Mayor says parking lease delay will prompt police, fire layoffs
Referendum would limit budget options
Kevin Osborne, WCPO Digital
2:45 PM, Mar 28, 2013
12:45 AM, Mar 30, 2013
CINCINNATI - Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory pledged a speedy appeal of Thursday's court ruling that blocks the city's parking lease from taking effect until voters hold a possible referendum.
Until an appeals court hears the case, Mallory warned residents not to sign petitions that would allow the referendum. Anyone who does is responsible for looming layoffs of police and firefighters, he added.
"People need to not sign a petition," the mayor said at a Thursday afternoon press conference. "If you sign a petition, you're laying off a cop or firefighter."
Mallory's remarks came after Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Winkler granted a permanent injunction against the parking lease earlier that morning.
In his ruling, Winkler said City Council's use of an emergency clause to have the lease take effect immediately does not supercede 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.
Without the money, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said he must move ahead with his "Plan B" option, which calls for laying off 344 city workers – including 189 police officers and 80 firefighters.
Other cuts in Dohoney's Plan B include eliminating $1.7 million in human services funding, reducing litter pickup and building inspections by $1.6 million, and saving nearly $988,000 by closing three community centers and six swimming pools.
"You don't give someone a layoff notice lightly," Dohoney said. "I'm not elected, I don't bluff."
Lease opponents, however, have said the city has other options besides layoffs.
For example, council candidate Greg Landsman – a Democrat -- has identified $23 million in potential savings.
They include $3.5 million saved from not filling vacant positions, $2 million in carry-over from last year, $7.5 million in casino tax revenue, and $7 million in additional parking revenue from a parking deal with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority that's locally financed and doesn't involve a New York hedge fund, which was done in the city's lease.
Former Councilman John Cranley, who is running for mayor, said the city needs to reallocate $10 million in casino tax revenues that currently are set aside to pay for the planned streetcar system in downtown and Over-the-Rhine.
Also, Cranley unveiled a budget plan with other cuts that he said would avoid a deficit without resorting to layoffs.
They include a 10-percent cut to the budgets of the offices of the mayor, city manager and City Council, along with the same cut to the Community Development, Finance, Human Resources, Law and Planning departments.
The cuts could be accomplished by reducing the salaries of everyone in those offices and departments who make more than $80,000 annually, he said.
"The city should prioritize basic services like police and fire rather than wasting money on pet projects like the streetcar," Cranley said."If necessary, on Dec. 1, I will convert my swearing-in ceremony to a welcome back party and hire back laid off city workers."
The lease of Cincinnati's parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority is estimated to yield a total of $570.7 million, according to the city's financial consultant.
Under the deal, the city will get an upfront payment of $92 million, along with annual payments that begin at $3 million and increase gradually over time.
With the money, city administrators would cover a nearly $26 million deficit in the budget and jumpstart several development projects including construction of a luxury apartment building downtown.
Lease supporters say the deal will help the city grow its tax base.
Critics counter that the deal lessens public accountability for the assets, and fear that increases in parking rates will hurt small businesses.
Referendum supporters have until April 7 to collect 8,522 signatures of registered voters within the city. If enough signatures aren't collected, the lease would take effect 30 days after it was approved by City Council.
Mallory was angered by the referendum effort, which is being pushed by individual citizens, the NAACP's local chapter and the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes.
"A group of people who continue to try to run this city have decided the city manager doesn't know what he's doing," Mallory said. "It's unacceptable."
"You have to trust the political leadership that's in place, you have to trust the professional leadership that's in place and has made progress in this city," the mayor added.