let God sort it out" approach because the bill generalizes against
all Internet cafes instead of imposing specific regulations that would
only target offenders. If Kasich signs the bill, it will become law.The Ohio Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy group, submitted 589 petitions to the Ohio Senate opposing a measure that would force Ohio's public universities to decide between $370 million in out-of-state tuition revenue and giving out-of-state students documents required for voting. The measure was originally sneaked into the Ohio House budget plan, but Senate officials are removing it from the budget bill and appear likely to take it up in a standalone bill. CityBeat covered the original measure here.Greater Cincinnati home sales are continuing picking up. There 2,388 homes
sold in the region in April, up 22.65 percent from the year before —
even better than March's 13.5-percent year-over-year rise.Researchers are now suggesting rubbing a certain kind dirt on wounds.
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
Local job numbers improve, housing supply lags behind demand, The Banks gets price tag
Local job numbers continued their positive trend
in April, with Cincinnati’s unemployment rate dropping to 6.9 percent
and the rest of the region following suit. Michael Jones, research
director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center, attributed
the job gains to improvements in manufacturing and continued growth in
health care jobs. Still, the public sector continued to lag behind the
private sector — a trend Jones says could change in the coming months as
government budgets are adjusted to match higher tax revenues resulting
from the recovering economy.
Downtown’s population growth slowed last year as available housing failed to match demand,
according to Downtown Cincinnati Inc.’s annual report. In the past few
years, the city has pursued multiple actions to meet demand,
particularly through public-private partnerships. Most recently, City
Council approved leasing the city’s parking assets to raise funds that
would help build 300 luxury apartments, but that plan is currently being held up in court.
The second phase of The Banks riverfront project will cost $62 million,
according to the report from Downtown Cincinnati Inc. That’s smaller
than the first phase, which cost $90 million. The second phase of the
project is expected to begin this fall, and it should bring 300
apartments and 60,000 square feet of street-level retail space to the
area by the end of 2015. The Banks also plans to build a $45 million
hotel, which is also expected to be complete in 2015. The funding for the projects is
coming through multiple public-private partnerships.
After the final
public hearing on the city budget Wednesday, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan plans to introduce her own
budget plan that would avoid all city employee layoffs. A statement from Quinlivan
did not give much in the way of details: “My plan saves all city jobs
and restores all neighborhood programs. It requires common sense and
shared sacrifice of all city employees.” Most recently, council members
Chris Seelbach and Roxanne Qualls co-sponsored a motion that would eliminate fire layoffs and reduce police layoffs to 25 by making cuts elsewhere.
The Ohio Senate plans to vote
today on a measure that would effectively close down hundreds of
Internet “sweepstakes” cafes around the state in an effort to eliminate
illegal gambling activities. The cafes’ operators insist their
activities are not gambling but rather a promotional tool that helps
sell Internet time and long-distance phone cards.
Cincinnati’s zoning hearing examiner says he’s trying to reduce the time it takes to go through the zoning hearing process to less than 60 days.
Three major Ohio universities, including the University of
Cincinnati, and four hospitals, including Cincinnati Children's
Hospital, are teaming up to find out what causes premature birth.
Beginning July 1, some Ohio interstates will allow drivers to go 70 miles per hour. Find out which ones here.
At congressional hearings yesterday, U.S. senators
criticized Apple for legally taking advantage of the complex American
corporate tax system, but Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put the blame on
Russia is building robots to “neutralize” terrorists, and other researchers are working on robots that will attempt to rescue people after disasters.
The creator of the GIF says it’s pronounced “jif.”
by German Lopez
Posted In: News
at 02:01 PM | Permalink
Cincinnati unemployment rate drops to 6.9 percent
Local joblessness fell sharply in April, continuing a positive
trend as Cincinnati’s economy recovers from the Great Recession, according to new data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).
“We’re continuing to see the same positive trend at both
the local level and the state level,” says Michael Jones, research
director at the University of Cincinnati Economics Center.
Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.9
percent in April, down from a revised 7.4 percent in March and 7.4
percent in April 2012. In the past, the unemployment rate sometimes dropped as people gave up on looking for work and left the civilian labor force, but the April report reflected genuine improvements in the local economy. The civilian labor force and amount of people with a job were higher, and the amount of people without a job dropped.
The news was similarly positive for the rest of the region. Greater
Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.5
percent, down from 7.2 percent in March and 7 percent in April 2012.
Hamilton County’s rate hit 6.3 percent, down from 6.9 percent in March
and 6.8 percent the year before.
