Morning News: Chamber survey finds some support for bus tax; former Evans Landscaping employees plead guilty to fraud-related charges; Sheriff Jones anti-Narcan policy sparks protest

Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones says it’s too dangerous to his officers to revive overdose victims, who he says are often violent after they’re saved. Other law enforcement officials contradict that claim, however.

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Hello Cincy! Today’s news involves fraud, protesters, jail and metro buses. Read on for more.

First, those buses. A recent survey by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber found that Hamilton County voters would likely support a .5 percent sales tax increase to improve the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s Metro bus service. That tax hike could end up on the November ballot next year.* The survey, presented this morning as part of a larger update on attitudes toward transit in the eight-county region around Cincinnati, found that 24 percent of polled voters would “definitely” vote yes for the levy. Another 23 percent would “probably” back the sales tax hike, while five percent say they’re leaning toward a yes on the levy.

That’s 54 percent at least leaning positively when it comes to the bus boost. Meanwhile, 30 percent of voters said they’re a definite “no” on the levy, seven percent say they’re probably a no and four percent say they’re leaning toward no. That’s 43 percent leaning against the levy. Sixty-eight percent of respondents to the survey said that improved bus service would benefit their communities. Metro needs more than $1 billion in investment over the next decade, independent analysis has found, and SORTA is projecting big deficits in the coming years if it doesn’t receive more public support. Declining ridership and very little money from the state have led to the service’s current dire straits. Other takeaways from the Chamber’s poll: A majority of voters in the region support a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge and would pay tolls to fund it.

• As an FBI investigation continues into the Newtown business around allegations of minority contracting violations, three former employees of Evans Landscaping have pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges. Former chief financial officer Maurice Patterson and former manager Michael Moeller each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges. They face up to 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, another of the company’s former CFOs, John Dietrich, pleaded guilty to concealing a felony and could face up to a year in prison. Moeller and Patterson admit they helped create a front company called Ergon Construction to grab contracts for minority-owned businesses.

• It’s pretty clear that Walnut Hills is one of the best high schools in the state, if not the country. It consistently tops national rankings, has a 99 percent graduation rate and produces great scholars and artists. All my friends who went to Walnut are overachieving freaks and it’s disgusting. I think you know the feeling, unless you went to Walnut, and then you’re probably not reading this because you’re writing a textbook or something.

But who ends up at Cincinnati’s premier public high school? Here’s some data. A couple takeaways: Students come from 69 different ZIP codes, though eight ZIPs representing areas like Hyde Park, Mount Lookout and Clifton send the lion’s share of students. Also, the school doesn’t look anything like Cincinnati Public Schools as a whole in terms of economics. About 21 percent of Walnut’s students are economically disadvantaged. That’s much lower than the 82 percent of students throughout CPS who have that designation. Walnut is also 30 percent black and 56 percent white — a big contrast to CPS’ overall racial makeup of 62 percent black and 25 percent white.

• Six of seven jails in Greater Cincinnati either already offer or will soon offer opiate detox programs involving medication, something that’s been a long time coming. But those jails don’t necessarily take advantage of all the treatment options available. Most offer only naltrexone, an injection often marketed under the brand name Vivitrol. But not every addict has the same response to every medication, and methadone or buprenorphine can sometimes help where naltrexone fails. While not all jails offer all three options, Hamilton County Change Court does. That court is aimed at those addicted to opiates who have also experienced human trafficking. If you want to know more about why Vivitrol seems to be the default drug for courts and jail systems — something you won’t find mention of in the above-linked Enquirer article, for some reason — this incredible ProPublica investigation into one drug company’s lobbying efforts is worth a read.

• While we’re talking about the heroin epidemic and controversy around treatment, let’s head up to Butler County, land of my birth. Protesters today will air their displeasure with Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones’ policy of not equipping deputies with Narcan, the drug that can reverse heroin overdoses. Jones says it’s too dangerous to his officers to revive overdose victims, who he says are often violent after they’re saved. Other law enforcement officials contradict that claim, however. Jones has backed up a Middletown City Councilmember who suggested last week that emergency response crews should just let repeat overdose victims die instead of administering Narcan. Today’s protest against Jones will take place at the Hamilton Municipal Courthouse from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

*An earlier version of this post was unclear about when SORTA might present voters with a levy for Metro. The transit agency has yet to vote on whether to ask for the tax increase.

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