News Politics

City Council meeting displays public’s distaste for budget cuts

Cincinnati City Council members met for a public hearing of the Budget and Finance Committee in Lower Price Hill Wednesday night to discuss several council members’ counter-proposal to City Manager Milton Dohoney’s 2011 Mid-Year Reduction Plan.

The proposed motion, signed by council members Chris Bortz, Leslie Ghiz, Wayne Lippert, Amy Murray, and Charlie Winburn, would pass budget cuts—which largely include expected savings from job position vacancies, department reorganization, and service funding reduction—totaling savings of $5.1 million for 2011 and $8.5 million for 2012. The most notable exception in the motion would be retaining the 44 police officers that Dohoney proposed letting go (memo with complete list of numbers).

Wednesday night’s meeting was scheduled to obtain feedback from the public, as well as to vote on the 5 council members’ proposal.

In total, 34 citizens signed up to speak to the Council. Most of the citizens spoke against civil service cuts, especially regarding health care-related cuts. Children, parents, and nurses all came to speak about how important nurse services are in schools, pointing out the high rates of ADHD, asthma, and other disorders that could go untreated if school nurses were let go. One parent came to tears, saying, “My child almost died.” Another noted that if nurses disappeared from schools it would be a “lawsuit waiting to happen.”

City Council image by Zachary Schunn for UrbanCincy.

Others spoke passionately about health services, from the Cincinnati Health Department, which was scheduled for cuts, to the city’s dental access program, to health clinics. One nurse noted that the Health Department would be self-sustaining due to federal revenue by 2014, and that cutting funding would be a short-sighted move that would not only hurt citizens, but would make it difficult to build-up the department when new funding arrived.

Most citizens’ arguments were straight to the point, with one woman saying that “without Northside Health Center, I would probably be dead today…. I’m just asking that you give people a chance to live.”

A few others spoke for the homeless or in support of Cincinnati’s recreation centers and pools. Several spoke in favor of the Office of Environmental Quality, which was slated to be closed, with its services shifting to other departments. Said one citizen, “Shutting OEQ is like killing a goose that lays golden eggs.” Another pointed out the revenue that the OEQ has brought in from reduced landfill costs and federal grant money, and argued that the office’s success should lead to its expansion, not its elimination.

Notably, only one person spoke against police layoffs (which were not part of the proposed motion). No one spoke of the burdens of high tax rates, with several speaking in favor of higher fees (such as trash collection fees) and increased property and income taxes. One neighborhood representative suggested the income tax rate should be raised from 2.1% to 3.1% to help close the deficit, and another noted that the rich needed to give back to the city.

A few commended the council’s hard work in performing a “difficult task,” and others asked that they ignore their differences and work together. One citizen brought the book, “The Three Little Pigs,” and recounted its lesson of cooperation to the Council.

Overall, the attending citizens appeared largely opposed to the budget cuts. A few citizens heckled Chris Bortz, who dominated the council members’ discussion following the speakers, as well as Charlie Winburn. Bortz asked numerous questions of Milton Dohoney, which at one point prompted Dohoney’s reply: “I’m not trying to play politics or make headlines. I’m trying to run the city government.”

Councilwomen Leslie Ghiz and Amy Murray were noticeably absent from the meeting. Councilman Bortz later noted that they were “with their children,” to which Wendell Young replied: “I left my wife in the hospital… [and] I’d like to do what I came here to do.”

A vote proceeded over the objections of some council members, most notably Chris Bortz, who claimed that they “had two weeks” to vote on the resolution and the meeting had purposefully been scheduled for a day when Ghiz and Murray could not attend. (The motion was dated August 15. However, it was later found that the motion had been filed with the clerk only Tuesday, just ahead of the scheduled Budget and Finance Committee meeting.)

With Ghiz and Murray absent, the motion failed with three supporting and four against.

The meeting ended with bickering over “politics,” with Councilmen Thomas and Bortz arguing over which side was “gaming” the other. Frustrated, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls abruptly ended the meeting.

Citizens, obviously frustrated by the length of the nearly three-hour-long meeting, left the building largely rejoicing that the cuts to social services had failed, but knowing that a similar motion may be re-filed and that they would have to return—again—to argue against the cuts.

Business Development News

Google updates aerial imagery of Cincinnati region

Google has updated its aerial imagery for several major cities throughout the United States including Portland, Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati.  The new imagery appears to have been taken over the summer.  Observers in the nation’s capital have been able to narrow it down to as precise as Sunday, August 29 between 1:00pm and 1:35pm.

Like many other cities around the country, the new aerial imagery for Cincinnati illustrates much of what has changed over recent years.  New construction projects are visibly taking place while others have been completed or are nearing completion in their aerials.  In addition to capturing the changing urban landscape in Cincinnati, the new imagery is also much crisper than previous versions.

Below is a sampling of 20 sites around the city that illustrate the aforementioned changes.  Enjoy!

News Transportation

Metro bus service restored to Lower Price Hill neighborhood

Metro is restoring service to the #31 route that had been previously eliminated as part of an effort in December 2009 to balance the transit authority’s budget that resulted in a 12 percent service reduction to Metro’s bus operations. The adjustments, to the route, will provide service along W. 8th Street to the Western Hills Viaduct along State Avenue.

