After legal victory, city of Cincinnati moves ahead with parking deal

Mayor: Repeal effort is 'dead in the water'

CINCINNATI - A controversial lease of the city of Cincinnati’s parking system will likely take effect within the next week, despite efforts by some City Council members.

After the First District Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling Wednesday morning and upheld the lease, some opponents jumped into action.

Council Members Laure Quinlivan and Chris Seelbach introduced a motion to repeal the parking lease despite the city’s legal victory. Instead, the pair wanted to renegotiate a lease with the Port Authority to get better terms.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld signed the motion. Later in the day, Councilmen Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn supported a similar motion to repeal the lease outright, not to renegotiate it.

Quinlivan, Seelbach and Sittenfeld also signed that motion, theoretically giving the measure the five votes needed on the nine-member City Council to be approved.

But under council’s rules, that probably won’t happen.

That’s because an item can only go before City Council for an immediate vote if six members agree. Otherwise, any item goes to the mayor, who can decide when and if to assign it to one of council’s committee for review.

Mayor Mark Mallory, who strongly supports the parking lease, called the repeal effort “dead in the water.”

"We just had a victorious day in court,” Mallory said. “We will continue to make progress in the city of Cincinnati."

The Court of Appeals sent the case involving the parking lease back to Common Pleas Judge Robert Winkler. Barring a different legal argument to block the lease, Winkler must sign the decision within seven days.

After Winkler signs it, city officials will move ahead with enacting it.

“The city will sign the Parking Lease and Modernization Plan with the Port of Greater Cincinnati upon the trial court signing the actual orders,” said City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.

“The city cannot commit the money in the parking plan until there is legal certainty around the funds,” Dohoney added.

Meanwhile, Mallory made it clear that he won’t forward the repeal motion to any committee, and instead will let it languish in limbo.

“It's not the mayor's intention to have a vote on this,” said Jason Barron, Mallory’s spokesman. “There are a billion ways that could happen."

Asked if the mayor would veto the measure if necessary, Barron replied, “There's not going to be a veto because there's nothing that's going to be passed."

Mallory’s procedural maneuvers irritated Quinlivan.

Although Quinlivan supported the lease in March when council initially voted on it, the city’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget has since been passed without relying on the money generated by the lease. As a result, there should be no rush to implement it and the city should try to get better terms, she said.

“I hope they pay attention to a motion with five (council) signatures on it,” Quinlivan said. “Legally, I guess they don't have to.”

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who supports the lease, wants to use its proceeds to make the city’s budget structurally balanced by 2017.

“We must invest the parking proceeds to generate neighborhood redevelopment, job growth and revenue to continue our investments in growth across the city,” Qualls said.

“This includes immediately restoring the city reserves to 10 percent; increasing the city’s contribution to the pension immediately to 24 percent of payroll; and making capital investments in departments that significantly reduce long-term operating expenses, and major capital projects that spur growth and development across our neighborhoods,” she added.

Under the deal, the city’s parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while the city’s parking lots and garages would be leased for up to 50 years.

In return, the city would get a $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million for the remainder of the lease.

City officials planned to use the money to help avoid deficits in the 2014 and 2015 budgets, and to quicken the pace of some citywide development projects. Instead, they used other sources of money to fill gaps in the budget, which was approved in late May.

A New York-based financial consultant hired by the city to analyze the lease said the city would get $197.4 million – or 41 percent of its current market value. The remainder of the lease's value will go to the Port Authority, private contractors and a New York investment bank that will issue debt to support the deal.

Opponents said the lease would cause rate increases and aggressive enforcement might drive away customers from small businesses, while some residents said the city was undervaluing a prime city asset.

The city owns seven garages and lots, and has 4,978 parking meters.

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