Local leaders pledge to support efforts to put more low- and middle-income kids in preschools
1 Comment · Thursday, May 2, 2013
Elected officials and business leaders
often claim preschool is one of the most impactful investments that can
be made in a child’s life. Now, local officials and leaders are
preparing to back that claim with the Cincinnati Preschool Promise.
by German Lopez
20 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:18 PM | Permalink
Council meeting covers streetcar's costs, benefits
Convening in packed City
Council chambers today, Cincinnati officials discussed the costs and benefits of the streetcar project in light of a $17.4 million budget gap revealed by the city administration on April 16. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the project could and should be saved, but
a minority of public speakers and some City Council members did not seem
convinced.To balance the budget
gap, Dohoney said the city would have to pull funds
from multiple sources. He said he will offer specifics in writing
tomorrow, which invoked verbal disappointment from officials who were expecting details at the meeting.“I'm disappointed in
this presentation,” said Councilman Chris Smitherman.
“We're here today to hear how we're going to pay for it.”The meeting, which was
called by Democratic Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls shortly
after the budget shortfall was announced, covered a presentation from Dohoney, comments from public speakers and City Council
questions to Dohoney. Despite expectations prior to the meeting, no specifics were given for closing the budget gap even after extensive questioning.Dohoney did reveal the price tag for halting the streetcar project: $72 million. According to Dohoney, the project has
already cost the city $19.7 million, and the city would have to spend another $14.2
million in close-out costs. Another $38.1 million in federal grants would have
to be returned to the federal government.Dohoney added that terminating the project would also
reduce faith in Cincinnati’s competitiveness and ability to take on big development
projects.The budget gap was
originally $22.7 million, but the city administration identified $5.3
million in potential cuts. Dohoney said further cuts would “alter the
scope” of the
project and push it into a “danger zone.”The budget gap is a
result of construction bids coming in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
The lowest bid from Messer Construction, which came in $26 million over budget,
has already expired, but Dohoney said the company is
still willing to work on the streetcar project.The city could rework
the request for proposal for construction bids, but Dohoney
said city officials and third-party experts agreed it’s unlikely that would
effectively lower costs.Throughout the meeting,
streetcar opponents argued that the cost of the project is too high and the
budget shortfall is proof the program is unsustainable.Most of Dohoney’s presentation focused on the streetcar’s purpose. He said the streetcar would help drive
economic and population growth, which would then bring in more tax revenue to
help balance the city’s operating budget. That would represent a turnaround for Cincinnati, which has been steadily losing population since the 1950s during a period that has
coincided with disinvestment, urban flight and the dissolution of
the city’s old streetcar system.Throughout his presentation, Dohoney cited multiple examples and studies that found
streetcars can help grow local economies. He
said the city has not pursued the streetcar because “it’s a cool thing to do,”
but because it follows the expert advice given to city officials about what’s
necessary to compete with other cities.Dohoney’s argument was previously supported by HDR, which
the city hired to do an economic impact study in 2007. HDR found major benefits
to connecting Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District, including
travel cost savings, increased mobility for low-income individuals and economic
development that would spur rising property values. The HDR study was entirely
supported and echoed by a follow-up assessment from the University of
Cincinnati.Some critics have argued that the study is outdated because it was conducted before Over-the-Rhine’s recent revitalization, but Dohoney said there are still several hundred vacant
buildings in the area, particularly north of Liberty Street.The project has faced
continued opposition from Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley,
Republicans and the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and
Taxes (COAST). They say the project is too expensive and they’re skeptical of the
economic growth being promised by city officials.Opponents of the
streetcar have so far put the project on the ballot twice, but Cincinnati voters rejected the referendum efforts. Still, the streetcar may be on the ballot
again this year through the 2013 mayoral race between Democrats Cranley and Qualls (“Back
on the Ballot,”
issue of Jan. 23). Cranley opposes the streetcar, while Qualls supports it.The streetcar project
was originally supposed to receive $52 million in federal funds through the state
government, but Republican Gov. John Kasich pulled the funds after he unseated
Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Beyond the financial cost, Dohoney pointed out Kasich’s decision raised concerns about the project’s feasibility among previous supporters, leading to more hurdles and delays. He said Duke Energy in particular began stalling efforts to move utility lines to accommodate for streetcar tracks because the company grew weary of the project’s prospects.Duke’s reluctance led to
a conflict with the city over who has to pay to move utility lines — a conflict
