Thursday, November 5, 2009

GE Makes Long-Term Commitment to Region

Today, I was thrilled to take part in an announcement with the Governor, GE executives, the new President of UC, and others, about a long-term partnership that will keep GE Aircraft in our region. This is huge news for our entire community.

Outside the announcement, two helicopters for which GE makes engines, the Blackhawk and the Apache, were on display as part of a service for veterans.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Big Phone-a-Thon Tomorrow To Avert Foreclosures

Now this will be a big phone-a-thon!
The Homeowneship Center and WCET will launch a phone-a-thon tomorrow to assist homeowners worried about the possibility of a foreclosure.

Beginning tomorrow morning, call 1-877-7BUZZUS (1-877-728-9987) if you need help preventing a foreclosure.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rolling Up Our Sleeves: Productive Budget Work Sessions

A lot of attention was paid to the three budget work sessions we had over the last 10 days, particularly on some of the worst case scenarios outlined and a few dramatic moments where tempers flared.

The real story, though, was in how much progress was made. Official after official came forward, and for the most part either said they could live within the proposed numbers--or pinpointed precisely those areas where help is needed to avoid a particularly dire result. And our administration is now hard at work to deal with those particular areas.

For example, it's safe to say that no commissioner wants to see jailspace reduced by one more bed, courtroom prosecutors laid off, the crime lab closed, or the clerk of courts website shut down, and we will all work together to avoid those and other consequences.

Starting this process early, and conducting the work sessions through public meetings, has brought out the best in so many of our County leaders, and outlined a path to complete what may be the most difficult budget in decades.

And yes, it also allows Commissioners to ask the tough questions--which is part of our job of representing the taxpayers come budget time, even if those questions might ruffle a few feathers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Community Tour: Columbia Township

Last night, we had another one of our monthly meetings in the community--this one was in Columbia Township.

These have turned out to be an incredibly helpful way to keep up with the many great communities in Hamilton County. Next stop, Sycamore Township.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cycling Cincinnati -- Fountains of Youth

Had a great day Saturday cycling about 14 miles, visiting different fountains around Cincinnati. Thanks to all those who made it happen, and those who took part.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Budgeting 101 -- You Can't Spend What You Don't Have

It was an unfortunate week in Hamilton County. The courts are refusing to consider budget cuts for next year. And they and other departments continue to suggest the only thing we can do is raise the sales tax. There are two pretty straightforward responses:

Principle 1. The problem in our county, as it is across the country, is not that our tax rate is too low. It's that economy activity is severely depressed. A couple years ago, this county saw about $270M in revenues from our various revenue streams. With the same tax levels today, we're below $230M in revenues this year. Solving that problem means we need to do everything we can to spur economic growth, consumer confidence, job retention and creation, etc.--and we're doing everything in a tough environment to get that done. But especially at a time where we finally are seeing a potential break in the economy, raising the sales tax takes us in exactly the wrong direction.

Principle 2. We simply can't spend what we don't bring in. It's a concept every business and every family has to contend with every day--you can't spend money you're not bringing in. And it's a concept all levels of government, including this County and all of its departments, need to live within now more than ever. So if we're bringing in less, we have to spend less. No way around this simple concept.

You combine these two principles, and the path in front of us is pretty clear, if not easy. We have to do all we can to get our economy going again. And in the meantime, every part of this County has to get through this challenging time by living within our more narrow means--which means finding ways to do more with less, to be more frugal, to set and stick to priorities, to change bad habits, to eliminate waste, to cut back on anything but bare necessities, and even to make sacrifices we otherwise would not want to make if that's what gets our budget numbers in line.

All the press conferences, letters, and public statements in the world will not change this basic reality.

And look around--it's the same reality everyone else in this community is also grappling with, with far less fanfare and noise than government.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Three Important Levies at a Tough Time: A Difficult Balancing Act

This week, the Commission has to decide how to "size" three important levies that are seeking renewal on the ballot this November. For many reasons, this has become a daunting task for all three of us.

To be very blunt: with what looks like five countywide levies on the ballot at a uniquely bad economic time—a time that our residents are enduring the tightest squeeze on their wallets in years (over 9% unemployment, foreclosures, lower take-home pay nationally, etc.)—I worry we are watching a ship steaming toward an iceberg.

Just Tuesday, 61% of school levies on the ballot failed in Ohio, including a renewal in Mt. Healthy. And our Countywide online survey showed very little appetite for new levies or higher levels of taxation for renewals at this time. If any one of the levies we are discussing now (MRDD, Familty Treatment and Services, Museum Center) were to suffer a similar fate as so many school districts last Tuesday, the consequences to critical services as well as the County budget would be dire. If more than one failed, even worse.

