by German Lopez
Long-term plan could swing City Council’s parking vote
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation to City Council today that explained how Cincinnati could work to reduce its structural budget deficits. The presentation was presumably in response to
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan, who said Monday that she wanted to see a
long-term deficit reduction plan before she could approve the city
manager’s proposal to lease parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority.
Even with the parking plan’s one-time infusion of money (“Parking Stimulus,”
issue of Feb. 27), Cincinnati will need to make further changes to
balance budgets for the next three fiscal years. To help tame these
deficits, Dohoney says the city could reduce or eliminate lower-ranked
programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, reduce
subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money from Obamacare,
semi-automate solid waste collection or introduce new or increased fees
for certain programs, among other changes.
But some council members said they were more concerned
about how the city will manage once it loses the parking plan’s one-time injection of funding after the 2016 fiscal year.
“I think this is a bit muddled,” Quinlivan said. “It doesn’t get to the systemic problem we have.”
Quinlivan, who has long argued for “rightsizing”
police and fire departments, says the city should draw down its public
safety spending to “sustainable” levels, but she says she would prefer
attritioning public safety forces over abrupt, short-term cuts. Dohoney
acknowledges attrition would help balance budgets, but he cautions
that even attrition “would have to be married” with a plan that reduces the public’s expectations for public safety services —
particularly if the city decides to not answer every 911 call by
dispatching officers, which is currently required.
Dohoney says City Council needs to be clearer with
its long-term budget policy. “If we’re going to make adjustments, I need
clear policy direction, and I do not feel that I have it,” he says.
“Give me a clear direction on where you want the police department to
be, and I can get it there.”
The city manager says the city will have to approve a tax
hike or cuts to government spending, which poses the possibility of
layoffs, if it’s serious about eliminating structural deficit problems.
For every 1,000 residents, Cincinnati has less cops than
only two comparable cities: Cleveland and St. Louis. The fire department
has higher numbers, with Cincinnati equal to Pittsburgh and above
other comparable cities. The high levels of cops and firefighters per
capita comes despite downsizing in the police and fire departments in the past five years.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says the city may have
drawn down its police force between 2000 and 2012, but the local police
department has also been reorganized in a way that actually puts more
cops out on patrol. Lea Eriksen, the city’s budget director, says street
strength has moved from 832 police officers out of 1,034 officers
available in 2002 to 864 out of 981 in 2012.
Between 2000 and 2012, the fire department was the only
city agency to see an increase in employment, while the city had slight
employment reductions overall. In the same time span, the General Fund increased by more than $30 million, and Cincinnati’s population fell by about 10 percent.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Budgets are supposed to give elected officials at all levels
of government a chance to show off their strengths and agendas, but
recent issues have mostly raised questions about whether these people
are actually capable of leading to begin with.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 6, 2013
City Council’s Budget and Finance
Committee on March 4 approved a plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking
assets to the Port Authority in a 4-3 vote, but part of the plan was
separated from the budget, leaving it open to referendum.
by German Lopez
at 10:14 AM | Permalink
Council to vote on parking, hospitals push Medicaid expansion, MSD upgrades coming
City Council will vote today on the controversial plan
to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati
Development Authority. The plan would give up some control over the city’s
parking meters and garages to generate revenue to fund downtown
development projects and help balance the deficit for the next two
years. Before the City Council vote, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
will hold a presentation on solving Cincinnati’s long-term structural
deficit problems, which Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan said was a
remaining concern even if the parking plan passed. CityBeat previously covered the parking plan here, the city manager’s and John Cranley’s alternatives here, Councilman Chris Seelbach’s alternative here and the Budget and Finance Committee vote on the plan here.
Hospital groups are telling lawmakers that the Medicaid expansion is “necessary”
to preserve facilities that will face big cuts in the next year. Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), hospitals will lose funding from the federal government,
but the cuts were supposed to be made up with the prospect of more
customers. If the state doesn’t expand Medicaid, the hospitals will
still lose funding, and they won’t get many of their potential new customers. As
part of Obamacare, the federal government is carrying the full cost of
the expansion for the first three years. After that, the federal
government’s share is brought down to 95 percent and ultimately phased
down to 90 percent. By some estimates, the Medicaid expansion would save Ohio
money by shifting costs from the state to the federal government and
generate more revenue through increased economic security. Gov. John
Kasich suggested the expansion in his budget proposal, which CityBeat covered here.
