Morning News: More budget battles; is marina a good idea?; Columbus scores big

As Council continues to wrangle over the city's budget, the Budget and Finance Committee is in an extra meeting to hammer out budget details.

Jun 22, 2016 at 1:10 pm
click to enlarge Councilman Chris Seelbach
Councilman Chris Seelbach

Good morning all. Here’s a very brief morning news update.

• Cincinnati City Council continues to wrangle over the city’s budget. You can read yesterday’s rundown here. Council’s Budget and Finance Committee is currently in an extra meeting trying to hammer out budget details before this afternoon’s regularly-scheduled full Council vote. At issue: a series of ordinances by Councilman Chris Seelbach giving funding to the city’s hillside stairs, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful’s blight mitigation program Future Blooms and a little money for a new electronic presentation system for Council. Seelbach says he filed his ordinances the same way other Council members did, but his were left out of the so-called omnibus budget ordinance Council will approve. That leaves them open to mayoral veto. As of writing this, Council voted 9-0 to include Seelbach’s amendment to add the Future Blooms and hillside stairs money to the omnibus budget.

• Related, but not related, but also… related? It’s unclear, actually, but Councilman Kevin Flynn yesterday resigned his seat as a Democrat precinct executive, which he won in the last election. Flynn, a Charterite, cited “personal reasons and recent events” in his short, cryptic note to Hamilton County Democratic Party Chair Tim Burke disclosing his resignation. Flynn also recently fought a battle with Cranley over items he wanted in the budget that were not referred by Mayor John Cranley, even threatening to sue the mayor for perceived use of the so-caleld “pocket veto.” All legislation going before Council must be referred to a committee by the mayor. If Cranley doesn’t refer an item, it doesn’t get considered. After threats of a lawsuit, Flynn’s item, pertaining to streetcar funding, made it onto Council’s agenda. Cranley says the dust-up was a misunderstanding. Flynn says that was just a “sliver” of the reason he’s resigning his party seat, and that most of it has to do with being expected to toe the Democratic Party line in 2016 elections, something Flynn is uncomfortable doing as a Charterite. Flynn has said his resignation from the leadership role will not affect his seat on Council, though he is weighing whether he will run again next year.

• More stuff tangentially related to the city budget: city administration has floated (haha, sorry) spending $3.6 million to build a marina on the Ohio River, a move Council seems likely to go along with. But some wonder if that’s a wise way to spend money. Winston Folkers, who oversaw the city’s planning department in the 1970s, says the city should ditch the idea. Folkers cites studies from his tenure with the city that showed a similar marina wouldn’t be feasible in the location due to changing river levels and other conditions. Dock supporters say the new design will be different and more modern. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved designs for the project in 2012. But it’s unclear if the marina will make money, or how much it will cost to build — questions the city’s parks department has yet to look into. The department is expecting to put the project out to bid next year.

• Kroger’s up to something downtown, but it’s not a grocery store just yet. (Dang). There’s a building just down the street from our office at 901 W. Elm Street that has always mystified me. It’s an odd brick rectangle with weird windows that’s been empty for years. But that will change soon, apparently. Kroger recently purchased the building, initially leading to speculation that it would build the mythical downtown grocery store there. But alas, that’s not in the cards. Instead, it will be a training facility for employees and a culinary center where the grocery chain will experiment with new varieties of prepared foods to offer in its stores. The city is poised to give the company a full tax abatement on renovations to the building.

• Finally, big news for our neighbors just to the north, and a possible missed opportunity for Cincinnati: Columbus just scored an incredible $140 million in public and private investment as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City initiative. The money will be used to test any number of transportation and other initiatives designed to ease the city’s wealth gap, improve mobility and generally increase innovation there. Columbus beat out San Francisco, Austin, Denver, Portland and other big-name cities to score the $40 million in federal funds and $100 million in matching cash from various private sources. Cincinnati wasn’t one of the 78 cities to apply for the money.