So today I proposed a plan that would allow us to support the three levies' renewal while being sensitive to the tough times our taxpayers are enduring. Indeed, even if all three were renewed, citizens would pay less in taxes next year for these levies than they do this year. So we are not asking citizens who are earning less to pay more.

There are strong feelings about each of these levies, and I am a supporter of all three and what they do. But in this difficult economic year, I believe the best way to "protect" them, and maximize their chance for renewal, is to ask for as little as possible from an already financially squeezed community.

For the details of the plan I proposed, link here.

For the Enquirer story on it, link here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Survey Results: Feeling the Pinch, but with Some Optimism

My August survey results showed some interesting results. Reflecting the national news, people have cut back on their own consumption, seen layoffs and other cutbacks in the workplace, but also seem confident that the worst of the recession is behind us--or almost behind us.

Here are the basics:

1. Economic Outlook: 59% think the recession has already "bottomed out" or is bottoming out now. 16% think there is no hope until 2010.

2. Workplace Cutbacks: respondents have experienced the following steps in their workplace: 54.8% - salary freezes/cuts; 51.9% - layoffs; benefit cuts - 19.2%; furloughs - 12.5%; four day weeks - 7.7%. 23% said they've seen no changes.

3. Spending: Families cut back in numerous areas of spending: 42.3% drastically cut back on travel (73% cut back by some amount); 37.4% drastically cut back on clothing (71.5%); 28.5% drastically cut back on eating out (76.5%); 28% drastically cut back on charitable giving (64.8%)

4. Measures to Deal w County Budget: very clear results on what citizens want to see County do to deal with its budget problem:
1) Consolidate/Share Services (75% positive-8% negative);
2) Invest in Economic Development (56.5% positive-21.8% negative);
3) Cut Spending To Match Reduced Revenues (including layoffs/furloughs) (46.3% positive-25.4% negative; 28.5% neutral);
4) Raise taxes to keep critical services going (16.3% positive-59.4% negative)

5. Levies on Ballot: facing five levies on the ballot, 50% would vote for 3 levies or fewer; 50% would vote for more than 4 or 5

6. Effect of Stimulus: Respondents were generally optimistic about the stimulus package: 27.6% say we're already starting to see the results, and 37% say we'll see the results soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

County Launches "Recovery Zone" Financing Process

Yesterday, Hamilton County rolled out a new financing program to spur economic development and job creation within Hamilton County.

Working with the Hamilton County Development Company (HCDC), the County has launched a competitive process for private sector projects to access $22,947,000 in tax exempt financing via the Recovery Zone Facility Bonds (FZFBs) that were part of the national "stimulus" legislation.

This financing program is available to private and non-profit enterprises to access tax exempt financing for facility improvements and expansions. Hamilton County is one of the first counties in Ohio to develop criteria and establish a process for allocating the FZFBs.

The Commission will focus on projects that result in new jobs and sales tax growth in the county, among other criteria.

The first deadline for projects to submit applications will be in late August.

The bottom line, with this and other approaches: we're doing everything we can to get our economy moving again and create jobs. This new program should help push some important projects forward at this critical time, and will lead to millions of dollars invested in the local economy."

For information on the Recovery Zone Facility Bonds Program please contact the Hamilton County Development Company at (513) 631-8292 or visit their website at WWW.HCDC.COM.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Take the New Economic Survey

The national and local economy are at a crossroads. Some good signs amid continued challenging times. What's your view? How has it affected you? Are you optimistic we've "bottomed out"? What would you do in my shoes to help spur recovery?

Let me know by taking my Summer Economy Survey by clicking here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sharing=$aving: Regional 911 System

The Enquirer ran a long story this morning on an idea we're looking into that might save millions of dollars over time: merging the County and City 911 Emergency Systems.

Make no mistake, this is a big, complicated issue. Still, at a time where we're all being asked to do more for less, this is the type of consolidation of services taxpayers expect us to look at closely. And if we can save money, and keep more police or firefighters on the job because we handle communications more efficienctly, we should move forward.

We're looking into similar approaches in other areas.

Will keep you posted. Interested in your thoughts . . .

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Good News: County Receives COPS Grant

Today, we received the very positive news that the Sheriff's application for Department of Justice COPS grant dollars to rehire laid off deputies was successful.

The County will receive almost $3.5 million over the next 3 years, which will support 15 deputy sheriff positions.

