Business News Politics

Cincinnati’s Recommended Budget Calls for 201 Layoffs, Program Eliminations

Cincinnati City Manager Milton Dohoney released his recommended budget that makes a large number of cuts to fill the $35 million budget gap left behind following the State of Ohio’s reduction of $26 million in funding to the City of Cincinnati.

The original budget proposal from Dohoney included $25.8 million from an upfront payment included in the parking lease and modernization plan, which would have also included $3 million in annual payments thereafter. This proposal was approved 5-4 by City Council, but was put on hold by a local court until opponents were able to file petitions and get the proposal put on this November’s ballot for public vote.

“Though a legal victory is being vigorously pursued, the ultimate resolution is not assured in time to affect what must be in place by June 1 to take effect July 1, 2013,” Dohoney explained. “Should a final legal victory be realized after July 1, the Administration would presume to move expeditiously to reverse some of the impacts of the cuts contained within the recommended budget.”

Cincinnati Mounted Patrol
Cincinnati’s mounted patrol would be cut entirely if City Council passes the recommended budget. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

The end result of these cuts includes the elimination of 66 police officers, 71 fire fighters, 64 city employees, and the elimination of 60 vacant positions. The recommended budget will also eliminate funding for the following items:

  • Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance ($150,000)
  • Urban Agricultural Program ($65,000)
  • Heritage Events Subsidy – Opening Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Black Family Reunion, Juneteenth ($36,000)
  • Camp Washington, Fairview, Filson, Spring Grove Village, and Ziegler Pools ($167,650)
  • Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills ($127,710)
  • Energy Management Program ($100,010)
  • Mounted Patrol ($95,000)
  • Community Prosecution Program ($83,857)
  • Delinquent Accounts/Receivables Program ($75,460)
  • Claims Program ($55,680)
  • Tire Collection Program ($30,880)

In addition to the elimination of these programs, no funding is budgeted for either 2014 or 2015 as a result of limited General Fund resources.

Furloughs for City Management staff will also take place, and the City of Cincinnati would also use a larger amount of projected casino revenues to balance this budget, even though Dohoney has recommended against that in the past due to the unpredictability of these funds.

“While balancing a budget deficit with mostly cuts is not preferred, the timing of the new fiscal year coupled with the timing of the litigation over the parking deal makes it the only real option with a number this large,” Dohoney stated in a prepared release. “Our goal is going to be to recall staff as soon as possible and provide the best customer service we can deliver for the citizens in the meantime.”

A number of other measures are taken in the recommended budget to help close the budget gap, but the large amount of savings is realized through personnel layoffs. Dohoney has also recommended that the property tax millage increase from 5.7 mills to its maximum allowed 6.1 mills to raise an additional $1.3 million annually.

To help engage the public in this budget process, Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) has scheduled three public hearings. The first will take place at the Duke Energy Convention Center on Thursday, May 16 at 6:30pm, the second will occur on Monday, May 20 at 6:30pm at the College Hill Recreation Center, and the final meeting will take place at the Madisonville Recreation Center on Wednesday, May 22 at 6:30pm.

“My priority for the FY 2014 city operating budget is to make sure that all Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are safe and that we continue to attack blight that breeds crime,” Qualls stated. “As chair of the Budget and Finance Committee I will work to further reduce the number of layoffs for police, fire and health department personnel, to ensure that we keep all our neighborhoods safe and clean.”

Business News Politics Transportation

President Obama Shifts Attention Toward Economy, Cities in 2013 State of the Union Address

President Barack Obama (D) delivered the annual State of the Union address last evening. The hour-long speech covered a wide range of topics including gun control, military policy, immigration reform, voting rights, domestic economic programs, education reform, and energy policy.

One of the most-discussed topics of the evening was when the President announced his aspirations to see the national minimum wage raised to $9 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour results in an annual income of $14,500 – a number the President says keeps families with two minimum wage earners below the poverty line.

In 2006, Ohioans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 an hour, with an annual cost-of-living escalator.

“This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families,” President Obama stated. “It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets.”

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 1

Brent Spence Bridge Alternative 2
The President called for a “Fix-It-First” program during his State of the Union address, but will it make a difference for Cincinnati’s Brent Spence Bridge Rehabilitation/Replacement project? Brent Spence Bridge replacement Alternative 1 (TOP) and Alternative 2 (BOTTOM) renderings provided.