Duke and the city agreed to resolve in court. While the court battles play out,
the city set aside $15 million from the Blue Ash Airport deal to move utility
lines, but city officials say they will get that money back if the courts side
with the city.The city originally expected
$31 million in private funding for the streetcar project, but those
expectations were dampened as a result of the Great Recession, which forced local companies to scale back private donations.John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, previously told CityBeat that it’s normal for large projects to deal with multiple hurdles. Deatrick, who the city wants to hire to manage the streetcar project, said, “Any time you try to build something — even out in the middle of a corn field — you’re going to have unexpected, unanticipated issues. ... These things happen, and that’s what project management is all about.”Dohoney said the current phase of the streetcar project
is only a starter line between Over-the-Rhine and Cincinnati’s business
district, but city officials are already planning for a second line that would run up to the University of Cincinnati and
hospitals in uptown. If Dohoney’s vision for the project were completed, streetcars would run on multiple lines all around the city, ranging from the Cincinnati Zoo to The Banks.The streetcar budget
debate comes amid another debate regarding a $35 million deficit in the city’s
operating budget. Some streetcar opponents have tried to link the two issues,
but the streetcar is funded through the capital budget, which cannot be used to
balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
by German Lopez
25 days ago
'Enquirer' riles up angry readers with incomplete report
Even though some members of Mayor Mark Mallory's staff
are getting double-digit raises, the mayor's budget is actually being
downsized to rely on less staff members, ultimately shrinking the mayor's
office budget by $33,000 between July 1 and Dec. 1.Some
of Mallory's staff obtained raises because they will be taking up the
former duties of Ryan Adcock, who left earlier in the month to help lead
a task force on infant mortality and will not be replaced. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported
the raises earlier today, but the story at first did not mention that
the budgetary moves will ultimately save the city money. The "Enquirer exclusive" includes a "tell them what you think" section in which citizens can email the mayor's office and copy Enquirer editors. The story was later updated to include the overall savings, though The Enquirer posted a separate blog titled, "Mallory getting an earful on raises," which was a collection of angry emails to the mayor based on the original version of the story.CityBeat
acquired a memo written by Mallory that outlines the rest of the
plan, which will produce savings: "I will not replace Ryan Adcock on my
staff. Instead, I have divided his responsibilities among my remaining
staff. In addition, I will not hire the two part-time staffers that I
had considered hiring. The additional work in the office will be
supplemented by unpaid interns."In
addition, I have enacted internal savings in order to return $20,000
from my FY 2013 office budget to be used for the FY 2014 city budget.
Finally, in preparation of the Mayor’s Office Budget for FY 2014, I am
reducing my office budget by $33,000 for the remaining 5 months of my
spokesperson Jason Barron says the mayor will also not be replacing
staff that leaves from this point forward, which could produce more
savings down the line. As of 6:30 p.m., The Enquirer's homepage still prominently displayed the story out of context, suggesting that the raises will add to the city's $35 million deficit.Shawn Butler, the mayor's director of community
affairs, was given an 11-percent raise; Barron, the mayor's
director of public affairs, was given a 16-percent raise; and Arlen
Herrell, the mayor's director of international affairs, was given a
20-percent raise. Adcock also obtained a 20-percent raise briefly before
leaving, which Barron described to CityBeat as a budgetary technicality.Since
Mallory is term-limited, Barron says the savings will only apply to
Mallory's remaining five months. The mayor who replaces Mallory in
December will decide whether to keep or rework Mallory's policies.Last
year, Barron was paid $66,144 in regular pay, Butler was paid $71,349,
Herrell was paid $59,961 and Adcock was paid $66,049, according to the
city's payroll records. But Barron explained that those numbers were
higher because last year happened to have an extra payday. Under normal
circumstances, Barron is paid $62,740 a year, Butler is paid $67,760,
Adcock was paid $62,740 and Herrell is paid $62,031.
by German Lopez
27 days ago
Posted In: News
at 09:00 AM | Permalink
House budget bill may suppress student voters, tax plan favors wealthy, police chief may go
An amendment in the Ohio House budget bill last week would make it so universities have to decide
between providing voting information to students or retaining millions
of dollars in out-of-state tuition money. The amendment would make it so
universities have to classify students as in-state — a classification
that means lower tuition rates — when providing documents necessary for
voting. Republicans claim the measure is “common sense” because anyone
voting for Ohio’s elections should be an Ohio resident. But the
amendment has provoked criticism from Democrats and universities alike,
who say universities are being thrown into the middle of a voter
An analysis from left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio found
the tax plan currently working through the Republican-controlled Ohio
legislature favors the wealthy.
