Morning News: Council presses city on cancer concerns at CPD District 5; FC Cincinnati fans want priority in tight county budget

Big infrastructure projects like the Western Hills Viaduct loom, but soccer fans say $100 million in taxpayer money a dedicated stadium for FC Cincinnati is a pressing need.

Sep 27, 2017 at 11:10 am

click to enlarge FC Cincinnati is pushing for money to build a stadium in the city, but has also looked at a location across the river in Newport. - Provided
FC Cincinnati is pushing for money to build a stadium in the city, but has also looked at a location across the river in Newport.

Good morning Cincy. Let’s get right to it.

Six officers under the age of 60 who have worked at Cincinnati Police Department’s District 5 headquarters on Ludlow Avenue have died of cancer in the past two years, and several more have been diagnosed with forms of the disease. Following a new diagnosis for an employee there this week, Cincinnati City Council member Charlie Winburn has introduced an emergency motion that would direct the city to shut down the building by Oct. 27 and find a new home for the district headquarters. Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils held a news conference earlier this week asking for a new space for CPD employees by Christmas. The city says air quality analyses, mold counts and radon tests all fail to explain the high rates of cancer among those who work in the building. Council members this morning at a special committee meeting asked tough questions of City Manager Harry Black about why concerns around the district headquarters haven’t been addressed yet.

• The Western Hills Viaduct is literally crumbling and needs a $330 million replacement. The Hamilton County jail is severely overcrowded, housing 400 more inmates than it was designed for. Over the next decade, the county is facing a $260 million maintenance backlog if trends continue. And the county’s means by which it might fund those needed projects — hotel taxes, sales tax increases, parking garage revenues — are nearly tapped.

Yet, despite these realities, other folks are lining up for public money for their own projects. Former Cincinnati City Councilman and FC Cincinnati General Manager Jeff Berding, along with about 100 FC fans, came to a county commission hearing on infrastructure projects yesterday to ask for $100 million to help make the soccer team’s Major League Soccer dreams come true. Berding argued that the stadium should be “among the first” priorities for the county because the team’s bid for an MLS franchise requires plans for dedicated stadium be in place by the end of the year. Meanwhile, owners of U.S. Bank Arena released a letter immediately after that meeting requesting that the county’s Port Authority buy the aging 40-year-old building, tear it down, and construct a new arena at a cost of $342 million.

Critics of these asks were also at the Tuesday meeting. Cincinnati attorney Tim Mara decried bids to spend taxpayer money on sports venues as other needs loomed.

"It makes no sense to divert scarce money to building a soccer stadium when these vital needs remain unfunded," he said.

• Could Fort Washington Way actually get a deck over it, connecting downtown and The Banks? Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune continues to push for it. Portune would like the county to apply for a federal TIGER grant of up to $25 million to build the first of a series of such decks. The development on that deck would then fund the rest of them, eventually covering a big portion of Fort Washington Way. But, as mentioned above, the county has other needs, and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley has asked that the city and county also apply for the federal grant to fund the replacement of the Western Hills Viaduct.

• Move over, Cleveland. The Greater Cincinnati metro area is now Ohio’s largest economy, according to a report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Greater Cincinnati’s metro economy was the 28th largest in the country last year, growing by 2.5 percent to generate $116 billion in 2016. That let it surge right past our rivals to the northeast. The city jumped two spots from its ranking in 2015, when Cleveland was still king of the Buckeye State.

• The Ohio Department of Education this week gave preliminary approval to the state’s largest online charter school’s bid to become a dropout recovery school. The new designation for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow would mean lower standards and a boost on state ratings. That’s important because ECOT and its sponsoring organization, the Educational Center of Lake Erie West, are currently fighting to stay in the charter school business after repeated failing grades at ECOT put the organizations’ state certification at risk. The state assesses drop out recovery schools differently because they primarily serve “at risk” students who have had difficulty at traditional schools. The change in classification would bring ECOT’s state rating from an “F” to a “C.” ECOT has also run into separate trouble with the state after audits revealed it could not verify attendance numbers it had reported to the state. The Ohio Department of Education is requiring the charter pay back millions in taxpayer funding it received based on its enrollment figures.