Cincinnati and cities all around the nation are facing new federal requirements
to update sewer systems to better handle stormwater runoff, which can
mix with sewage and spill into rivers. Tony Parrott, executive director
of the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), says his agency has developed
software to prioritize upgrade projects and make them more efficient. CityBeat previously covered some of MSD’s efforts here.
A bill sponsored by Ohio Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, would limit the window
for collecting additional signatures for a state ballot initiative to
10 days if the secretary of state deems the initial petition signatures
short of minimum requirements. Seitz says the bill will eliminate a
loophole that allows politically motivated petitioners to extend and
abuse the state’s petitioning process, and Secretary of State Jon Husted
says the bill “is on the right track.” Opponents are calling the bill
“punitive” and saying it will weaken Ohioans’ rights to take up ballot
initiatives and referendums.
Supporters of Internet sweepstakes parlors are saying that a state ban on the establishments would be unconstitutional
and would potentially face litigation. Luther Liggett, an attorney
representing Internet Sweepstakes Association of Ohio, said a Toledo
appeals court ruling found Internet cafe games are not gambling because
the outcome is predetermined. He also said a ban would violate
constitutional protections against retroactively negating contracts,
which internet cafes hold with employees, real estate owners and
Greater Cincinnati Walmart stores are installing rooftop solar panels
as part of the retailer’s nationwide green initiative to completely
power all its stores with renewable energy. The arrays on 12 Ohio
Walmart stores will generate enough electricity to power 820 homes
year-round and eliminate carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the
output of 1,152 cars.
The University of Cincinnati could get $30 million
as a result of the reported settlement with seven schools breaking away
from the Big East to form their own non-football conference.
The average American severely underestimates
how bad wealth inequality is, according to a YouTube video that went
viral over the weekend. If the inequality trend is truly downplayed,
that could have bad repercussions for Ohio: A previous report
from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found
Ohio’s income gap — the income difference between the rich and poor — is
wide and growing, and low-income and middle-income Ohioans have
actually seen their incomes drop since the 1990s.
How did you fare in the aftermath of the winter storm yesterday? Some southwest Ohio areas were reporting widespread power outages.
Indiana lawmakers are considering changes
to their state’s casinos to make them more competitive with
Cincinnati’s newly opened Horseshoe Casino and other Ohio
establishments. The Indiana Senate already passed a bill that would
allow riverboat casinos to move on shore and racinos to replace
electronic game tables with live dealers. The bill is now going to the
Indiana House for approval.
A gay couple was kicked out of a California mall
for holding hands and kissing. Apparently, the security officer who
kicked the couple out paid very close attention to the make-out session;
in a recording, the officer said that he counted the couple kissing 25
A new study suggested Europa, Jupiter’s moon, could have salt water on its surface, which would be good for potential extraterrestrial life.
by German Lopez
Senators push immigrant policy, JobsOhio gets funding, parking plan passes committee
Two Ohio senators, including Senate Minority Leader Eric
Kearney of Cincinnati, are pushing a bill that will require the state’s
Bureau of Motor Vehicles to grant driver’s licenses
to the children of illegal immigrants. The senators claim state BMV
offices are inconsistently applying President Barack Obama’s Deferred
Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows the children of
illegal immigrants to remain in the country without fear of prosecution, but the Ohio Department of Public Safety says the issue is still under
review. CityBeat originally broke the story after hearing of Ever Portillo’s experiences at a Columbus BMV office here, and a follow-up story covered the internal conflict at the BMV over the issue here.
Ohio officials have said the state has only put $1 million toward JobsOhio, but records recently acquired by The Columbus Dispatch show $5.3 million in funding has been directed to the program
so far, and the public investment could be as high as $9 million. State
officials said the funding is necessary because constitutional
challenges, which the Ohio Supreme Court recently agreed to take up,
have held up the program’s original source of funding — state liquor
profits. JobsOhio is a nonprofit company established with the support of
Gov. John Kasich that’s meant to attract investment and bring jobs to
the state. Kasich says he wants to replace the Ohio Department of Development with the nonprofit company in the future.
