A vote on the 2013 Hamilton County budget is being delayed a week at the request of the sole Democrat on the Board of County Commissioners.
Commissioner Todd Portune asked Board President Greg Hartmann at a Monday staff meeting to push back the vote a week to address funding to juvenile courts and the county’s plan for future financial stability.
Hartmann, who earlier denied Portune’s request to issue securities to raise millions to balance the budget, agreed. He said it was important that all three commissioners agree on the budget.
Portune told reporters he wanted to see more funding for juvenile courts. The proposed budget would cut about $3 million from the juvenile court’s 2012 appropriation.
He said he also wants to see specific plans on how and where the county will invest in economic development. He and Hartmann disagree about whether that kind of planning belongs in a budget.
Hartmann had the proposal developed after commissioners rejected three plans from County Administrator Christian Sigman, two of which would have raised taxes. The $192 million budget under consideration cuts about $14 million from the 2012 appropriation levels without raising taxes.
The proposed budget makes a number of what Hartman calls “modest cuts” in almost every county department.
All three commissioners have stated that public safety funding is a priority. The Sheriff’s Department would see a small reduction of $27,033, bringing its budget to almost $57.5 million.
However, the department would also face an additional $4.3 million in expenses next year, giving incoming Sheriff Jim Neil an effectively reduced budget.
The Emergency Management Agency would get a nearly 40 percent increase in the proposed budget, up to $400,000.
The Board of Elections would see its budget slashed 36.2 percent to $6.9 million. However, its expenses would also be lower in 2013 because there is no presidential election as there was in 2012.
The proposed budget would bring the Department of Job and Family Services’ appropriation to $832,900 — a reduction of $10,360. However, that funding level is dictated by the State of Ohio and not the county.
The Hamilton County Prosecutor would also see a small increase of $37,597 intended to hold level its funding from 2012, as the department went over-budget. The prosecutor has the ability to sue the county over its budget appropriation, so the department typically maintains level funding.
City Council’s Livable Communities committee is expected to hear about and likely vote tonight on the city’s first master plan in more than 30 years. The plan, which CityBeat previously covered, seeks a renewed emphasis on Cincinnati’s urban core through new infrastructure and transportation options. It was put together largely based on public feedback.
The “fiscal cliff,” which is really more of a self-induced austerity crisis from the federal government, could seriously hurt Ohio schools. Educators around the state, including Cincinnati schools, are expecting a cut of about 8 percent in federal funding. A Cincinnati Public Schools levy was recently renewed after a decade of cuts and problems at the school district.
Gov. John Kasich has finally made a decision for Obamacare: The state will not run the health exchanges that are a big part of the plan. With the governor’s decision, managing the health exchanges now falls to the federal government. Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesperson, defended the governor’s decision by pointing out that even if the state managed the exchanges, the federal government would always have the final say, creating an arrangement “just doesn’t make sense for the state.” Exchanges are subsidized, heavily regulated insurance markets that will go into effect in 2014 as part of Obamacare. They are supposed to bring down costs by offering more transparent, open competition through a fair, regulated marketplace.
Cincinnati’s economy is being carried largely by manufacturing, and that looks likely to continue.
Business schools at the University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Xavier University and Northern Kentucky University were found to be among the nation’s best, according to the Princeton Review. Still, none of the schools made the top 10 rankings for the review’s 11 categories.
City Council is holding a public hearing today to find out what the city should do with casino revenue. Some of the council members already have plans, but City Council wants public feedback to shape the final decision.
In other council news, the Human Services Advisory committee recommended funding for 56 out of 58 programs. The two programs left out are the Over-The-Rhine Kitchen and a social education program offered by the Starfire Council of Greater Cincinnati.
Cincinnati’s Metro bus service will be getting a revamp in the next few years. The company released a comprehensive plan with short-term and long-term goals that focus on increasing travel speed and reach.
Charter schools are where a large amount of Ohio kids are getting their education. This is despite the fact that, in general, traditional public schools perform better than charter schools, according to state standards.