Since the last time Congress voted to increase the federal minimum wage, which is effective for all states that have a minimum wage lower than the federal level, 19 different states have voted to raise their respective rates. The President’s $9 an hour proposal with an annual cost-of-living escalator would place it above every state in the union with the exception of Washington which pays its lowest earning workers $9.19 an hour.

In addition to raising the pay for the nation’s lowest earners, the President also pushed for new programs meant to spur job growth in a new economy. He called for the reform of high school education to more effectively train graduates to be able to fill high-tech jobs.

He also asked Congress to create a network of 15 manufacturing innovation hubs, modeled after the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) established in Youngstown, OH in August 2012. Those cities selected, the President says, would work to partner businesses with the Department of Defense and Energy.

The President stated that the goal is to transform “regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs” in an effort to jumpstart the next revolution in manufacturing.

The advanced manufacturing policy proposal is one that should certainly catch the attention of local policy leaders as they work to transform Cincinnati’s Mill Creek Valley into a productive economic engine for the 21st century, as laid out in the Growth & Opportunities Cincinnati Plan published in 2008.

Another point of emphasis during the President’s first State of the Union address of his second term revolved around repairing the nation’s existing built environment.

To that end, he discussed retrofitting buildings to become more energy efficient, and announced a goal to cut energy wasted by homes and businesses in half over the next 20 years. President Obama continued by calling for a program that would prioritize infrastructure spending on existing assets in need of repair, like Ohio and Kentucky’s combined 4,054 deficient bridges.

“I propose a ‘Fix-It-First’ program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs,” said President Obama. “And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children.”

Perhaps the biggest bi-partisan applause of the night went to the President’s condemnation of gun violence and call for action to prevent further atrocities like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and those that occur on the streets of America’s cities every day.

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight,” President Obama clarified. “But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”

Business News

After years of work, ambassadors in Over-the-Rhine are finally reality

Last June the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) expanded the clean and safe ambassador service from the Central Business District to historic Over-the-Rhine (OTR). The move came after neighborhood leaders, businesses and residents called for such expansion to help protect the progress made there over the past half-decade.

3CDC partnered with the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and The Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation in order to make the $100,000 endeavor a reality.

“This ambassador service will greatly compliment the ongoing development in Over-the-Rhine,” stated Chad Munitz, Executive Vice President of Development & Operations of 3CDC. “With more residents moving into the area and the extra activity in the community it is a great asset to have an extra pair of eyes on the street helping with safety and additional help with the cleanliness of the neighborhood.”

While the ambassadors appear to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, their presence comes five years after the idea was originally pursued.

An Over-the-Rhine Ambassador cleans up trash along the sidewalk outside of the busy Taste of Belgium Cafe. Photograph by Randy A. Simes for UrbanCincy.

“The whole idea was about jump starting OTR,” explained Michael Redmond, owner of several neighborhood businesses including Neons Unplugged, and former director of the now defunct Vitality Over-the-Rhine that spearheaded initial conversations years ago. “We had ambassadors in the neighborhood about nine or ten years ago, and we thought it was the easiest thing to bring back. It was a way to make an impact through cleaning up the streets.”

The new service includes two teams of ambassadors that walk the streets of Over-the-Rhine. According to 3CDC officials, the clean team works seven days a week focusing on litter, graffiti removal, weed abatement, and pressure washing. The safety team is meant to compliment those services and patrols the neighborhood Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 3:30pm to midnight. Officials say that the safety team is responsible for panhandling interactions, bike patrols and safety patrols.

Initially the ambassador service was only funded through the end of 2011 with the seed funding. The service has since been extended through the end of 2012 thanks to an additional $113,500 in funding as part of the Over-the-Rhine District Management plan, and neighborhood leaders say they are committed to extending the effort indefinitely.

“It’s extremely important for the area, and we will continue to support this program as we seek new ways to fund it because it’s so crucial to the success of the neighborhood,” explained Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Communications with 3CDC.

According to Redmond, one of the initial hurdles towards making the ambassador service a reality in 2007 was the determination that the property values in Over-the-Rhine would not support a special improvement district like the one that funds Downtown Cincinnati Inc., which is responsible for the Downtown Ambassadors.