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee approved a plan
to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati
Development Authority in a 4-3 vote yesterday, but the plan will require
five votes to become law in a final City Council vote tomorrow. The
plan, which CityBeat previously covered,
would lease the city’s parking assets to fund development
projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown grocery store, and
help balance the deficit. The deal would produce a $92 million upfront
payment, and the city projects that additional annual installments would
generate more than $263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Critics are worried the city will give up too much control of its
parking assets as part of the deal, and concerns about the city’s long-term
deficits remain. The alternatives — plans B, C and S — would fix
structural deficit problems, while the budget only helps balance the deficit for the next
two fiscal years.
The company that will operate Cincinnati’s parking meters if the parking deal is approved by City Council had problems in the past,
according to a tip received by multiple news outlets from Tabitha
Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. The issues
surfaced years before Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was bought by
Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing. One of the issues is
a 2007 audit, which found ACS mismanaged parking meters in Washington,
D.C. Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit was based
on “faulty information,” and a lot of the problems found were because
the auditor improperly read parking meter screen displays.
An approved commitment by the Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District (HCTID) may ensure a rail service is ready for Cincinnati
in time for the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Hamilton
County Commissioner Todd Portune is pushing for local and state
governments to break down any barriers for Oasis Rail Transit, which
will carry passengers from Downtown to Milford.
The Ohio Board of Education will decide
between two candidates for state superintendent next week: acting
Superintendent of Public Instruction Michael Sawyers or Dick Ross, Gov.
John Kasich’s top education adviser.
After years of development and anticipation, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino opened yesterday. The casino comes with the promise of jobs and economic development, but it also poses the risk of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide.
State and local legislators are also looking forward to extra
government revenue from the casino, even though casino revenue around
the state has fallen short of projections.
For Over-the-Rhine residents, the grand opening, which culminated in a
fireworks display, was sort of like being in the middle of a
Livability.com named Cincinnati the No. 10 spring break destination
because of the Cincinnati Zoo, Botanical Garden, IKEA, Cincinnati Art
Museum, the 21c Museum Hotel, Newport Aquarium and the Clifton Cultural
Arts Center, among other places and family-friendly activities.
Science doesn’t want pregnant women to be capable of anything.
Here are two pictures of Venus from Saturn’s view.
by German Lopez
Plan will fund development projects, help balance deficit for two fiscal years
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee today approved a
plan to lease Cincinnati’s parking assets to the Port of Greater
Cincinnati Development Authority in a 4-3 vote, but the plan will require five votes to become law in a final City Council vote on March 6.
Council members Roxanne Qualls, Yvette Simpson, Cecil
Thomas and Wendell Young voted for the plan, and council members Chris
Seelbach, Chris Smitherman and Charlie Winburn voted against it.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld was absent, and Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan
abstained, although she said she could vote yes if she sees more details about how the city will curb its long-term budget problems.
The plan, which CityBeat previously covered (“Parking Stimulus,”
issue of Feb. 27), would lease the city’s parking assets to
fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown
grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal years.
The deal would produce a $92 million upfront payment, and the city
projects that additional annual installments would generate more than
$263 million throughout the lease’s duration.
Before the vote, several City Council members said the
parking plan would not solve Cincinnati’s structural deficit problems, but
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the plan would help reduce the deficit by
generating recurring revenues through long-term economic growth and
“The situation that we’re in requires that we accelerate
growth right now, not later,” he said. “If we do not do that, then we’re going to
have further negative ramifications to deal with.”
Still, Dohoney admitted the plan would not solve all the
city’s budget woes — just like he has repeatedly said in the past. Even
with the parking plan, the city projects a $10 million deficit in 2014,
$15.5 million deficit in 2015 and $20 million deficit in 2016.
The council members insisted there are alternatives to the
parking plan and Dohoney’s Plan B, which would lay off 344 employees,
eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers,
among other changes.
On March 1, Seelbach proposed Plan S, which would not
lease the city’s parking assets to balance the budget and would instead
use $7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results
of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose
between a $10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax.
On the same day as the hearings, Winburn, the sole
Republican on City Council, proposed Plan C, which would reduce city
employees’ salaries across the board — with exemptions for police, ﬁre,
health, garbage, recreation, parks and road paving — and use casino and
parking revenue to clear the deficit.
At the City Council hearings, Quinlivan listed a few other
possibilities, including sharing public safety services with other
local communities. She also advised the city to put together a long-term deficit reduction plan. “We don’t want to kick the can down the road any more,” she said.
