Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's On!! Blog Battle to Help FreeStore Heats Up!

It's on! The Battle of the Blogs to help the Freestore Foodbank is really heating up.

Since it was kicked off, we now have in the competition:

1. Cincinnati City Beat:

2. The Cincinnati Blog:

3. The Cincinnati Beacon: (who even dared to mock the amount I personally donated):

4. The Blog of County Republican Chairman Alex Triantafilou: (who went so far as to assert that conservatives are more charitable to fire up his crew):

These others are engaging in some serious trash talking. As the newest blog, I'm not going there. I just need your help--and in all seriousness, so do the thousands of families who the FreeStore will serve. Thanks to those who have already given through my site (about $260 so far), but we can do a lot better than that.

Once again, it's so easy to give:

1) Go to the virtual store, and make your purchases: (takes 3 minutes)

2) Comment below, however you wish, on the amount you gave, so I have a fighting chance of winning this competition against some much more veteran blogs than mine. (I won't list names, but will keep track of the tally).

Hearing #1: Thanks To Those Who Spoke, and Who Serve

While a new proposal on reforming County government got all the attention in the paper, the real story at our public hearing was the heartfelt and passionate testimony by so many fine public servants. For that reason alone, I wish all our citizens could see these hearings in person.

I say this particularly because too often, I see comments online and blogs, and sometimes in person, that treat our public employees--whether they be our JFS workers or our Sheriff's deputies--incredibly harshly. Citizens' frustration with government (often understandable) too often spills over into unfair name-calling and insults of our public employees. Are they all perfect? Of course not--as headlines the last couple days have unfortunately made clear in two specific cases. But if citizens saw the vast majority of our public servants at work every day, or even saw them speak at our public hearings, I think they'd change their tune.

Wednesday, we had corrections officers speak passionately about their dedication to keeping the public safe. We heard from a deputy who'd worked his way through a Master's program while patrolling our neighborhoods to keep them safe, and now volunteers to get other young people involved in public service. And we had person after person speak with pride and passion about the work they do every day for the citizens of this County.

For an account of some of the testimony, go here, and skip the first few paragraphs:

As for the cuts on the table, they lamented not just the impact these proposed cuts would have on them personally, but on the service and safety they work so hard to provide. With so much on the line, they were still thinking well beyond themselves.

None of this makes our ultimate decisions easier--indeed, it makes it harder. Real lives are affected by this budget, both in who receives County services, and who delivers them.

As I said at the hearing, while we must balance our budget responsibly, we will continue to look for any solutions that minimize the impact of our slumping economy on the services we provide, particularly as they affect safety. And whether you're an employee or a citizen, this is the time to bring forward any cost-savings and efficiency ideas that would avert more direct cuts to service.

For the remaining hearings, we're all ears.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Exciting New Retail in the County

Because our largest revenue source is the sales tax, the County clearly has a major interest in exciting new retail within our boundaries. Which is one of the many reasons why tomorrow's opening of Crate & Barrel, and this week's opening of the new Kroger Fresh Fare, are such good news. (The Port Authority has played a supportive role in this project).

When completed, the broader project, known as Kenwood Town Place, will comprise almost 600,000 square feet of mixed use retail and office, with some other marquis names on their way.

For more information, go to:

For the link to the development site and plans, go to:

I recently spoke at the Hamilton County Development Corporation's annual lunch, and was glad to be part of the presentation awarding this development as the 2008 Economic Development Project of the Year.

Battle of the Blogs: Help Put Food on Someone's Table

Unfortunately, times are tough at the very time that we are approaching Thanksgiving and the Holidays. At both County agencies and local nonprofits that serve those in need, lines have grown long of people needing help.

Which is why for those who can, now is a great time to give. A cross-section of bloggers is encouraging people to give to the FreeStore/Foodbank, one of our great local organizations, which has set up a virtual store at which you can buy food for those in need. And I agreed to throw my hat in the ring for this good cause.

For those willing to give even a little, it's very easy. I myself just purchased a bag of food for a family of four, and topped it off with green beans, potatoes and apples.

To participate in this Battle of the Blogs to help the FreeStore, take two steps:

1) Go to the virtual store, and make your purchases: (takes 3 minutes)

2) Comment below, however you wish, on the amount you gave, so I have a fighting chance of winning this competition against some much more veteran blogs than mine. (I won't list names, but will keep track of the tally).

Thanks to all who can step up and help this important cause. With your and others' help, the FreeStore will feed over 16,000 families over the Holiday season. For more information, go to:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Fulfilling the PTR Promise: Some Things Are Simple

UPDATE: The vote reauthorizing the Property Tax Rebate is on the agenda for next week's Commission meeting.

Am I missing something, or is the issue of the County's Property Tax Rebate (which was part of the 1996 Stadium Vote) a simple and clearcut one?

Let me explain.

A decade ago, as part of the vote on whether to raise the sales tax 1/2 cent to pay for the new stadiums, the citizens were made a clear promise: that 30% of the receipts from the new sales tax would be returned to them through a property tax rebate (the "PTR").

