County could see sales tax increase; Young pushes mayoral recall provision; Roebling could be closed until June; more news

Engineers say the historic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge will likely need to stay closed until early this summer

click to enlarge The John A. Roebling suspension bridge - Matt Cunningham
Matt Cunningham
The John A. Roebling suspension bridge

Hello all! Spring is here, and here’s how I know — Putz’s Creamy Whip opened yesterday. This is like the opening day parade of ice cream for me, y’all. I hope you went and got some. Now that we have the important news out of the way, here’s what else is happening.

Does the county need to raise its sales tax rate? That’s what Hamilton County Administrator Jeff Aluotto told the county commission yesterday, recommending a .25 percent bump to address a big, looming deficit. Unless more revenue comes in or spending is cut, the county will be $28 million underwater next year. That’s due to state lawmakers’ continued cuts to the state’s local government fund as well as cuts to some Medicare-related taxes. Commissioners could impose the tax without a vote or put it up for voters to decide in November. The suggested boost would bring Hamilton County’s sales tax rate to 7.25 percent, though the rate will drop .25 percent in 2020 as other taxes roll off.

• The county isn't the only local government with a deficit on its hands. The City of Cincinnati also faces a $23.4 million shortfall next fiscal year — which starts in July — and has begun mulling cuts to bridge the gap. City Manager Harry Black has asked the city to reduce all departments by 12 percent, except police and fire, which would see a 6 percent cut. Those cuts could cause the city to reduce police and fire recruit classes, shutter recreation centers and pools as well as cause staffing reductions or hiring freezes at the health, building and inspections, environment and sustainability, community and economic development and other departments. Expect some big-time sparring on city council as we get further into budget season, y’all.

• Cincinnatians should be able to recall their mayor, suggests one Cincinnati City Councilman, and you’ll be shocked to learn he’s not a big fan of our current leader. Councilman Wendell Young, perhaps Mayor John Cranley’s most vocal opponent of late, wants to create a mechanism in the city charter by which a mayor could be recalled by a popular vote. While state law allows for recall efforts in cities, it doesn’t count for cities with a charter governance system, such as Cincinnati has, unless that charter mentions recalls. Ours does not. Young’s proposal is backed by some African-American groups and former mayor Dwight Tillery, who also wants a recall mechanism for city council. Cranley’s office has dismissed the idea as an effort to undermine the mayor from his political opponents. Council would need six votes to change the charter and insert a recall provision. Those votes are unlikely given council’s current makeup.

• The Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority will hold a meeting tomorrow regarding FC Cincinnati. While the exact nature of that meeting is unclear, it’s likely to discuss a potential ownership structure for an FCC stadium in Oakley. The team believes it can avoid paying property taxes on its $200 million facility if it is owned by the development authority, though Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune has indicated he’d like to find a way to hold the team to paying money it would owe to Cincinnati Public Schools under such a deal.

• The region’s iconic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge will likely be closed until June, engineers say, after an auto accident damaged a structural component of the historic span. The bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1866. The damaged section was an 1890-era addition to the structure. Because the bridge is unique and architecturally significant, any repair work will likely require special techniques and more time. So, yeah, find another route across the river for a while.

• Finally, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has requested federal aid for the estimated $44 million in flood damage brought by recent high waters in Greater Cincinnati. Kasich wrote a letter to President Donald Trump yesterday asking that he issue a major disaster declaration for the February floods, which devastated riverfront communities in 17 counties and could take five or more years to fully repair.