Thomas suggested putting an earnings tax hike of 0.1
percent or 0.2 percent on the ballot. He said, “It would solve this
(deficit) problem once and for all.”
Some council members also raised concerns about the
release of bond documents, which will further detail the framework of
the parking agreement. Dohoney and Laura Brunner, president of the Port
Authority, said the bond documents have not been crafted because a
lease agreement has to be approved by City Council first, but the
documents will be made public once they are put together.
Before the final committee vote, Smitherman successfully
motioned to separate part of the parking plan from the budget, which opens the plan to referendum. The motion was in response to City Solicitor
John Curp, who said appropriation ordinances, or ordinances that are essentially budgets, aren’t subject to
referendum, according to state law.
by German Lopez
Before Xerox buyout, audit found ACS improperly managed parking meters
The company that would operate Cincinnati’s parking meters
if the city passes its controversial parking plan this week was mired with audited problems and
complaints in the past. The issues surfaced years before Affiliated
Computer Services (ACS) was bought by Xerox in 2010, and Xerox now denies any wrongdoing.
A 2007 audit found ACS had failed to take care and keep track of parking meters it operated in Washington, D.C.
The audit claimed 35 percent of parking meters listed in ACS’s inventory
were missing, about 16 percent of the remaining meters were completely
inoperative and 65 percent had problems that ranged from defacing to
improper height and stability. ACS also failed to fix meters within the
72-hour period mandated by its contract, according to the audit.
For some residents, the broken meters led to unfair
tickets, with 6,888 tickets, or nearly 1 percent of parking meter
tickets, being improperly issued at unfixed meters, according to the audit. The audit also found a 903-percent increase in overall parking meter complaints under the privatization contract with ACS.
The audit also questioned the financial gains for Washington, D.C., which had to pay $8.8 million, or 33.4
percent, more under privatization than projected trends under public
The bad audit wasn’t enough for Washington,
D.C., to cut its contract with ACS, which still manages the city’s
parking meters today.
The audit was among a few other problems tipped to multiple media outlets by Tabitha
Woodruff, an advocate at Ohio Public Interest Research Group. In 2007, ACS was accused of bribing police officers in Edmonton, Canada, but a judge ruled in favor of ACS, stating there wasn’t sufficient evidence. In 2010, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) charged
ACS with backdating and falsely disclosing stock options between 1996
and 2005, and ACS consented to a permanent injunction without admitting or
denying the charges.
All the discovered problems occurred before 2010, when Xerox bought ACS.Kevin Lightfoot, a spokesperson at Xerox, says the audit’s findings were based on “faulty information.” He says Xerox and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation found ACS had saved Washington, D.C., money. He also claims the auditor had misunderstood the parking meters’ screen displays, which he says led to the improper identification of inoperative or malfunctioning meters.CityBeat previously covered the parking proposal,
which would lease the city’s parking assets to fund deficit reduction
and economic development, in detail.
Mayor Mark Mallory and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls have endorsed the
plan, and it’s currently expected to have the five votes necessary to
pass a possible City Council vote today.
On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach revealed Plan S,
an alternative proposal that would not lease the city’s parking assets and would instead use
$7.5 million in casino revenue, cut $5 million based on the results of
the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow voters to choose between a
$10-per-month trash fee or a 2-percent increase in the city's admissions tax. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. also put forward
his “Plan B,” which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human
Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other
changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and
Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget,
while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years.
by German Lopez
Council may vote on parking today, GOP criticizes Kasich's budget, casino's grand opening
City Council may vote today on the controversial plan to lease the city’s parking assets to fund economic development and temporarily balance the deficit. On Friday, Councilman Chris Seelbach put forward Plan S,
which would redirect $7.5 million in casino revenues, cut $5 million
based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and allow
voters to choose between a $10-per-month trash fee or increase the
city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Previously, City Manager Milton
Dohoney unveiled Plan B
to the parking plan, which would lay off 344 employees, eliminate Human Services Funding and close pools and recreation centers, among other changes. In response, mayoral candidate John Cranley proposed his own
plan, which would use casino revenue, parking meter revenue and cuts to
“non-essential programs” to tame the deficit. Plan B, Plan S and Cranley’s plan all fix the structural deficit in the city’s budget, while the parking plan only fixes the deficit for two years. The parking plan was
unanimously approved by the Cincinnati Planning Commission Friday, and it appears five council members are ready to give the plan the go-ahead.