Jones says the health care sector has been one of the
leading areas of growth in the local economy, but the April report also
showed strong gains in manufacturing — allaying fears raised in recent
months that the industry, which Jones calls “volatile,” was beginning to
“We’re starting to see that upward swing again,” Jones
says. “We’re not back on track ... but we’ve erased the last couple
months of losses.”
Still, the public sector has continued to decline,
reflecting budget cuts made at all levels of government in the past
Jones says it’s common for the public sector to lag behind
the private sector, so it’s possible there will be government job gains in a few months
once government budgets are updated to match higher tax revenues resulting from the
In Ohio, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was
6.7 percent in April, down from 7.3 percent the month before.
Nationwide, the rate was 7.1 percent, down from 7.6 percent.
Job numbers are obtained through household surveys by the
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which uses the data to measures the
amount of people employed relative to the civilian labor force. The
numbers are adjusted for seasonal factors at state and national levels,
but not at the local level. Since the numbers are obtained through
surveys, they are often revised with stronger data in later months.
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.
by German Lopez
Medical marijuana may be on ballot, mayor reduces layoffs, budget hearing tonight
The Ohio Rights Group could be asking voters to legalize medical marijuana and industrial hemp statewide
in 2013 or 2014. The Coalition for a Drug-Free Greater Cincinnati says
drug approval should be up to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
but that may not matter because polls so far shows medical marijuana
getting widespread approval from Ohio voters. The Ohio Rights Group
argues its amendment would help Ohioans by opening up better health
treatments and boosting the economy. Whether that will be enough to land
the issue on the ballot remains to be seen.Mayor Mark Mallory revised the city manager’s budget plan
to carry out less layoffs but more cuts to outside spending and
recreation centers. Mallory's changes will restore 18 firefighter
positions, 17 police positions, three inspector positions at the Health
Department and two positions at the Law Department, reducing the total
layoffs to 161, with 49 of those being police positions and 53 being
firefighter positions. But it will come with more cuts to third-party
agencies, including the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, the Center
for Closing the Health Gap and Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of
Commerce, and two closed recreation centers. The plan will also use
about $500,000 in recently discovered revenue. Mallory said the layoffs and cuts have to be made in part because of multiple outside factors, including reduced state funding and courts holding up the city's parking plan.The first hearing on the city's fiscal year 2014 budget proposals will be tonight at the Duke Energy Convention Center at 6:30 p.m. The public will be asked to give feedback on the budget plan put forward by the city manager and mayor, which would lay off 161 city employees, including cops and firefighters, to help balance the city's $35 million operating budget deficit.CityBeat editorial: "Cincinnati's 1 Percent."The Ohio Department of Transportation has raised its estimated price for the MLK/I-71 Interchange project by about $10 million to $30 million after meetings with business owners in Cincinnati's uptown area. It's so far unclear how the project's costs will be divided between the city, state and federal governments. Originally, Cincinnati was looking to pay for its share of the project through its plan to lease the city's parking assets, but that plan is being held up in court.City
Council approved a resolution yesterday supporting a statewide ban on
injection wells used to dispose wastewater during the hydraulic
fracturing — "fracking" — process, a drilling process that injects
millions of gallons of water underground to unlock natural gas and oil
reserves. The injection wells are a vital part of a fracking boom that
has helped revitalize economies in Ohio and other states and could help combat climate change,
but environmentalists and health advocates are concerned about the
unintended consequences the wells could have on nearby water sources ("Boom, Bust or Both?" in issue of June 6, 2012).The Ohio House approved changes to the state's third grade reading requirement that will relax standards teachers must meet to provide reading instruction and tutoring services for young students. The current law requires teachers to have taught reading for at least three years, but the bill approved by the Ohio House would eliminate that requirement.Mayoral candidate John Cranley says choosing Cincinnati's next police chief should wait until the next mayor is elected in November.The Hamilton County Board of Elections sent two more voter fraud cases to the prosecutor, but the question remains whether the dozens of people who filed provisional ballots and absentee ballots are actually in the wrong — an issue that will be ultimately decided by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.Top public safety issues are urging schools not to arm teachers to protect students from gun violence. CityBeat previously found that arming teachers is not supported by research.Ohioans, including CityBeat’s most dazzling staff member, apparently enjoy swearing.Before the IRS harassed tea party groups, it harassed gay rights groups.No further explanation necessary: "Police: Man used grenade to rob Hamilton bank."Scientists have created the first cloned human embryo.A new laser scanner can detect someone watching you from a kilometer away.
Local efforts join state battle against sex trafficking, prostitution
2 Comments · Wednesday, May 8, 2013
In our present-day American society, the
term “modern-day slavery” sounds almost like an oxymoron. Slavery, we
think, is a dark stamp in a long American history; at worst, it’s
something we think is isolated to poorly developed countries.