Food stamps for Ohio families are getting reduced by about $25 a month. The good news is the cut is lower than expected.
The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction released a “re-inspection report” for the Lake Erie prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America. According to the new report, CCA has come a long way and corrected many of the violations the state originally found in the private prison. The last report found the prison, which CCA bought in 2011, was riddled with problems. CityBeat looked at private prisons, their problems and the shady connections between state officials and CCA in an in-depth report.
A report found more Ohioans are taking advantage of a national settlement that lets households refinance their mortgages. In total, more than 4,500 Ohioans have refinanced for $165 million in consumer relief. Still, many eligible Ohioans are not taking advantage of the opportunity.
Here are pictures of a tiny octopus, fighting female robots and an orange-powered battery.
City Council took a contentious vote on Thursday to give the city manager a pay raise and a bonus.
Those in favor of the 10 percent raise and $35,000 bonus for Milton Dohoney say he is underpaid, has done a great job for the city and has gone five years without a merit raise. Those opposed say it’s bad timing and sends the wrong message when many city workers have also gone years without a pay increase.
Dohoney was hired in August 2006. He hasn’t received a merit raise since 2007, but has collected bonuses and cost of living adjustments over the years. He currently makes about $232,000 and the raise would bump that up to $255,000. Dohoney made $185,000 when he started the job.
Council approved the raise on a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voting against it.
Before the vote, Mayor Mark Mallory lauded the manager, saying he set high expectations and didn’t expect Dohoney to meet them, but the manager exceeded all of them.
“To do anything other than that (approve the raise) is a backhanded slap in the face and actually a statement that we want the manager gone,” Mallory said. “We are going to give him a raise. And from where I sit we’re not giving him a big enough raise.”
The raise came from a performance review conducted by Democratic council members Yvette Simpson, Cecil Thomas and sole council Republican Charlie Winburn.
Winburn said the city manager’s financial management system is impeccable, Dohoney has pushed economic development, he has expanded the tax base and made sacrifices by not receiving a raise for the previous five years.
Other members of council pointed out that Dohoney isn’t the only city employee who has gone a while without a raise.
“For me, look, 4 years ago I turned down a job at Google where I’d be making a hell of a lot more money,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told 700WLW radio host Scott Sloan. “This is public service. This is already the city’s highest-paid employee.”
Sittenfeld missed the council meeting Thursday afternoon because he was out of town on a personal matter, according to an aide.
Sittenfeld and others have raised questions over whether it is wise to give Dohoney a raise and bonus when the city faces an estimated $34 million budget deficit. Councilman Wendell Young said the raise would not hurt the budget.
Opponents also argued that it would look bad to give the manager a raise when other city employees are dealing with wage freezes. Police, for instance, agreed during contact negotiations this year to a two-year wage freeze. Though they received a raise in 2009.
Smitherman said city employee unions may keep that in mind during upcoming negotiations.
"Unions are going to remember this council extended a $35,000 bonus to the city manager.”
It’s official: Cincinnati’s budget proposal will arrive Nov. 26. The budget will seek to close a deficit estimated to be between $34 million and $40 million. Part of the budget plan was revealed when the city manager’s office suggested privatizing parking.
Despite the deficit the city is facing, City Council pushed forward a $21,000 raise and a one-time $35,000 bonus for City Manager Milton Dohoney in a 6-3 vote. It’s the first raise Dohoney is getting since 2007, but some are unhappy with the decision in light of the deficit, which could lead to job cuts. “The city manager is a good man, he is a hard worker, but to me this just feels out of touch with the economic reality that we are in right now,” Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld told Fox 19. “You don't give the highest paid employee in the city a raise, a significant raise, when you're facing a potentially huge budget deficit. Plus, you know, there's a very real possibility of layoffs.”
