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Cranley vetoes city council's spending plan, proposal to narrow Liberty Street

Posted at 11:30 AM, Oct 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-11 18:24:05-04

CINCINNATI -- For the second time this year, Mayor John Cranley vetoed funding for a Cincinnati nonprofit that has been the target of a city audit and several media investigations into how it spends taxpayer money.

Cranley vetoed a budget ordinance on Thursday that would have allowed for millions in changes to the current city budget.

Included in that plan is an additional $150,000 for the Center for Closing the Health Gap – which is led by former mayor Dwight Tillery and routinely gets more money than most other nonprofits in the city.

During a press conference, Cranley read aloud from the city’s 2017 audit of the Health Gap’s spending. Auditors criticized the nonprofit for spending city funds on the political work of The Black Agenda, and not being able to prove any performance metric in their city contract.

“Think about that, they could not prove any of the status of randomly selected performance measures,” Cranley said. “And yet council isn’t just funding them, they’re increasing their funding at a time when we lost a revenue source.”

The Health Gap had to pay back more than $40,000 to the city last year after it was the focus of a 9 On Your Side I-Team report that uncovered improper spending.

Cranley’s veto means a stalemate on Cincinnati City Council’s spending plan to close out the fiscal year. It also leaves the start date of a new police recruit class in limbo.

He criticized council for putting popular items -- like bumping up the start date of a new police recruit class from April to January and adding new gunshot detection technology to Price Hill – into a single budget ordinance with Health Gap funding. Cranley also said council should cut spending after a judge delayed a billboard tax that was expected to bring in more than $700,000 in revenue.

On Wednesday Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld said his plan is to get the best of both worlds. By saving money at a slower rate, the city can afford services while still moving its savings account in the right direction, he said.

"I created one budget that raises our reserves by nearly $2 million," Sittenfeld said. "There's no other way to carve that than by saying that's a responsible -- fiscally responsible -- thing to do."

Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney had proposed saving $2.6 million from last year's carryover budget, but council reduced that to $1.9 million.

Council had proposed spending on a number of items – economic development programs, police radio upgrades, a heroin call center and new land for Bethany House.  They also wanted to give a $150,000 boost to the Health Gap, raising the total amount the nonprofit would have received from this city this year to $700,000.

Cranley tried to strip the Health Gap of its funding in June, but city council overrode his veto.

On Thursday Cranley also vetoed a $3.4 million street calming project that would have narrowed Liberty Street from seven to five lanes. Councilman Chris Seelbach has worked for years on the project because he believes it would improve pedestrian safety.

Cranley vetoed the ordinance, in large part, because of the $1.1 million cost to move a relatively new water main. He also criticized the plan for removing 85 on-street parking spaces and potentially causing traffic bottlenecks.

“To spend a million dollars to move a water main that was just put in 15 years ago, that has 85 years of life left, is reckless,” Cranley said. “It’s irresponsible. You almost think it’s a joke.”

City council must have six votes in order to override Cranley's vetoes. They will likely be discussed at next week’s council meetings.