Morning News: Richardson challenges Cranley, Simpson to debate; Metro needs $1 billion; UC, Miami face fed investigation

The amount of cash needed to modernize Metro means that a proposed sales tax hike will have to be bigger than expected: at least three-fourths of a percent.

Morning News: Richardson challenges Cranley, Simpson to debate; Metro needs $1 billion; UC, Miami face fed investigation
Nick Swartsell

Good morning all. Here’s some news going on around town right now.

Cincinnati mayoral candidate Rob Richardson Jr. wants to debate his opponents, Mayor John Cranley and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, and he’d like to do it multiple times. Cranley and Simpson’s response: Bring it. Expect at least one, but probably multiple, events between the three before the city’s May 2 mayoral primary, after which only two candidates will remain standing.

• The city moved a step closer to acquiring the embattled former site of King Records yesterday as Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee unanimously approve a resolution that would allow the city to use eminent domain to buy the property. Owners Dynamic Industries have been reluctant to sell the property, which they say is part of expansion plans. But many in Evanston, where the former recording studio and record plant is located, say it’s a vital part of the city’s history. City officials anticipate legal battles if eminent domain is used to buy the property. The city is still in talks with the owners about purchasing the building. Council looks likely to give full approval to the measure tomorrow.

• There’s no easy way to say this, so let’s just come out with it. The region’s bus system needs more than $1 billion to make it useful in getting people to work and other vital destinations. That’s a big issue, as a recent study showed that a large proportion of jobs in the county aren’t reachable by public transportation. Consulting firm AECOM presented its findings on the price of upgrades to the board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority yesterday. That revelation comes as SORTA has been mulling a countywide sales tax increase ask for the 2017 ballot. The amount of cash needed to bring Metro into the 21st century, however, means that the tax hike will have to be bigger than expected: at least three-fourths of a cent, added on to the county’s current tax rate of seven percent. That would make Hamilton County’s sales tax the second highest in the state behind Cuyahoga County, which has an 8 percent sales tax. Eight other counties in the state have a dedicated tax fund to pay for transit, but Hamilton County does not. Hamilton County commissioners Todd Portune and Chris Monzel oppose the tax hike ask, but don’t have any say on whether SORTA puts it on the ballot. You can read more about Metro’s push to modernize here.

• Remember that visit from the FBI City Hall got last week in which the men in black picked up some boxes originally from Charlie Winburn’s office that had been stashed in the basement? Well, Winburn has an explanation for that, sort of. He says he has no idea why the FBI took those boxes, but claims it involves the city solicitor’s office framing his legislative aide, who he says put the boxes down there for storage. I’ll let you read his full explanation here.

• So, the Cincinnati streetcar is supposed to have real-time arrival information shown on digital displays at all 18 of its stops. But only three currently work. What’s more, Trapeze, the company responsible for the displays, says it doesn’t know when the rest will be functional. Trapeze Vice President Terry Hinman told SORTA’s board yesterday that multi-modal traffic operations are very complex and that he can’t predict when the displays will come on line. Board members weren’t really super-hyped on that answer, as you might expect.

“You’re here because this is a big deal,” SORTA Vice Chair Ken Reed told him. “We have a riding public that has an expectation. And we’re not meeting that expectation. This has gone on long enough.”

• Finally, two local universities are under federal investigation for charges they have been too lax in protecting students who have suffered sexual assault on their campuses. The University of Cincinnati’s Title IX division is currently undergoing an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over allegations it did not act quickly enough in removing a male student accused of raping a female student. The same federal office is also investigating Miami University after claims it also mishandled reports of sexual assaults. The investigations come among increasing attention to sexual assault cases on college campuses, and as student activist groups like UC’s Students for Survivors push for change.

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