Ohio Republicans are pushing forward with HB 298, a bill that cuts funds to Planned Parenthood. The organization has become a popular target for Republicans because it provides abortions, but abortion services only make up 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood offers. The move is just one of many recent moves in the Republican agenda against abortion rights. They recently advocated renewing the heartbeat bill, and Gov. John Kasich recently appointed two anti-abortion advocates to government positions.
The Ohio House overwhelmingly approved a bill that will put large-scale puppy mills under more scrutiny with new state standards and yearly inspections. Animal rights activists have argued Ohio has become a haven for bad breeding practices due to lax laws and regulations. CityBeat previously covered the puppy mills issue and how it enables Ohio’s dog auctions.
But that’s not all the Ohio legislature got done. The Ohio House passed a bill that further regulates “pill mills” — doctors, pharmacies or clinics that distribute narcotics inappropriately or for non-medical reasons — and a bill that cracks down on “cyber stalking.” The Ohio Senate passed a bill that essentially lowers taxes for companies that increase payroll by 10 percent.
A new study highlighted the success of some Ohio schools, including Robert A. Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati. The research found the schools succeeded despite high poverty and tight budgets. The study indicated some key attributes of success: principals play pivotal roles, teachers and administrators are obviously engaged and invested, school leaders provide major incentives to teachers, data is used to measure progress and teachers and administrators do not see a lack of parent or community engagement as an insurmountable barrier to success. The report also made some recommendations: establish clear transitional protocols in case a principal leaves, engage teachers, hire teachers that are on-board with the school’s goals, leverage great reputations and celebrate success.
Hamilton County could issue securities to raise revenue. County commissioners are currently working on ways to close a $20 million deficit. The securities idea comes from Todd Portune, the lone Democrat on the Board of Commissioners.
The investigation into U Square worker payments is ongoing. A City Council committee wants to see if the workers are being paid what they are supposed to be paid. Under Ohio law, workers on city-funded projects must get a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project. But City Solicitor John Curp argues developers do not have to pay prevailing wages for parts of the project that aren’t getting public funding. City Manager Dohoney also argued that overzealous requirements could drive businesses out of Cincinnati.
Despite the pleas of more than 500,000, it does not look like Cincinnati-based Macy’s will dump Donald Trump. The billionaire has gained recognition as a big-name Republican and “birther” — someone who ignores all facts to call into question President Barack Obama’s country of origin. Brian Williams, news anchor at NBC News, described Trump aptly during election night: “Donald Trump, who has driven well past the last exit to relevance and peered into something closer to irresponsible here, is tweeting tonight.”
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is leading a new efforts to stop the use of synthetic drugs, including bath salts.
To fill a vacancy, a new interim chair has been named at the Ohio Board of Regents: Regent Vinny Gupta. He will be replacing James Tuschman, who successfully pushed a ban on smoking in Ohio’s college campuses. Gupta’s term will run through March 2013.
Meet the loneliest planet of them all. It’s an orphan that drifted away from its parent star.
One week after the major Democratic victories of Election Day, Ohio’s Republican legislators are pushing HB 298, a bill that will keep federal funds from Planned Parenthood. In a Health and Aging Committee hearing at today, Ohio Republicans voted to push the bill through committee and into the Ohio House of Representatives floor.
If the bill passes the Republican-controlled General Assembly and is signed by Gov. John Kasich, it will block $2 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood and prioritize other family services. In the past few years, Planned Parenthood has become a popular target for Republicans because the organization provides abortion services. But that’s not all Planned Parenthood offers; a chart released by the organization in February demonstrated abortions only make up 3 percent of its services.
Another criticism leveled by Planned Parenthood supporters is the federal funding is legally barred from being used for abortions. Instead, the funding would go to other health services within Planned Parenthood, which provides general women’s health services to poor and rural women.
Some Democratic lawmakers say the bill shows an out-of-touch Republican Party.“For the life of me, I cannot understand why Republicans are so intent on taking away from women the right to make their own choices about their bodies,” said Ohio Sen. Nina Turner in a statement. “Voters soundly rejected the foolishness of the radical right on Election Day in favor of the dignity of American women, but some lawmakers must not have heard.”