We also expect to soon receive the stimulus dollars that will help us with jail overcrowding issues, by adding to our capacity for using electronic monitoring units. This will also bring back several Sheriff deputy jobs as well.

Finally, it's great to see the City receive grant funds that will retain 50 law enforcement positions.

From the outset, our goal was to use the stimulus dollars to serve our top priorities, including public safety. It's great to see that that approach is paying off.

More details here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

RIP (for now): Reforms To Save Dollars/Jobs

Turns out, Charlie Luken was right about the difficulty of trying to argue with those who print newspapers for a living, even when taxpayer dollars are at stake.

Today I learned that media lobbyists succeeded in killing (through a Governor veto) proposed County reforms (using the internet for some public notice requirements, and a pilot effort to explore online advertising) that would have saved both taxpayers dollars and County jobs. Given the tough budget news of this week, and work we are all doing to make the best of a difficult situation, the timing could not have been worse.

I appreciate the bipartisan effort that was made to get these reforms as far as they went in the legislature.

We'll see if we can bring these ideas back in a future legislative process.

UPDATE: Ironically, this just appeared on the Enquirer's website -- state will seek to pay for rail initiatives through . . . . advertisements on signs along the highway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Connecting Citizens to Jobs Created: A New Policy

The challenging economic and budget times continue, unfortunately. Outside of reducing expenses to reflect revenues, the only way we're going to get out of this is renewed economic activity. More jobs, more sales, more economic growth, more tourism, more businesses, etc.--and more revenue. We need an upward spiral to replace what has been a painful downward spiral.

While the media focuses on our and other budget woes, we are simultaneously pushing hard to stimulate economic growth.

And today, we took a concrete step to ensure that County residents get connected to as many job opportunities as possible, and specifically to those jobs that are created by our economic development efforts.

Going forward, jobs created by the County, City and other efforts will all be posted at our Superjobs Center. Entities that partner with or receive public dollars in a way that helps them create jobs will be required to make those job opportunities accessible to citizens of the community.

The Super Jobs Center has a strong track record of providing job training and other services to connect citizens to jobs throughout our community. Children's Hospital, GE and many others use it already for their hiring and skills testing, with good results. And they are achieving the best results in the state.

So when citizens in the future hear about MSD rehabilitation projects, stimulus-funded construction projects, community development projects, and others, they will also know where to find the jobs that are generated from all this work.

For the resolution that passed, go here.

The Anti-Rail Initiative: Update

A few months ago, I warned that the so-called "streetcar petition" potentially risks far wider consequences for our community--at a very time that major opportunities are arising. This is because it is drafted to apply to ALL passenger rail uses, not just the streetcar idea that is now before the City Council and being hotly debated in the community.

I was pleased that my discussion of this convinced some streetcar opponents to change their position on the ballot initiative because they support other forms of rail that could be a benefit for our region.

Today, Governor Strickland echoed that sentiment, explaining that if Cincinnatians adopt a charter change forbidding City spending on ANY aspect (right of way acquisition, etc.) of passenger rail without an affirmative vote of citizens, it could ultimately "exclude [Cincinnati] from a system that will be interconnective, not only with Columbus and Dayton and Cleveland, but Chicago and other major, major cities as well."

It's a competitive world out there. Voluntarily removing ourself from true economic opportunity, while our competitors are proactively grabbing hold of such opportunities, is clearly not the right direction.

If the streetcar opponents had simply wanted to stop the streetcar proposal now at City Hall, which they have every right to do, drafting ballot language that focused on that alone would have been simple enough. Inexplicably, they drafted something very different.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Citizens Grab Prescription Drug Discount Opportunity

A program to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for County residents is off to a good start.

Since we launched in late January, through the end of May, 2,694 citizens have become holders of the County's prescription drug discount card. They have on average saved 20.63% on each purchase--or $9.51 per purchase. That's real dollars in your pocket, and tens of thousands in just a short time community-wide.

Thanks to all those organizations that are helping make this a success.

To get your card, or to get your organization, business, or community involved in the program, go to:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Welcome, Vice President Biden

Air Force Two at CVG.
Congratulations to Mayor Mallory and city leaders for a great, and important, visit.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Newspaper Interests Strike Again: Oppose Reforms That Would Save County Jobs/Services

A couple weeks back, I wrote about how the newspaper lobbyists were working hard to defeat some common sense proposals to help Counties save taxpayer dollars and get through the economic and budget crises we're in. If successful, these media interests could cost a County like our's hundreds of thousands of dollars, and far more long-term. That translates into jobs and services saved.

Well, they've struck again.

