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City Council approves 11th-hour budget plan for 2020 streetcar operations

Posted: 4:04 PM, Jun 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-06-19 16:15:23-04
Streetcar strikes Metro bus downtown

CINCINNATI — Increased parking fines and digital advertising kiosk revenue will plug a looming streetcar operating budget deficit, City Council decided Wednesday.

In a veto-proof 6-3 vote, council members approved an ordinance that would fill a $1.2 million budget gap for the city's youngest public transit option. It was the first time since launching in September 2016 that the streetcar operations have faced a budget gap, with transit officials warning last month that the streetcar's reserve funds would be exhausted with the next budget cycle.

Lower-than-projected ridership and advertising revenue contributed to the streetcar's budget woes.

City Council approved what came to be a compromise among initial proposed solutions to fill the budget gap, which initially included parking fine increases as well as possibly removing nonprofit organizations' exemption from a portion of the city's admissions tax.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman and Council members Amy Murray and Jeff Pastor voted against the budget stopgap.

"Nothing is free," Smitherman told Council before the vote, saying he was concerned that this revenue could be put toward other projects. "It's almost like putting all of our eggs in one basket. I think there's another set of priorities."

Councilman Greg Landsman -- who oversees Council's Major Projects and Smart Government Committee, including most streetcar operation matters -- implied this fix is not a long-term solution, suggesting the city should consider a special tax assessment for property owners along the streetcar route's 3.6-mile loop through Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.