She added, “While Republicans rail against women making their own choices, they are cutting funding for education and critical social services that children need after they are born. They want small government, all right — small enough to fit into a woman’s womb.”
The strong words showcase what was a loud, feisty exchange
between Planned Parenthood supporters and Republican lawmakers. At the
committee hearings, supporters and opponents of HB 298 testified. Some
opponents cited their personal experience, including an emotional account from one
woman regarding her own rape at age 13. She said she was glad young women like her can turn to
Planned Parenthood for help.
Ohio Rep. John Carney, a Columbus Democrat, pointed out that throughout the hearings, no health care provider testified in favor of HB 298. One doctor testified against the bill. Carney also pointed out that no tax dollars that go to Planned Parenthood pay for abortions.
The bill isn’t the only action Republicans have recently taken against women’s health rights. Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus told The Cincinnati Enquirer about the possibility of a renewed heartbeat bill on Nov. 8. In October, Kasich appointed two anti-abortion advocates to government positions. In this week’s news commentary (“Ohio Republicans Continue Anti-Abortion Agenda,” issue of Nov. 14), CityBeat covered the ensuing Republican campaign against abortion rights.
A City Council committee wants Cincinnati’s leadership to investigate whether workers in a Clifton Heights development project are being paid what they’re supposed to.
The Strategic Growth Committee on Wednesday passed a motion asking the city administration to report back on wage payments to workers on the U Square development. The project includes a parking garage as well as residential and commercial units.
Under Ohio law, workers on projects funded by cities must be paid a prevailing wage, which is equivalent to the wage earned by a union worker on a similar project.
The city only has money invested in the garage, and the state of Ohio recently ruled that workers on other parts don’t have to be paid prevailing wage.
Council members Wendell Young, Cecil Thomas and Laure Quinlivan produced a video in which they interviewed carpenters who said they were being paid less than the prevailing wage.
At issue is a letter from developer Towne Properties that says the company will pay all workers prevailing wage anyway. Arn Bortz with Towne Properties said his company cuts a check to subcontractors respecting that agreement, so if workers aren’t being paid the proper amount it’s their fault.
City Solicitor John Curp told members of the Strategic Growth Committee that under city and state law, the subcontractors are not required to pay workers a prevailing wage on parts of the project that are not getting public funding. He said the letter from the developer does not hold the weight as a legal contract.
Young, Thomas, Quinlivan and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld all expressed the need to overhaul the way the city enters into development contracts to better protect workers.
However, City Manager Milton Dohoney hinted that overzealous requirements for high wages could chase off some development projects.
He said that a project like U Square is tied to the Clifton location because of its proximity to the University of Cincinnati, but the city can’t be too restrictive when it comes to businesses that could expand elsewhere.
Dohoney said the city also doesn’t currently have the manpower to do the kind of aggressive enforcement that the council members were asking for.
Councilman Young countered that he would like to see the city be as aggressive with enforcement as they are with making economic development deals.
“We want to change the rules of the game to make sure everyone is treated equal,” Young said.
Abortion-rights supporters pushed against a bill that will kill some funds for Planned Parenthood in Ohio yesterday. The bill would shift $2 million in federal funds, which legally can’t be used for abortions, from Planned Parenthood to other family services. An Ohio House committee will hold hearings and possibly vote on the bill later today. Planned Parenthood has been a target for anti-abortion activists all around the nation in recent years, even though abortions only make up 3 percent of its services.
The election is over for us, but it’s not quite over for Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted. A court ruled yesterday that Husted was in the wrong when he directed a last-minute change to Ohio's provisional ballot rules. U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley wrote that the rules, which shifted the burden of identification for provisional ballots from poll workers to voters, were “a flagrant violation of a state elections law.” Husted will appeal the ruling. For many voter activists, the ruling comes as no surprise. Husted and Republicans have been heavily criticized for how they handled the lead-up to the election.
