Morning News: Council passes budget; street named for Jim Obergefell, late partner; Portman constituents hold sit-in

In a move commemorating Pride Month initiated by Councilman Chris Seelbach, Council officially named a portion of Mercer Street between Vine and Walnut streets for same-sex marriage pioneer Jim Obergefell and his late partner John Arthur.

Jim Obergefell, lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned same-sex marriage bans across the country.
Jim Obergefell, lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned same-sex marriage bans across the country.

Good morning all. Here’s what’s going on around Cincy and beyond today. I spent a great deal of time watching Citicable yesterday so you wouldn't have to, but you don't need to thank me. Just please send me some Advil.

After an all-day fiscal marathon, Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed its 2018 budget. It was a tough slog — it’s an election year, and the city has faced a $26 million deficit between revenues and expenditures brought about by $8.7 million in raises for some city employees pushed by Mayor John Cranley and an income tax revenue shortfall of $15.6 million. The operating portion of the budget comes to more than $395 million.

Council filled a final $600,000 hole in the budget with a one-time funding source, meaning it isn’t technically balanced but does spend the same amount the city is taking in. That hole resulted from Council removing a program proposed by City Manager Harry Black that would have booted cars with unpaid parking tickets — one of several parking-related fixes Black proposed. Only a parking meter rate increase remains of those proposals in Council’s version of the budget. The one-time fix was passed by a 5-4 vote, leaving it open to a mayoral veto. Cranley may or may not exercise that option — he’s expressed opposition to booting programs, which can adversely affect low-income individuals.

Council members Yvette Simpson and Chris Seelbach voted against most portions of the budget, which passed 7-2. Seelbach said he didn’t like balancing the budget with parking revenue. Mayor John Cranley, who Simpson is opposing in the November mayoral election, slammed Simpson’s no votes.

In a statement, Simpson blasted Cranley's plan, saying it didn't support small business, the city's parks, which got only $1.6 million for maintenance instead of the $2.6 million Simpson was seeking, recreation centers, which didn't get cut but also didn't get a $750,000 boost Simpson advocated for, or water works rate payers, who Simpson says might be adversely affected by transfers of expenses to the city's stormwater fund found in the budget plan.

"Our citizens and neighborhoods must be the foundation for our investments," she wrote in the statement released this morning.

At Simpson's urging, Council voted to provide a $351,000 boost to the city’s human services funding to $4.3 million. Black’s budget initially cut funding levels for human services from the previous year, though Cranley later erased those cuts. Initial proposals called for the extra money to come out of funds set aside for business groups and 3CDC, but an alternate plan was devised that shuffled money for police IT services to human services and replaced the IT money with funds from the capital budget.

Other boosts in the budget include $500,000 for a pedestrian safety program championed by Councilmen P.G. Sittenfeld and Seelbach. The Wasson Way bike trail will get $500,000 under Council’s budget, up from $300,000 in Black’s proposed fiscal plan. Seelbach also pushed for, and got, $150,000 for a needle exchange program under the revised spending blueprint.

Council also voted 6-3 to pass a reduced, $4.4 million version of the city administration’s streetcar funding plan. Council’s final version cuts money from the system’s marketing and IT budgets to arrive at a funding package that is $200,000 less than the budget asked for by the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority.

• So what else happened in Council yesterday? In a move commemorating Pride Month initiated by Councilman Seelbach, Council officially named a portion of Mercer Street between Vine and Walnut streets for same-sex marriage pioneer Jim Obergefell and his late partner John Arthur. The Over-the-Rhine resident was the lead plaintiff in the case in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned same-sex marriage bans across the country.

• An agricultural workers’ group and the Cincinnati chapter of the Interfaith Workers’ Center will picket today’s Kroger shareholder meeting downtown. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group that advocates for fairer wages and treatment for farm workers from some of the country’s largest corporations, will put pressure on Kroger to join its Fair Food Program. Fresh Market, Burger King, McDonald's, Chipotle and other major food companies have joined that initiative over the past decade.

• Thousands are turning out today for the funeral of Otto Warmbier, the Wyoming resident who returned from imprisonment in North Korea in a coma last week and later died. Warmbier was detained there in 2015 while traveling with a Chinese touring company. North Korean officials allege he stole a government banner, for which he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. It's still unknown why Warmbier was in a coma. Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammaraco earlier this week announced her office would do an autopsy, but Warmbier's family chose to forego that process.

• A group of Ohioans angry about GOP senators’ secretive work on an Obamacare repeal and replacement bill held a sit-in at U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s Washington, D.C. office yesterday. The group, most of whom were from Columbus, said they were staging a town hall meeting — something they say Portman himself hasn’t done in 47 days. Portman initially wouldn’t meet with the group, but later did make an appearance. He says he’s not happy with the version of the American Health Care Act passed by the U.S. House last month, but hasn’t decided on the Senate version, which is still being crafted behind closed doors by Republican leadership. Meanwhile, local faith leaders will deliver a letter opposing a repeal of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion tomorrow to Portman’s Cincinnati office, according to a news release sent by the group. The Senate is expected to reveal its version of the AHCA today and could vote on it as early as next week.

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