Good morning all. Here’s what’s happening in the news today.
Our new Cincinnati City Council had its first big decisions to make yesterday at its Budget and Finance Committee meeting. All council members are part of that committee, so all got to weigh in on a proposal to raise city property taxes to pay for major capital projects like the city’s portion of the costs of replacing the Western Hills Viaduct. The 1-mill increase would provide $50 million for that project, a new fire training facility and other projects. Republican council members Amy Murray and Jeff Pastor voted against that boost, which would cost owners of a $100,000 home roughly $31 a year.
Mayor John Cranley last month announced a plan to pay for the viaduct replacement by issuing bonds in 2021, after some other debt service obligations currently owed by the city roll off. That, he said, would likely mean the viaduct could be funded with no increase in taxes.
In explaining her no vote, Murray also cited that assertion, along with the fact that other big property tax asks are coming for voters in November, including levies for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and the Cincinnati Zoo.
Council voted down another increase on the city’s operating budget side that would have overridden a 15-year-old property tax rollback that sets millage to collect exactly $29 million a year. Voters have approved a higher millage — 6.1 mills — but per council’s decision, the city won’t collect taxes at that level, despite a deficit caused by pay increases for certain city employees, cuts to local government funds from state lawmakers and the removal of Ohio’s estate tax. The city received $13 million less last year than it did in 2010 from the local government fund, and saw none of the $13.5 million it received from the estate tax that year.
• A Georgia advocate for high-profile white nationalist Richard Spencer yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Cincinnati over a $10,000 security fee for his upcoming appearance at the school. Last year, Georgia State University student Cameron Padgett threatened the school with a lawsuit if it did not rent a venue at which Spencer could speak. UC complied and will provide a room on campus for the white nationalist to publicly discuss his views at a cost of $500. Back in October, the University of Florida reportedly spent more than $500,000 on security for a Spencer event there. Despite that, Padgett’s attorney Kyle Bristow says UC’s security fee is an effort to restrict free speech and thus unconstitutional. Padgett and Bristow are seeking a jury trial and $2 million in damages from UC.
• A local boys basketball team from Kings Mills is ending its season early after complaints about a sexually suggestive name printed on the front of its jerseys and racially charged faux-player names written on the backs. The recreational team, part of the Cincinnati Premier Youth Basketball League, showed up to play a West Clermont team Sunday with jerseys that read “Wet Dream Team” on the front. Several of the high school age players also had racially offensive nicknames on the backs of their jerseys. After a West Clermont parent complained, the team has been barred from playing on school grounds and will sit out the rest of the season.
"We sincerely apologize to anyone that was offended by the jerseys,” coach Walt Gill wrote in a statement. “We offered to cover them up or change, however the league saw fit to remove us and we have accepted that decision."
• Rapidly expanding Cincinnati Children’s Hospital last month purchased a neighboring building for $7.3 million. The Herald Building, where some Children’s employees already work, also houses celebrated black newspaper The Cincinnati Herald. A representative for the hospital didn’t say why the hospital bought the building but said no usage changes were planned.
• The Trump administration’s travel ban on visitors from several majority-Muslim countries has local implications for the Contemporary Art Center. Syrian performers slated to appear at the CAC this week for “Displacement,” a dance piece by artist Mithkal Alzghair that explores the personal impacts of the war in Syria, ran into difficulties obtaining visas under the administration’s travel policies. With the show, the latest installment of the CAC’s Black Box performance series, slated to start Thursday, one performer still won’t be able to enter the country to perform. But the show will go on, CAC officials say.
“Despite the hurdles, we found a way and are proud to announce that ‘Displacement’ will go on as scheduled, with the exception of one performer,” a spokesperson for the downtown arts institution said. “In the midst of this now fractured performance, we as a community come out victorious and give light to a voice that’s shouting when we need to hear it most.”
• HIV infection rates are rising in Hamilton County and Northern Kentucky, officials say. Infection rates through September of last year outpaced all of 2016, county officials say, and don’t look to be slowing down. Part of that rise involves intravenous drug use. Though the category still makes up the smallest number of cases, HIV cases contracted from needles rose from about 9 percent of new cases in 2016 to 16 percent of new cases last year.
• Brace yourselves, Ohio voters. We have yet another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful. Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich has thrown his hat into an already crowded ring, becoming the sixth Democrat to announce a campaign in the primary race for governor. He’ll face off against Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former State Rep. Connie Pillich, former U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief Rich Cordray, Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton in the party’s May primary. Kucinich spent 16 years in Congress and ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination twice.