The analysis also claimed there’s little evidence the across-the-board
tax cuts suggested would significantly help Ohio’s economy.
The plan still needs to be approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio
Senate and Republican Gov. John Kasich.
Council members are asking Cincinnati Police Chief James Craig to remain in Cincinnati
instead of taking a job in Detroit, but City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.
didn’t seem convinced that much can be done. Dohoney said Craig’s
hometown is Detroit, a city that has suffered in recent years as the
local economy has rapidly declined.
Democratic Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is running for governor, and he will make Cincinnati one of his first stops
for his campaign kick-off tour. FitzGerald is challenging Republican
Gov. John Kasich in 2014, who has held the governor’s office since 2010. A recent poll found Kasich in a comfortable position with a nine-point lead on
FitzGerald, but many respondents said they don’t know enough about
FitzGerald to have an opinion on him.
Greater Cincinnati home sales hit a six-year high in March,
with 2,190 homes sold. The strong housing market, which is recovering
from a near collapse in 2008, is widely considered by economists to be a
good sign for the overall economy.
But Ohio’s venture capital investments dropped to a two-year low, according to data from PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association.
The Ohio EPA and Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District are partnering up to provide a $250,000 grant to help purchase equipment to screen, clean and sort glass — an important part of the recycling industry.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is asking Cincinnatians to
forgo lunch on April 24 to take part in the Greater Cincinnati Day of
Fasting. The event will let participants “experience a small measure
of the hunger that is a part of many people’s daily lives,” according to
a press release from Sittenfeld’s office. Participants are also being
asked to donate money to the Freestore Foodbank. A ceremony for the
event will be held on April 24 at noon in Fountain Square.
The U.S. Senate is moving toward approving bill that would allow states to better enforce and collect online sales taxes.
Mars One is calling all applicants for a mission to colonize Mars in 2023.
The sport of the future is here: combat juggling:
by German Lopez
28 days ago
Democrats endorse candidates, parking petitions scrutinized, Senate to rework state budget
The Democratic Party’s nominating committee announced who it’s supporting
for City Council Friday: Greg Landsman, who heads the Strive
Partnership and worked for former Gov. Ted Strickland; Shawn Butler,
Mayor Mark Mallory’s director of community affairs; Michelle Dillingham,
a community activist; and the six incumbents, which include Laure
Quinlivan, Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson, P.G. Sittenfeld, Pam Thomas
and Wendell Young. The nominations still have to be approved by the
Cincinnati Democratic Committee.
Petitioners against the city’s parking plan are supposed to get their final tally on referendum today, but a new video shows at least some of the petitions may have been signed without a legitimate witness, which are needed to validate a signature.
The Hamilton County Board of Elections announced Thursday that
petitioners had met the necessary threshold of 8,522 signatures, but the
video casts doubts on whether those signatures were legitimately
gathered. The city wants to lease its parking assets to help balance the
deficit for the next two years and fund development programs around the
city (“Parking Stimulus,”
issue of Feb. 27), but opponents worry higher parking rates and
extended hours will harm the local economy. Here is the embedded video:
The Ohio Senate could restore
Gov. John Kasich’s tax, school funding and Medicaid plans when it votes
on the biennium budget for 2014 and 2015. Kasich’s tax and education
funding plans were criticized by Democrats and progressive groups for
favoring the wealthy, but the Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio
says would expand Medicaid coverage to 456,000 low-income Ohioans and
save the state money, was mostly opposed by state Republicans. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget in further detail here.
New polling from Quinnipiac University found a plurality of Ohio voters now support same-sex marriage rights — granting promising prospects to Freedom Ohio’s ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year.
An audit on JobsOhio could take months,
according to State Auditor Dave Yost’s office. Gov. John Kasich was
initially resistant to a full audit, but Yost eventually won out,
getting full access to JobsOhio’s financial records. JobsOhio is a
privatized development agency that is meant to eventually replace the
Ohio Department of Development.
In response to not getting a Democratic endorsement for his City Council campaign, Mike Moroski, who was fired from his job at Purcell Marian High School for supporting gay marriage, launched the Human Party.
Cincinnati received an “F”
for business friendliness in the 2013 Thumbtack.com U.S. Small
Business Friendliness Survey from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Embattled attorney Stan Chesley will no longer practice law in Ohio.
Chesley, who has been criticized for alleged misconduct, was recently
disbarred in Kentucky. He recently resigned from the University of
Cincinnati Board of Trustees after being asked to in a letter from
fellow board members.