The Ohio House will vote on legislation to regulate puppy mills. Ohio is currently known as one of the worst states for puppy mills and regulations surrounding them. The Humane Society of the United States supports extra limits on Ohio’s puppy mills. CityBeat previously covered the issue and how it enables Ohio dog auctions.
John Cranley is running for mayor. Cranley, who served on City Council between 2001 and 2007, promises to bring “bring fresh energy and new ideas to the mayor's office.” One of those ideas could be opposition to the streetcar, which Cranley has been against in the past. Former mayor Charlie Luken will be the honorary chairman of Cranley’s campaign, which will officially launch at an event in January.
The Ohio Department of Development and Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority will meet on Dec. 14 to discuss how to finance the Brent Spence Bridge. The Port Authority suggested tolls
to help pay for the bridge project, which has been labeled the region’s
top transportation priority; but critics say an unelected agency should
not directly impose costs on the public without some recourse.
The city of Cincinnati might buy Tower Place Mall and its neighboring garage. An emergency ordinance was submitted to buy the mall and garage, which are currently in foreclosure, for $8.6 million using the surplus from the Parking Facilities Fund 102.
The third RootScore report for Cincinnati’s cell phone market found Verizon to be far and away the best. AT&T, T-Mobile and Cricket followed. Sprint did the worst.
Ohio will let the federal government run the state’s health care exchange. Under the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — states must decide by Friday to self-manage or let the federal government manage exchanges, which are subsidized markets that pits different insurance plans in direct competition within a state. The move comes as no surprise from Gov. John Kasich and his administration, which have opposed Obamacare since it passed in 2010. But support for repealing Obamacare is plummeting, a new poll found.
A state legislator introduced a long-expected plan to reform Ohio’s school report card system. The bill will shift school grading from the current system, which grades schools with labels ranging from “excellent with distinction” to “academic emergency,” to a stricter A-to-F system. A simulation of the new system back in May showed Cincinnati Public School dropping in grades and 23 of its schools flunking.
After a strange bout of Ohio Supreme Court races that continued a trend of candidates with Irish-sounding names winning, some policymakers are considering reforming campaigning rules for the Ohio Supreme Court. The proposed reforms would allow candidates to speak more freely and show political party affiliation on the ballot.
A true American hero: A Hamilton man took personal injuries from a car accident to avoid hitting a cat.
Ever wish political pundits were held accountable for their completely inane, incorrect predictions? A new Tumblr account does just that.
Canadian doctors claim they managed to communicate with a man in a vegetative state to see if he’s in pain. Thankfully, he’s not.
The Republican head of Hamilton County’s governing board outlined his own alternative for a 2013 budget on Monday, proposing an austere path forward after rejecting other budgets that would raise some taxes.
Board of County Commissioners President Greg Hartmann said his proposed budget would reduce the size of county government by 30 percent, compared to five years ago. He said he wants the board to approve a budget before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It is a budget of austerity and investment in growth,” Hartmann said.
He added, “It is a structurally-balanced budget,” that doesn’t use one-time sources of cash to make up for shortfalls.
Hartmann’s proposed budget would cut the Sheriff’s Department by about $57,000 or 0.01 percent from 2012 levels; reduce the coroner’s appropriation by 3 percent or $99,000; cut economic development by 5 percent; cut 5 percent from adult criminal courts; and reduce subsidies to the Communications Center and Sheriff’s Department.
Hartmann stressed that it is important to fund public safety as fully as allowable in these tough economic times, as economic development is not possible without it.
Hartmann’s budget comes after commissioners rejected three proposals from County Administrator Christian Sigman.
Sigman proposed $18.7 million in cuts, which Hartmann’s budget maintained in addition to his own reductions.
Two of Sigman’s proposals involved increasing the sales tax to balance the budget.
Fellow Republican Commissioner Chris Monzel said he supports Hartmann’s efforts at austerity, but is working on his own budget proposal as well.
