Morning News: SORTA passes budget, previews levy ask; Council passes residential parking permits for Columbia Tusculum street; infant mortality rising in Ohio

Board head Jason Dunn said SORTA is “at a crossroads” and needs more funding to provide better transit options for Hamilton County residents currently disconnected from jobs.

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Good morning all. Grab a donut. Top off your coffee. Let’s talk news.

Taxpayers can expect a levy ask from the region’s transit provider next year. The board of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority yesterday signed off on its 2017 budget. SORTA officials describe the $109 million balanced spending plan as a bare-bones budget that came only after four executive layoffs, a health insurance switch and deferred spending shaved a $1.3 million shortfall. Board head Jason Dunn said SORTA is “at a crossroads” and needs more funding to provide better transit options for Hamilton County residents currently disconnected from jobs.

• Cincinnati City Council yesterday passed a resolution asking Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters to retry former University of Cincinnati Police officer Ray Tensing in the death of unarmed black motorist Samuel DuBose. Council members Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young sponsored the resolution asking Deters “to take all steps necessary to pursue a retrial.” It passed unanimously. The city doesn’t have the power to direct Deters, but the symbolic resolution puts public pressure on the prosecutor to pursue a conviction again. The six white men, four white women and two black women who comprised Tensing’s jury announced last Saturday that they could not reach a verdict as they considered whether Tensing was justified in shooting DuBose after the officer shot him during a routine traffic stop in Mount Auburn. Eight jurors voted for a manslaughter conviction, while four, according to Deters, did not want a conviction at all.

• What happens after a mistrial like the one in the Tensing case? A discussion today at the University of Cincinnati will provide some answers. UC’s Office of Equity and Inclusion will host legal experts and attorneys at the school’s African American Cultural and Resource Center at 3 p.m. It’s free to attend, but you should register here.

• Remember the big fight last year over residential parking permits in Over-the-Rhine? Well, the parking permit issue has come back in a fairly interesting way. Yesterday Council passed an ordinance creating parking permits for 10 residences in Columbia Tusculum that have had long-term parking issues. Residents on Walworth Ave. say parking is difficult there due to valets parking cars for customers of nearby Jeff Ruby restaurant the Precinct. Initially, the plan was to charge owners of those residences $150 a year for the permits, which would run from 5 p.m to midnight every day — a plan several residents said in letters to the city they would support.

In committee earlier this week, the cost got winnowed down to $30 a year. Council voted and approved the lower-cost plan with six votes, meaning Mayor John Cranley can’t veto it. The mayor twice vetoed a proposed parking permit plan in Over-the-Rhine in 2014 and 2015, saying he didn’t support the idea of residents being able to reserve spots on streets paid for with the city’s tax dollars. It seems unlikely Cranley would have vetoed this parking plan, however. He met with residents who would be buying the permits, according to letters from residents in city documents, and even suggested the $150 price tag.

Ohio’s infant mortality rate is on the rise again, and it's especially bad in Hamilton County. After falling in 2014, the number of infant deaths within a year of birth shot up last year, going from 6.8 deaths per 1,000 births to 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births. The numbers have a troubling racial divide: among Ohio’s black population, there were some 15.5 deaths per 1,000 births, compared to 5.5 deaths per 1,000 births for white babies. Hamilton County has the fourth-highest infant mortality rate in the state, according to the data from the Ohio Department of Health, with 9.1 deaths per 1,000 births. Mahoning County had the highest rate in the state, with 10.9 deaths per 1,000 births.

• Finally, how is Ohio doing when it comes to local civic engagement? Not so great, according to a newly-released study by Miami University's Center for Civic Engagement and the National Conference on Citizenship. Only about one in five Ohioans volunteers with local organizations, the report found, and two-thirds of all Ohioans play no role at all in local civic or community groups. That's a decline from just a few years ago, according to the study. 

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