Ohio gas prices are shooting back up.
PopSci has an infographic showing sharks should be much more scared of humans than humans should be afraid of sharks.
by German Lopez
32 days ago
Posted In: News
at 03:43 PM | Permalink
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls calls for public hearing to discuss project
After years of delays and obstructionism, a Tuesday memo from City
Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed a $22.7 million budget gap is
threatening to put an end to the streetcar project, prompting Vice Mayor
Roxanne Qualls to call for a public hearing to address the issue.
In the city manager’s memo,
the city says it could bring down the potential budget gap to $17.4
million with budget cuts, but the rest would have to come from new
funds. The memo says the budget gap is a result of construction bids coming in $26
million to $43 million over budget.
The memo says the city will continue working
with “federal partners” to find solutions, but it makes no specific
proposals — a sign the project will likely require new city funds and
private donations to close the gap.
In response to the memo, Qualls, a Democratic mayoral candidate who has long
supported the streetcar, called for a public hearing on April 29 in a statement sent out today. The statement says part of the meeting
will help clarify what would happen with allocated funding if
the project fell apart.
Qualls told CityBeat it’s too early to jump to
conclusions about the project’s fate, but she says it’s time to have a
serious discussion about the project. “We’re at the point where we need
to have a very robust public conversation about this that is based upon
fact,” she says.
At the public hearing, both council members and the public will have time to ask questions. Qualls says she’s interested in getting answers for how the project got to
this point, what the cost issues are, whether the streetcar is still a good economic investment and what
costs are associated with shutting down the project if it’s deemed
“Fundamentally, it’s an issue of what are the costs but
also what are the benefits,” she says. “We need to clearly outline both
for the public.”But opponents, including Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley, have responded to the budget gap by criticizing the streetcar project. Cranley, a longtime
opponent of the streetcar, called for the project’s end in a statement
today: “The streetcar has been a bad idea and a bad deal for the people
of Cincinnati from the beginning. ... Ms.
Qualls has already voted to raise property taxes three times to pay for
the project. When is she going to say ‘enough is enough’?”The opposition is nothing new to the project, which has undergone multiple bouts of obstructionism, including two failed referendum efforts in which a majority of voters came out in favor of the streetcar. Qualls says these delays have only made the project’s implementation more difficult.The streetcar is one of the few issues dividing the two Democrats running for mayor this year, making it a contentious political issue (“Back on the Ballot,” issue of Jan. 23).
The city recently approved two motions to prepare to hire
John Deatrick, the current project manager for The Banks, to help bring
the streetcar’s costs in line (“City Moves to Hire New Streetcar Manager,” issue of April 10). Deatrick was involved in finding savings in the streetcar project, according to the memo.
The hire and shortfall announcement came in the middle of an ongoing local budget crisis that may lead to the layoff of 344 city employees,
including 189 cops and 80 firefighters. The crisis is a result of
legal and referendum efforts holding up the city’s plan to lease parking
assets to the Port Authority, which would have opened up funds to help
balance the budget for the next two years and carry out development projects around the city,
including a downtown grocery store (“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27).But the streetcar project, including Deatrick’s hire, is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget that employs cops and firefighters. Capital budget funds can’t be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.
A statement from Cincinnatians for Progress defended the
streetcar, despite the higher costs now facing the project: “These are
challenging moments for Cincinnati's administration and City Council
regarding the streetcar. Bids came in higher than anticipated. However,
even at a slightly higher cost, the economic benefits of the system far
outweigh these costs. This is a reality that has been outlined in study
after study and confirmed in results from other cities across the
“Nearly 100 years ago, political leaders were having these
same discussions before tragically losing resolve and abandoning the
proposed subway and rail system that was nearly complete. Times have
changed. A new attitude of positivity has taken over our city. We must
continue the pattern of success that encompasses many recent projects
that were difficult and not inexpensive, but well worth the investment.”
