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Flip-flop vote stalls streetcar budget

Posted: 5:02 PM, Apr 13, 2016
Updated: 2016-04-13 22:07:10Z

CINCINNATI -- The operating budget for the Cincinnati Streetcar isn’t a done deal, and the ordinance authorizing the budget is on its way back to committee.

The sticking point: $550,000 set aside from the city’s general fund to cover any shortfalls that could come if the streetcar fails to hit its revenue targets. That’s why Councilman Kevin Flynn voted against the ordinance Wednesday despite voting for it at Monday’s budget committee meeting.

“My objection is that we will not have sufficient funds to operate the streetcar with the frequency that everyone wants,” Flynn said.

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The council’s vote on the ordinance was 5-4, but Mayor John Cranley indicated that he would veto it. Cranley then turned to Flynn and asked what could be done to change his vote.

Flynn said he would prefer that the money come from the streetcar’s construction contingency fund. According to a presentation given Tuesday to the Major Transportation & Regional Cooperation Committee, there is more than $800,000 left in that fund.

Flynn reasoned that the budget ordinance he voted against takes $1.1 million from incremental parking revenue that the council had approved for streetcar operations and instead pays Transdev — the operations contractor for the streetcar — for pre-operations.

"All I am asking for is that the money that was meant for operations be spent on operations because that’s the commitment that I made when I voted to continue the project," Flynn said.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s deadline to receive a budget for the streetcar is April 30. Special meetings of the city’s budget and finance committee and the full city council will be required to meet the deadline.

Some streetcar supporters saw Wednesday's vote as another attempt to stall progress on the contentious project. Streetcar supporter and regional director for rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio Derek Bauman characterized the vote as Council's insistence on “revel(ing) in chaos and divisiveness."

“If our mayor and recalcitrant council members spent half as much time and energy selling streetcar advertising and sponsorships as they do obstructing progress, the budget wouldn't be a question.

"The rest of us are ready to move on," he said.

Meanwhile, Flynn said that Councilman Charlie Winburn, the budget committee’s chairman, has expressed willingness to call a special meeting for the purpose of re-drafting the streetcar budget ordinance.

The addition of an emergency clause to the ordinance would ensure that SORTA gets the money it needs for the streetcar ahead of schedule, Flynn said. Ordinances without emergency clauses take 30 days to go into effect.