Judge extends order blocking city of Cincinnati parking lease

CINCINNATI - A judge has extended his order blocking the city of Cincinnati from proceeding with its parking lease plan.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler extended the order for 14 days on Wednesday.

Winkler heard oral arguments in the dispute Friday and took the issue under submission. However, since a murder trial is underway in his courtroom, he said he hasn't had time to fully weigh both sides of the issue.

The order expires April 3.

The city was hoping for a quick decision, saying it needs to start the sale of bonds by April 1 to get the necessary  funds to balance the budget.

Meanwhile, opponents are collecting signatures to put the matter on the November ballot.

City Council approved leasing Cincinnati's parking system to the Port Authority on March 6. A group of citizens immediately filed a complaint alleging that council added an emergency clause to the ordinance solely to thwart a voter referendum.

Winkler issued a temporary injunction minutes after council's approval and – after a brief detour through federal court – the case landed back in his courtroom.

A group of citizens led by Price Hill resident Pete Witte wants a permanent injunction to prevent the city's lease from taking effect until a referendum is held.

During Friday's court hearing, an attorney for the plaintiffs said the city's charter gives residents the right to a referendum on virtually any legislative issue.

The four attorneys representing the city of Cincinnati alleged that although charters generally defer to state law on most issues, Cincinnati's charter was specifically amended by voters in 1994 to give council more discretion about the use of emergency clauses.

The parking lease was an emergency because, without it, the city is facing a deficit that will result in "budget cuts, personnel layoffs and reductions in city services," said Assistant City Solicitor Terry Nestor.

The lease of the city of Cincinnati's parking system will generate more than a half-billion dollars in revenue over 40 years, with roughly half going to the city.

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.

The net present value of the lease for the city is $197.4 million.

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.

To pay the city and finance improvements to the system, the Port Authority will issue bonds backed by Guggenheim Partners, a New York-based investment bank.

The Port would hire Xerox Services to oversee the parking meters, and hire Denison Parking to operate the garages and lots. In turn, the two companies would hire local employees.

Lease supporters say the deal will help the city grow its tax base.

With the large projects funded by the parking plan, it could generate $15.1 million in extra tax revenue by 2016 if it sparks just 1 percent growth above the current level, Dohoney said.

But critics have countered that it lessens public accountability for the assets, and fear that increases in parking rates will hurt small businesses.

WCPO Digital reporter Kevin Osborne contributed to this report.


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