It's Time to GO

There are amazing disparities among the city of Cincinnati's neighborhoods. That's not a big secret. From Mount Washington's suburban-like feel to Lower Price Hill's abject poverty, sprinkled with

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There are amazing disparities among the city of Cincinnati's neighborhoods. That's not a big secret.

From Mount Washington's suburban-like feel to Lower Price Hill's abject poverty, sprinkled with a touch of Hyde Park upper-crust lap of luxury thrown in for good measure, Cincinnati's neighborhoods are about as diverse as the people who live here.

Like the infamous question asked by thousands of local natives every day ("What high school did you go to?") supposedly a lot can be derived from the equally judgmental question "What part of town are you from?" There's a reason for this.

(By the way, I'm not digressing into a conversation about district versus at-large City Council elections, though that's definitely a concept worth exploring.)

City and Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber leaders have begun asking what to do about the disparities among neighborhoods, but for a different reason. The city doesn't have as much tax revenue as it used to, and it's only getting worse. The lack of funds, in turn, affects everyone.

In their search for answers, city leaders commissioned "GO Cincinnati," a 100-page report (with a doubly-sized appendix) that looks into areas of "growth" and "opportunity" (G and O) for Cincinnati.

First, the disturbing news.

Turns out in the last five years the city of Cincinnati has lost 8,000 jobs and continues to lose ground in the crucial office, industrial and residential project arenas. And while the 15-county Greater Cincinnati area is keeping up with the national economy, the city itself is starting to fall behind — mostly, the report concludes, because it's being abandoned for adjoining counties or people are leaving the area altogether.

One of the solutions offered in the report — compiled by Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution and Social Compact, Cincinnati-based KMK Consulting and Bethesda, Md.-based Robert Charles Lesser Co. — is the use of "place-based" economic development.

That's when certain areas get economic development boosts. In turn, it's hoped that adjoining areas benefit from the boom, causing more tax revenue to flow into the city. It's a rising-tide-lifts-all-ships approach.

In the "GO Cincinnati" report, three areas get the nod for development boosts: the Seymour Avenue and Reading Road corridor, including much of Bond Hill and Roselawn; Queensgate and the south Mill Creek corridor, an area south of the I-75 and I-74 interchange; and the Madison Road corridor beginning in Oakley and extending east to Madisonville.

Existing areas experiencing concentrated economic development — Over-the-Rhine, downtown and the Uptown area around the University of Cincinnati — will continue to get help. Other areas, for now, would be left in the dust.

To many, it's not a big surprise that Cincinnati's money coffers aren't what they used to be. At the beginning of council's annual $1.2 billion budget debate in December, city finance officials predicted the city was facing a $25 million to $29 million budget shortfall — the highest such gap in Cincinnati's history, according to city administrators.

Cities in Ohio fill their coffers in several different ways: fines (parking tickets, law violations); fees (building permits, parking lots, recreation fees); and Ohio's ever-dwindling fund for cities. Property taxes used to be a larger piece of the revenue pie, but council's continued rollback has shrunk it to smaller and smaller levels.

What's left? There's always the income tax, which is set now at 2.1 percent of a person's income who works in the city and supplies 66 percent of the city's general operating fund budget.

Chamber officials briefed Mayor Mark Mallory last week on the "GO Cincinnati" report. An aide said Mallory's still "digesting" it and isn't ready to comment.

I believe it's long overdue for the city to look at its gifts and figure out the best way to capitalize on them. City residents have already felt the brunt of poor financial management in the form of closed and reduced hours at public swimming pools, fewer street sweeping days and less funding for neighborhoods, among many other results.

I'd hate to be the person to have to explain to, say, the Avondale or South Fairmount neighborhood councils why they were left off the list for economic development under "GO Cincinnati." But spreading money equally to all neighborhoods seems to dilute what little city development money remains and likely ends up ineffective.

At least we have a start with this "place-based" approach. Let's GO.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]

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