This was a clear commitment made prior to the citizens' vote.

And with that commitment publicly made, and about 60% voting yes, the citizens indeed authorized taxing themselves an additional 1/2 cent to pay for the stadiums/riverfront, and to pay for the PTR that would be returned to them. Just like the promise was clear, the citizens' mandate was equally clear.

Given this history, I remain stunned whenever I hear anyone suggest, or casually float, (no current commissioners suggest this, by the way) that one potential "option" to solve our budget woes, or any other financial challenge we face, is to "use" the approximate $19M in PTR dollars, in whole or in part, for other purposes besides the promised rebate.

Far beyond a debate over tax policy (and we're striving to keep taxes as low as possible), this is a much more fundamental issue of basic governance, and adhering to the clear consent of the governed. In that light, I consider any move to divert dollars from the PTR to be a deeply illegimate act. It lacks fundamental integrity. And it's simply not an option.

As elected officials, we represent the citizens. In most areas, their voting us into office gives us authority and discretion to make decisions on their behalf, and we make those decisions as best we can (even when they're not popular). The citizens return us or remove us from office on their overall assessment of those decisions.

But in other areas, citizens make a decision, and make their will clear, directly through the ballot box. When that has occurred, as their elected representatives, we have no discretion or authority whatsoever but to implement and adhere to their decision faithfully. This is particularly true when citizens have consented to put more of their dollars into government for a specific purpose.

The PTR is one of those areas. In 1996, the citizens voted, and the implication of their vote was clear: 30% of the funds they were voluntarily agreeing to forego up would return to them. It was a deal offered by County leadership, and accepted by the citizens, and without this "deal," there would be no new tax funds at all--for the stadiums, for the PTR, for anything.

Under this vote, the elected representatives at the County have been given a simple, limited mandate: 30% of the new dollars are simply to pass through the county, and go right back out the door as the PTR. We may collect them, but simply because they pass through temporarily, these dollars are not for the County to spend or divert in any way but as a rebate for homeowners. That is the only authority we have. Case closed.

I wasn't in office in 1996. I didn't put together the stadium deal, and most of the rest of those around now weren't part of it either (although we're all living with its many consequences). But the citizens spoke. And until and unless citizens tell us otherwise, our marching orders on this issue are very simple.

To violate those orders now would fundamentally breach our mandate at a time when citizens already have lost so much faith in government.

Not To Dwell, But . . .

The New York Times wrote a comprehensive story yesterday on the extent state governments across this country, led by Democrat and Republican Governors alike, are facing the same dire financial straits as we are.

"The plunging revenues — the result of an unusual assemblage of personal, sales, capital gains and corporate taxes falling significantly — have poked holes in budgets that are just weeks and months old and that came about only after difficult legislative sessions." Sounds familiar.

For the whole story, go to:

For a national map of the states' conditions:

Unfortunately, part of the problem here is that as Ohio grapples with its own deficit, we often pay the price. The recent cuts, and layoffs, in our Job and Family Services Department are a direct state cut. And our Public Defender Service, which is a mandated service, is supposed to be reimbursed by the state at a 50% rate--but is reimbursed at less than half that amount, costing us millions of dollars. Ohio's cuts may end up impacting us in all sorts of other ways as well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Investing Big Dollars in our Communities: Update

Last month, I announced the great news that Hamilton County had received almost $8 million from the federal government to invest in the County neigborhoods (Cincinnati received its own allocation) hardest hit by foreclosure:

After a month of hard work and gathering community input, our draft program is shaping up nicely. We will submit it to the federal government for approval on December 1.

What will this program mean? Millions of dollars invested to eliminate and demolish blighted properties in our communities, redevelop and upgrade old, foreclosed housing stock, as well as the potential for new greenspace, new commercial development, and even new jobs.

And the philosophy of our approach is that the 15 targeted communities (selected based on the foreclosure criteria provided by HUD) determine and propose what is best for them, as opposed to the County dictating how they spend the money from above. Other non-targeted communities will still have a chance to access funding for properties that meet the eligibility criteria.

For the full draft of the plan, you can go to:

UPDATE: Here's a story in the Enquirer on the program:

The communities allocated a set amount of dollars, based on foreclosure numbers, are: Colerain Township, Springfield Township, Forest Park, Norwood, North College Hill, Cheviot, Golf Manor, Mt. Healthy, St. Bernard, Cleves, Lincoln Heights, Elmwood Place, Lockland, Silverton, and Woodlawn.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hearing from You: Budget Public Hearings

The Administrator has made his recommendations for our 2009 budget, and before we on the commission make our decisions, we want to hear from you. We will be hosting three public hearings to gather citizen input:

November 19, 2008, 6:30 p.m.
Sharonville Convention Center
11355 Chester Road, Sharonville, 45246

December 3, 2008, 6:30 p.m.

The Drake Center
Rooms F and G, Level A, West Pavilion
151 West Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45216 -1096

December 10, 2008, 6:30 p.m.
Cincinnati State, 3520 Central Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45223-2690

Please come to share your feedback, priorities and ideas.
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