Thanks to the new partnerships, that hurdle has been cleared for the time being, but long-term success may hinge upon a future expansion of the special improvement district used in the Central Business District.

“It is a lot cheaper to have the ambassadors out on the streets, than having a trashy neighborhood,” Redmond concluded. “There are more bars today, but the streets are cleaner than they were when everything was closed down. The ambassadors are a big reason for this, along with the new residents moving into the neighborhood.”

Redmond went on the say that the influx of new businesses also helps the neighborhood, and that many of the new businesses, including his own, would be willing to do and participate more in improving the area.

“I had not put much thought into the ambassadors, but noticed them not too long ago,” noted Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet. “I think that it’s a good idea to help keep the neighborhood clean, and it can also add to the perception of safety…it definitely cannot hurt.”

Note: Randy Simes worked with Vitality Over-the-Rhine from 2006 to 2007 on creating a volunteer ambassador program in the historic neighborhood, and studying the feasibility of a special improvement district there.

News Politics

Stories of Cincinnati’s strong history, promising future highlight 2011 State of the City

Last night, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory delivered his sixth State of the City address. In the speech Mayor Mallory gave those in attendance a bit of history lesson about Cincinnati in tough economic times, and stood boldly in the face of opposition to his administration’s projects and programs.

The history lesson began with a story of two men, Jim and Bill, who started a company during tough economic times in 1837. Those men, Mayor Mallory says, did not listen to the naysayers and eventually created the world’s largest consumer products company – Procter & Gamble. The history lessons continued with examples of bold investment projects like the construction of Union Terminal in 1928 and Carew Tower in 1930.

“The naysayers keep saying we need to slow down; we need to pull back; it is not the right time,” stated Mayor Mallory. “In these economic times, we need to be bold when others are scared. That is how you prosper.”

The mayor then tied those history lessons to more recent endeavors that have attracted significant opposition. Mayor Mallory cited the development of The Banks, implementation of the City’s Enhanced Recycling Program and 2010’s CitiRama in Northside. Mallory’s assertion, in part, is that a city must continue to change, innovate and investment in order to stay competitive.

Cincinnati Skyline photography by Aaron Davidson.

“What brings people to a city is when there is clearly something going on, when the city is on the move. People want to be in cities where things are happening. And clearly things are happening in Cincinnati.”

One of those things, Mayor Mallory contended, is the Cincinnati Streetcar project for which he reserved some of his most pointed comments.

“The streetcar project will bring jobs and development to the city and that is why my administration will continue to pursue the streetcar,” Mallory exclaimed. “And yes, we will do it in the face of opposition. The reality is opposition never built anything…and just like we built The Banks, we will build the streetcar.”

Mayor Mallory also discussed the vibrancy of downtown, the new Cincinnati Horeshoe Casino, massive investments taking place in Over-the-Rhine, the redevelopment and expansion of Washington Park, renovation of Fay Apartments into the nation’s largest green housing development and a $100-200 million project that will transform a polluted creek into a clean park space.

In short, Mallory said, “Few cities are seeing the type of rebirth that we are seeing in our urban core.”

Other highlights include:

  • Launch of a new initiative called Bank On Greater Cincinnati that will transition 8,000 people from payday lenders to banks or credit unions.
  • Progress made on cleaning up lead paint from households with the help of $7.5 million in federal grants.
  • 72% of Cincinnati households now recycle, and 36% more has been recycled so far in 2011 following the introduction of the City’s Enhanced Recycling Program.
  • The Enhanced Recycling Program was expected to achieve $47,000 per month in savings. In March 2011, the program actually saved $83,000.
  • Since 2007 the City has decreased energy usage by more than 15%, which exceeded their 10% goal, saving the city more than $1 million in 2010.
  • Graduation rates at Cincinnati Public Schools have increased from 51% in 2000 to 80% in 2010, and college enrollment has increased 10% over the last four years.
  • The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) has been responsible for getting several violent gangs indicted in federal court and has significantly reduced violent crime throughout the city.
  • Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% to 8.6% since last year.

Mallory concluded by reflecting on these accomplishments and looking forward.

“Let me make it clear. We do not lie down. We do not give up. This is Cincinnati. When times are hard, we work harder. It is a part of our history. It is part of our heritage. It is in the very fabric of who we are as a city. So, what are you willing to work on? What are you committed to? I challenge all of you to find something you are passionate about to make Cincinnati greater. Future generations of Cincinnati will thank you.”

