CINCINNATI -- With 2016 nearly behind us, WCPO is looking ahead to what will likely be the most important Cincinnati government stories next year.
As he gears up for a re-election campaign, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley will be busy touting his achievements, such as repaving roads and awarding more city contracts to minority business owners. But he also has a full agenda for 2017.
Here’s what to watch for next year:
Neighborhood projects break ground
Last year City Council voted to commit $40 million from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport for neighborhoods projects across the city.
In 2017, crews will begin to break ground on those projects.
“We have finally matched our dollars to our rhetoric of investing in neighborhoods,” Cranley said in his state of the city address in October.
Once finished, Avondale will have a new mixed-use development anchored by a full-service grocery store. It will have 75,000 square feet of commercial space, including a potential dental office and health clinic.
On the East Side, work continues on the Wasson Way Bike Trail, a proposed path that will go 7.6 miles from Victory Parkway to the Little Miami Bike Trail in Newtown. It will give 100,000 people, living within one
mile of the trail, access to a network of over 100 miles of bike and pedestrian trails.
Other projects include Westwood Square, and new developments in the neighborhoods of Bond Hill, Roselawn and Madisonville.
A housing court for slumlords
After years of planning, it is likely that Hamilton County will finally have a designated housing court in 2017.
This has been a big goal for Cranley, who wants to hold absentee slumlords accountable for the damage they do to neighborhoods.
“A housing court is critical to preserving everyone’s investment in their own homes,” Cranley said. “A lot of times you have one bad apple landlord who isn’t cutting the grass or picking up the litter … and a housing court will give the city and communities the right to hold everyone to the same standards.”
Cleveland and Columbus already have housing courts. But political infighting between the city and county stalled the creation of one here until now.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters joined city leaders to petition the Supreme Court of Ohio to create a housing court. But details must still be worked out, including who pays for it.
"The housing court would be roughly $250,000 to $345,000 annually, and that is if there is a new court added,'' Cincinnati City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething told council's Law and Public Safety Committee in December.
But if an existing judge wants to become a housing court judge, it would be cost neutral, she said.
Reducing child poverty
Community leaders will finally have a plan in 2017 to implement their bold goal of moving 10,000 kids out of poverty in five years.
After more than a year of planning and hosting two major community summits, the Child Poverty Collaborative is nearly ready to reveal its plan on how to lower the city’s unusually high child poverty rate.
Cranley created the group in 2015 to tackle a big city problem – a child poverty rate that is nearly double the national rate. Since then the group’s steering committee of more than 30 faith, civic and community leaders has met monthly.
Their action plan is expected in spring 2017.
Big local races in November
With a slew of new Democrats running for City Council and party incumbents Chris Seelbach, Wendell Young, P.G. Sittenfeld and David Mann all running for re-election, the party is hoping to strengthen their majority in order to set an agenda that is veto-proof by the mayor.
Currently Democrats have a 5-4 majority. They hope to widen that majority to 6-3, which means that bloc could override a mayoral veto. That is, if Democrats can stick together.
That remains to be seen, since the party has two competing factions between the pro-Cranley wing and those who would prefer a different mayor, perhaps Councilwoman Yvvette Simpson, who is challenging him.
Will City Council and the county stop fighting?
Cranley is optimistic that the city and county may finally get along in 2017.
The reason: a new Democratic majority on the Hamilton County Commission.
Democrat Denise Driehaus won a new seat on the commission to join Todd Portune in a 2-1 majority. Now both city and county governing bodies have Democratic majorities.
This may help the longstanding fight over the Metropolitan Sewer District. Commissioners sued the city last February and a federal judge ordered formal mediation between the two sides. A resolution is expected in 2017.
Under the current 50-year agreement the county owns the sewer district and sets its budget. The city manages it and retains ownership of its assets. That agreement expires in 2018.
The city and county also have to figure out where to get the money to replace the aging Western Hills Viaduct. It will cost $310 million to replace the main bridge for commuters from Western neighborhoods into Downtown.