Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, City Council urge parking referendum backers to reconsider

'There are no other options'

CINCINNATI - As organizers of a possible referendum to block Cincinnati's parking lease get ready to file their petitions, Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council members on Tuesday again warned it would spark the layoffs of police and firefighters.

Mallory scheduled the press conference at City Hall to discuss the parking lease and again urged  residents not to sign petitions.

Without money generated by the lease, Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. have proposed balancing next year's budget by laying off 344 city workers – including 189 police officers and 80 firefighters.

"There are no other options," the mayor said.

Lease opponents – which include neighborhood activists and the NAACP's local chapter -- don't believe the mayor's assertion. They said Mallory and a council majority are using scare tactics instead of making difficult budget decisions in an election year.

Council members at the press conference, though, disagreed.

"The parking plan is our last hope to not have to make these types of cuts," said Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a lease supporter.

Councilman Cecil Thomas, another supporter, said there are more pressing issues to deal with than a parking lease.

"C'mon, folks. We have much more serious areas than parking," Thomas said. "(The lease money) will get us through another two years."

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler granted a permanent injunction against the parking lease last week while referendum organizers try to collect the 8,729 signatures required to place the issue on the November ballot.

The deadline for that effort is Friday, but organizers plan on filing the petitions Thursday.

In his ruling, Winkler said City Council's use of an emergency clause to have the lease take effect immediately does not supersede provisions in the city's charter or Ohio law that ensures the right to referendum for most legislative actions.

Council had planned to use part of a $92 million upfront payment from the lease to cover shortfalls in the 2014 and 2015 municipal budgets.

City Council must approve a balanced budget by July 1.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is running for mayor this fall, said money generated by the lease would "provide a bridge for us" to avoid deficit until systematic cuts are made.

"It is a bridge, not a solution," Qualls said.

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan conceded the group needed to begin "right-sizing our budget. We've kicked the can down the road every year I've been on council."

As part of Winkler's decision last week, Cincinnati officials apparently can no longer use emergency ordinances until it changes the wording that allows them in the city's charter.

As a result, Mallory said a developer has backed out of a deal to renovate a historic building in Mount Auburn into apartments.

The project was slated for the Kinsey Building at 2415 Maplewood Ave. Owner Graham Kalbli planned to renovate the 1905 structure into eight two-bedroom apartments using state tax credits.

Although Mallory held a similar press conference last Thursday, this time he promised that "community organizations" and "leaders of several civic organizations" would attend and discuss why they supported the city's parking plan.

No one spoke at Tuesday's press conference except Mallory, the five council members who backed the parking lease and a downtown resident who said he signed a petition while drunk and now regretted it.

The resident, David Meredith, said he was now satisfied that the lease retains enough local control over parking rates.

Under the deal, the city's parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while the city's parking lots and garages would be leased for up to 50 years.

In return, the city would get the $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million for the remainder of the lease.

City officials would use the money to help avoid deficits in the 2014 and 2015 budgets, and to quicken the pace of some citywide development projects.

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