“An austerity budget is the way we’re going to go, and it’s going to be hard,” he said.
The board’s sole Democrat, Todd Portune, said he too is working on his own proposal that he had hoped to have prepared for the Nov. 5 meeting, but was still making tweaks and hoped to present it by the following week.
He hinted that the results of Election Day might impact how he crafts his budget proposal.
“Tomorrow’s results may have an impact as well on the budget that I present as it relates as well to those who are running for county seats,” Portune said. “We have in some cases two very different visions in terms of solutions.”
Both he and Hartmann are up for re-election. Portune is running against Libertarian Bob Frey. Neither candidate has a major party challenger.
Hartmann, who has actively campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had a joke in response to Portune’s waiting for the election results.
“I thought you were predicting Romney’s win would make the economy go on the right track,” Hartmann cracked. “I was thinking that’s what you were going to go with.”
Just two days before the general election, President Barack Obama made his case to 13,500 people packed into the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena and 2,000 in an overflow room.
Obama cast the race in comparisons to the previous two presidents, comparing his policies with those of Bill Clinton and equating Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s plans with those of George W. Bush.
“So stay with me then,” Obama said. “We’ve got ideas that work, and we’ve got ideas that don’t work, so the choice should be pretty clear.”
With less than 48 hours before polls open on Election Day, a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll had Obama and his Republican challenger locked in a statistical dead heat. However the same poll showed Obama with a slight edge in Ohio, up 48 percent to Romney’s 44 percent.
Obama touted his first-term accomplishments, including ending the war in Iraq; ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy preventing homosexuals from serving openly in the military; and overhauling the country’s health care system.
“It’s not just about policy, it’s about trust. Who do you trust?” the president asked, flanked by a sea of supporters waving blue “Forward” signs.
“Look, Ohio, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I’ve made, Michelle doesn’t always agree with me. You may be frustrated with the pace of change … but I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
Nonpartisan political fact-checker PolitiFact on Nov. 3 took a look at Obama’s record on keeping his campaign promises from 2008. The group rated 38 percent as Kept, 16 percent Compromised and 17 percent Broken.
Twice during his speech the president was interrupted by audience members shouting from the stands.
The first was a man on the balcony level of the arena interrupted, shouting anti-abortion slogans and waving a sign showing mutilated fetuses before being dragged out by about five law enforcement officers. Both were drowned out by supporters.
Music legend Stevie Wonder opened the rally for Obama, playing a number of his hits, opening up “Superstition” with a refrain of “on the right track, can’t go back.”
Wonder discussed abortion policy between songs and urged Ohioans who had not already voted to do so either early on Monday or Election Day.
So far, 28 percent of Ohio voters have already cast their ballots. CNN reports that those votes favor Obama 63/35, according to public polling.
Meanwhile on Sunday, Romney campaigned before an estimated crowd of 25,000 in Pennsylvania, according to the Secret Service.
Political rallies always draw a number of the loyal opposition, and this late-evening appearance was no different. Only five people protested near the line to the arena, but what they lacked in number they attempted to make up for in message.
One large sign read “Obama: 666” and another “Obama is the Beast,” alluding to a character in the Christian Biblical book of Revelation.
A man who only identified himself as Brooks carried a large anti-abortion sign that showed pieces of a dismembered fetus.
“I’m here to stand up for the innocent blood that has been shed in this land to the tune of 56 million,” Brooks said. He said he was opposed to the politics of both major party presidential candidates.
“I pray for Barack Obama because his beliefs are of the Antichrist, just like Romney,” Brooks said.
Brooks said his message for those in line was for them to vote for Jesus — not on the ballot, but through their actions and through candidates that espoused Christian beliefs.
“Obama is not going to change things, Romney is not going to change things,” Brooks said. “In the last days there are many Christs, but not the Christ of the Bible. The Christ of the Bible is not for killing children, is not for homosexual marriage.”