Metro officials say that the addition of 14 trips each direction daily on weekdays, and eight trips each direction on weekends was made to provide greater access to the Kroger manufacturing plant and Lower Price Hill neighborhood. It is estimated that the restored service along this segment will provide 5,000 rides annually, with most of those trips related to employment at the Kroger plant.

“Thanks to the difficult decisions we made last year and effective management of our resources, Metro’s budget now appears to have stabilized,” said Marilyn Shazor, Metro’s CEO. “We are cautiously optimistic and will begin to restore some service as we can afford to do so. We plan to seek the community’s input to help us decide which service to add and in what order.”

The restored service to the #31 route took effect on Sunday, August 15 along with several other service changes to routes #3X, #3, #24, #71X, and #72. New bus schedules are available on Metro’s website, and across the street from the Government Square transit hub inside the Mercantile Building (map) on weekdays from 7:30am to 5pm. More information can be retrieved by calling (513) 621-4455 between 6:30am and 6pm Monday through Friday.


Cincinnati showing improvements over 2000 Census response rates

Lower Price Hill, the West End, Over-the-Rhine, Mt. Auburn, Clifton Heights and Corryville make up much of Cincinnati’s center city neighborhoods, and they also represent some of the lowest Census 2010 response rates to date. As of Monday, April 12 most of Cincinnati’s center city neighborhoods were below the 66% national average response rate while the East End, Clifton, Hyde Park, East Walnut Hills and Mt. Lookout all reporting at or above the national average.

A Census tract representing the northern portion of the West End is currently at a low 39%, while two Census tracts representing Pendleton and part of Walnut Hills have registered 43% and 42% response rates respectively. The lowest in the City of Cincinnati is Fay Apartments, an official City neighborhood and its own Census tract, at 34%. The City of Cincinnati in its entirety is at 63%, while Hamilton County has a 71% response rate making it the highest of Ohio’s five most populous counties.

Back in Cincinnati’s center city the success story is overwhelmingly the Census tracts that make up Over-the-Rhine. All four of the Census tracts there are already well above the Census 2000 response rates with two of the tracts a dramatic 21% higher already. Meanwhile, the Census tract in Over-the-Rhine that has been publicized for being one of the most difficult to count in the nation is currently at 44% which is 17% higher than the final Census 2000 tally.

“We are pleased with the appearance of an increase in participation, especially in OTR,” said Katherine Keough-Jurs, Senior City Planner with the City of Cincinnati’s Department of City Planning & Buildings who went on to note that the data collection methods differ from 2000 to 2010 and thus make the numbers more difficult to compare.

“Technically, comparing 2000 to 2010 is little bit like comparing apples and oranges,” Keough-Jurs explained. “Still, we are pleased that so far OTR is showing 40% to 53% participation rates and that some City neighborhoods are as high as 80%.”

The areas surrounding the University of Cincinnati had initially been slow to report and were initially some of the most under-performing in Cincinnati. The past week has seen a rapid increase in the number of responses in these neighborhoods with all now reporting at levels comparable to 2000 Census response rates with months still to go thanks to a 10% surge.

Cincinnati Counts workers have been hitting Cincinnati’s streets for months working to inform people about the 2010 Census. The good looking group on the right is a group of fellow Urban Planning students I knew while at the University of Cincinnati (shout out!).

The real paradigm exists when you move from the difficulties of counting center city populations to their suburban counterparts. As of April 12th, the west side community of Green Township boasted the highest response rate (83%) in the entire nation for communities with more than 50,000 people.

Census workers will continue to visit households that have yet to respond through July to help drive up those response rates before they must, by law, deliver the Census results to the President in December. Keough-Jurs notes that households with forms not turned in by Friday, April 16 may receive a visit from a door-to-door enumerator in May.

“Our 100-plus Complete Count Committee members are still working hard to get the word out that the census is simple, safe and important, and reminding people to complete and return their Census forms,” explained Keough-Jurs.

Those who have lost or have not received a form can pick up an additional form at local libraries and post offices. There are also Be Counted Centers that have forms available, and Questionnaire Assistance Centers that have helpers there to assist individuals with filling out their forms. You can find the closest Be Counted or Questionnaire Assistance Center near you online.


This Week In Soapbox 6/2

This Week In Soapbox (TWIS) you can read about the $24 million Corryville Crossings project in Uptown, the annual end-of-year DAAP Works exhibition, new development projects in Lower Price Hill, new features at the fabulous Bootsy’s produced by Jeff Ruby, the $10 million master plan project for the Children’s Home of Cincinnati and the scenic view corridor studies being conducted by The Hillside Trust.

If you’re interested in staying in touch with some of the latest development news in Cincinnati please check out this week’s stories and sign up for the weekly E-Zine sent out by Soapbox Cincinnati.

TWIS 6/2:

  • $24M Corryville Crossings project pushing full steam aheadfull article
  • DAAP Works to showcase some of nation’s best design workfull article
  • New development projects transforming formerly industrial Lower Price Hillfull article
  • Bootsy’s ready to serve with new features fit to impressfull article
  • Children’s Home gets started on their $10M master planfull article
  • Hillside Trust working to promote and preserve scenic Columbia Parkwayfull article