Business News Opinion Politics

April 7, 2001: The Day Cincinnati Was Forced to Change

April 7, 2001 is a day that has marked a changing point for Cincinnati and its people. On that day a white Cincinnati police officer shot, and killed, what was later discovered to be an unarmed 19-year-old black male. The shooting was the fifteenth deadly shooting of a black man, under the age of 40, since February 1995. Of those fifteen, three of the men did not possess any weapons. During that same time, four Cincinnati police officers were killed or wounded.

The series of deadly interactions, between white police officers and black men, was heightened by the fact that none of the police officers were found guilty of any civil or criminal offenses. Following the death of Timothy Thomas, Cincinnati’s black community erupted into civil unrest for four days. Commonly known as the Cincinnati Race Riots, the civil unrest made international headlines and resulted in a hugely damaging economic boycott of the city.

Since that time much has changed. Federal investigators worked within the Cincinnati Police Department to ensure that changes were being made in the way the department conducted its business. In recent years the investigators determined that Cincinnati’s police force had made significant progress, and that its improved practices should serve as a national model of success.

Over-the-Rhine, the epicenter of the civil unrest, is in the midst of one of the most dramatic urban transformations in the United States. Hundreds of new residents, dozens of new businesses, dramatically reduced crime and improved public infrastructure now define the historic neighborhood. More specifically, the dark alley where Timothy Thomas was shot and killed now houses upscale condominiums and a new streetscape.

Since April 2001, the city has also become a national center for racial dialog and civil rights issues. Since Cincinnati’s race riots and ensuing economic boycott the National Urban League, NAACP, National Baptist, Council for Black Studies, League of United Latin American Citizens and Civil Rights Game have all hosted, or will host, their national conventions in Cincinnati. Furthermore, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened its doors on the banks of the Ohio River in 2004.

I personally remember April 2001. I remember hearing the police and fire sirens emanating from Western Hills Plaza. I remember the graphic scenes on television of protesters being shot with bean bag and rubber bullets. I remember the first night rioting broke out, and I remember the curfews implemented all over the region to prevent further unrest. I also remember just how close Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken was to calling in the National Guard.

At the time I was at the very beginning of a new stage in my life where I fell in love with Cincinnati. The riots were a cold splash of water to my face. I was hopeful for the new riverfront development and other developments proposed around the city. And with the riots, it all came crashing down.

The progress of Main Street in Over-the-Rhine was squashed overnight, the city got a negative reputation throughout the world, and the boycott epitomized by Bill Cosby’s comedy show cancellation seemed like the proverbial straw that would break Cincinnati’s back. Honestly, I was angry and did not understand what was happening in Cincinnati, but I feel now that it was for the best.

Cincinnati’s racial tensions of the late 90’s are not unique to the Queen City. And in fact, I believe that the tensions that boiled over into four days of unrest could very well happen in any number of cities around the United States.

The simple reality is that the structural segregation and disenfranchisement of America’s black population is not ancient history like so many would like to believe. Economic, political and social inequities still very often fall along racial lines in the United States, and those cities with a large white and black population shift have serious issues still to overcome.

The United States often has a bad perception around the rest of the world. Sometimes this is a reasonable perception, but other times it is not. While I feel that the United States has a long way to progress in many areas, I also feel that we air our dirty laundry so-to-speak. The airing of this dirty laundry allows us to make progress on complicated issues, and thus allows the U.S. to remain a beacon of freedom and hope for so many around the world and within our own borders.

What happened in Cincinnati in April 2001, I believe, was a similar action of airing dirty laundry. Since that time I feel that Cincinnati has made racial progress. Cincinnatians collectively received a splash of cold water to the face in April 2001, and we had to engage in difficult conversations and make difficult decisions to move on. Some of those conversations and decisions still need to be made, and some will never fully be resolved. But Cincinnati is now on a path to enlightenment that it would not have been without the civil unrest of April 2001 and the economic boycotts that followed.

What do you think…have race relations improved in Cincinnati since 2001? Were you around for the race riots, and if so, what was your experience? If you were not in Cincinnati at that time, what impression did you have of the city during the turmoil?

Cincinnati Police Officer photograph by Ronny Salerno.