Members of Gov. John Kasich’s own party are beginning to show skepticism
toward the governor’s budget proposal, which would expand the sales tax
to apply to more services, increase the oil and gas severance tax and
make more Ohioans eligible for Medicaid — mostly at the cost of the
federal government. Republicans are likely to propose alternatives
before a mid-April vote. In a Quinnipiac University poll, a majority of
Ohioans approved of the Medicaid expansion but not Kasich’s tax plan. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget plan in detail here.
Police are taking measures to prevent traffic problems at the Horseshoe Casino’s grand opening tonight. Meanwhile, Indiana casinos are preparing for downturns as the Horseshoe Casino promises a major alternative to tri-state
gamblers. During the soft opening last week, Ohio’s casino regulator found
the Horseshoe Casino would have to fix its security and surveillance before the grand opening. Previous studies found casinos bring job growth at the cost of crime, bankruptcy and even suicide, and a Dayton Daily News report also found the state’s casinos are falling short of job projections.
On Friday, the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts, kicked in, and it could mean big funding reductions for Ohio’s schools. The blunt cuts are largely because Republicans refuse to negotiate with President Barack Obama and Democrats — to the point that Republicans don’t even know what the president is proposing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio is asking the state’s Department of Education to expand its seclusion room rules to apply to charter schools.
Previous reports found seclusion rooms, which were originally intended
to hold out-of-control kids until they calm down, have been largely used
for convenience by educators, leading to stricter policies from the
Ohio Department of Education. But the regulations currently apply only
to traditional public schools, not charter schools.
Reminder: On top of putting everyone around you in danger, texting while driving will now result in a fine up to $150.
The Cincinnati Zoo has confirmed it has terrible taste in names with its choice for the new four-week-old gorilla: Gladys Stones. Still, the zoo does have that whole environmentally friendly thing going on. Maybe the pros outweigh the cons.
U.S. researchers are claiming they have “functionally cured” an HIV-infected infant
after extensive treatments left the virus’s presence in blood at such
low levels that it can no longer be detected by standard clinical tests.
Scientists are ostracizing what Popular Science calls the “world’s sexiest octopus.”
If you can watch BigDog, the four-legged robot, toss cinder blocks with ease and not fear the robot apocalypse, you’re not prepared.
by Hannah McCartney
Third proposal would include ballot amendments, $5 million in spending cuts
City Councilmember Chris Seelbach this afternoon released a third alternative to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.'s budget plans, both of which have received negative feedback from the public. Like Dohoney's "Plan B" (read about that here), Plan S would not lease the city's parking system to a private operator, a solution that citizens and officials are concerned would cause parking rates to skyrocket and ultimately not serve as a sustainable solution to the city's budget problems. Instead, Plan S would involve redirecting $7.5 million in casino revenue to help balance the city's $25 million deficit, $5 million in spending cuts based on the results of the city's priority-driven budgeting and two charter amendments on the ballot that, if approved, would include up to a $10-per-month trash fee and increase the city's admissions tax by 2 percent. Plan S is Seelbach's alternative to Dohoney's Plan B, which also does not privatize parking. Under Plan B, the city would be forced to lay off 344 public employees, including 80 firefighters and 189 police positions, and close three community centers and six pools.Instead, the $5 million in spending cuts would include reductions to city administrative services, council and the mayor’s office, some recreation and health
programs and consolidation of some police and fire services. It would also freeze 20 vacant city positions and reduce car allowances for city employees. Seelbach says he determined who would suffer these cuts by exploring city services citizens valued least during last fall's Priority-Driven Budget Initiative.
If council were to approve pursuing Seelbach's Plan S, there's a possibility it could send the city back to the drawing board, should voters choose not to approve the proposed charter amendments. "To me it seems like the public is overwhelmingly against parking, but we still have to balance our budget. ... I'm providing the public an alternative. If [the charter amendments are] something the voters would reject, I respect that and then we’d have to go back to the table and either do the leasing of parking or layoff 300 police and fire officers," Seelbach says. The parking plan is expected to be voted on during the Budget and Finance Committee's meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday, March 4.