1 Comment · Wednesday, April 17, 2013
In the past few weeks, Cincinnati’s
political scene has been engulfed by debate over the budget, often
prompting testy exchanges between city officials.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas will
resign his council seat after the April 17 council meeting. Thomas
recommended that his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas, take his seat.
by German Lopez
33 days ago
Streetcar faces $22.7m budget gap, bill would restrict sex education, councilman resigns
In a memo to the mayor and City Council members last night, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. revealed the streetcar is facing a $22.7 million shortfall because construction bids were way over budget. The memo says $5.3 million of that budget gap could be brought down through cuts, but fixing the rest requires $17.4 million in additional funds. The memo comes at a time the city is attempting to balance its operating budget by laying off cops and firefighters. But as John Deatrick explained when the city moved to hire him for the streetcar project, the streetcar is part of the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget and can't be used to balance the operating budget because of legal and traditional constraints.The budget bill heading to the Ohio House floor would ban comprehensive sex education, defund Planned Parenthood and fund crisis pregnancy centers that pro-choice groups consider "anti-choice." Citing "gateway sexual activity," the bill would open teachers to up to $5,000 in fines for explaining the use of condoms and other birth control to students, and it also bans the distribution of any birth control on school grounds. The bill takes its anti-contraceptive measures to promote an abstinence-only education program. Research has found abstinence-only programs to be generally ineffective, while birth control programs ultimately save money by avoiding costly pregnancies and sexually transmitted infection treatment.Councilman Cecil Thomas is stepping down, and he will be replaced by his wife of 32 years, Pam Thomas. The appointment has raised questions about how council members are replaced upon resignation, but Thomas says he's just following the rules. Under the current system, designees appoint successors to council seats, but the designees give great weight to the incumbent's input.JobsOhio repaid $8.4 million to Ohio yesterday — fulfilling a promise it made in March that it would fully repay the state for public funding received since it opened on July 5, 2011. The sum is much higher than the $1 million state officials originally said would go to the agency. JobsOhio's finances came under criticism after it was revealed that Gov. John Kasich was redirecting public funds to the agency, prompting a closer look from State Auditor Dave Yost. JobsOhio is a privatized development agency that Kasich and Republicans established to eventually replace the Ohio Department of Development.In light of the Boston Marathon bombings, Flying Pig Marathon organizers are evaluating security measures, but they're not sure whether additional measures are needed just yet. The Flying Pig Marathon is expected to draw more than 20,000 participants on May 5 — close to the 23,000 who typically attend the Boston Marathon. Still, only about 150,000 spectators are expected at the Flying Pig Marathon, while about 500,000 typically spectate the Boston Marathon.City Council is expected to vote today in support of expanding mobile food vending in the city and make the program, which is handled by 3CDC, permanent. The new mobile vending spots will be near nightlife areas in Over-the-Rhine and during the day at Washington Park.TriHealth and Mercy Health are among the top 15 hospital systems in the United States, according to a new ranking from Truven Health Analytics.When renewing its contract with Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., Kroger asked the company to move its center from Des Moines, Iowa, to Cincinnati, bringing an estimated 55 new jobs to the city.New surgical tape works like a parasitic worm for extra stickiness.For the first time, scientists are being allowed to study psychedelics for potential medical treatments.
by German Lopez
34 days ago
Cecil Thomas recommends Pam Thomas for replacement
Democratic Councilman Cecil Thomas’ last City Council
meeting will be Wednesday, after which he will be replaced by his wife of
32 years, Pam Thomas.
“Her qualifications are impeccable,” Thomas told reporters Tuesday. “She will give this city a good representation.”
Thomas’ wife ran for Hamilton County clerk of courts last
year, ultimately losing to Tracy Winkler. But Thomas said she won 70
percent of the vote in Cincinnati, making her an obviously strong
contender as a local candidate.
Thomas’ recommendation has raised questions among critics about how council members are replaced upon resignation. Incumbents can only make recommendations to successor designees, who make the final decision, but as Councilman Wendell Young, one of Thomas’ designees, noted at the meeting, the designees typically give great weight to the incumbent’s recommendation. When asked whether council members should have so much
power in recommending appointees, Thomas said, “I just follow the
rules.” He said if City Council wants to change the rules, it can.
Thomas said he will now run for the
State Senate seat being left vacant by State Sen. Eric Kearney, who is
term limited. He acknowledged the State Senate may be a more
difficult place for Democrats, which are in the minority at the state
level, but he said he hopes to “bridge divides” if he serves.
Until then, Thomas said he is looking forward to his time
off, although he will miss having a role in local politics: “It's going
to be tough to not be able to have that direct hands-on.”
Thomas said he wanted to step down earlier in the year,
but he decided to stay in office to see if the city could avoid laying
off cops and firefighters by balancing the fiscal year 2014 budget through the parking plan
(“Parking Stimulus,” issue of Feb. 27), which Thomas strongly supports. With the parking plan now in legal limbo and the layoffs going through, Thomas is stepping down.