The Columbus Dispatch, echoing the Enquirer, and both echoing their lobbyist's distributed talking points, wrote a scare tactic editorial that seeks to stop even a "pilot" approach that would allow us to analyze if the online advertising concept can work in Ohio as it does in other communities.

These newspapers continue to raise the spectre of conflicts of interest with all sorts of nefarious scenarios, even though, when done elsewhere in the country, very clear rules are put in place forbidding online advertisers from having any sort of direct business with or before the relevant County. End of conflict.

And while they wage war on the very concept, they don't seem to be at all troubled by the fact that this happens all the time--such as public transportation agencies putting advertisements every day on public buses. If it weren't for those ads, bus fares would no doubt he higher, or services reduced. (Of course, bus ads aren't competing with newspaper advertising either).

It's interesting to see the same newspapers who routinely call for government to do more with less so adamantly opposed to letting us even explore common sense options to do exactly that.

At least they're honest enough to acknowledge that they have a clear conflict of interest on this issue (ie. their own revenue).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Great Triumph for Foster Care

I have devoted a number of posts on this blog to the many challenges for foster kids, particularly those who "age out" of the system without ever being permanently adopted.

Which is why today's story in the Enquirer on a young woman who emerged from the foster system and is on the path to great success is so inspiring and heart-warming. Thanks to all those who supported her every step of the way.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Good News: Resolution Opposing Blast Mining Passes

Good news. As the Enquirer is reporting, Commissioner Hartmann and myself voted today (2-0, Todd Portune abstained) to support the resolution opposing the Martin Marietta proposal to conduct blast mining in Anderson Township, nearby numerous other communities such as Newtown, Terrace Park, Indian Hill and Mariemont.

Our resolution will now join all the other jurisdictions that have weighed in on the proposal as part of the public input process. In my judgment, it's a common sense decision: the risks and costs of the activity far outweighed any projected benefit, economic or otherwise, to the community.

Some key terms from the resolution were (link to the full resolution here):

WHEREAS, the following surrounding entities have all enacted resolutions in opposition to the mining proposal, concluding that the proposal would undermine the quality of life, property values, safety and health of their respective communities and residents:
· Village of Terrace Park
· Village of Newtown
· Village of Indian Hill
· Village of Mariemont
· Columbia Township
· Union Township
· Mariemont School District, and
· Milford School District.

WHEREAS, the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners represents citizens from communities throughout the County, including those in Anderson Township and the surrounding communities concerned by the proposal, and

WHEREAS, underground blasting would take place at least once each workday and would be permitted to occur as close as 50 feet from the property line of businesses, 250 feet from the property line of residences, and 50 feet from public rights of way; and

WHEREAS, the Martin Marietta property is in close proximity to several public and semi-public recreation areas; and

WHEREAS, expert witnesses presented evidence that the proposed mine presents risks of noise, light, dust, air pollution, heavy truck traffic, perceptible vibration, and lost value to surrounding properties and communities, and surrounding jurisdictions have expressed opposition based upon all of these factors; and

WHEREAS, the Anderson Township Comprehensive Plan calls for the Martin Marietta property and surrounding area to be used for office and light industrial development; and

WHEREAS, the presence of an underground mine as proposed might deter other types of job-creating and revenue-creating businesses, both office and light industrial, from locating on the surface in areas above or near the location of the mine; and

WHEREAS, along with all the jurisdictions that have expressed their viewpoint, the County Commission believes that the potential risks and costs, economic and otherwise, to the communities near this site, by all the above factors, far outweigh any economic benefits to the Township, surrounding communities and the County as a whole;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, responding to the BZA’s request for public input as it deliberates on this decision, expresses its opposition to the proposed mining operation.

Thanks to all those who weighed in on this. And feel free to weigh in here, or at the Enquirer's comment section.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

UPDATE: Newspaper Interests Blocking Cost- and Job-Saving Reforms

Mayor Luken used to say you never want to go to war with people who print news for a living, and county governments across Ohio are learning that lesson right now.

In an effort to cut costs and generate revenues without raising taxes (which would allow us to save jobs and maintain critical services such as public safety), counties across the state have asked the state legislature to provide us with several new tools that won't cost one penny in tax dollars. Indeed, they would save hundreds of thousands.

The Senate, hearing our request for help, included them in there budget bill. Among them:

1) Modernize the public notice requirements to alleviate the thousands of taxpayer dollars spent buying page after page in the local newspaper for certain required notices (such as listing tax delinquent properties). Under new rules proposed by County auditors across Ohio, counties could use the internet to do much of this public notice--eliminating most of the cost of the advertising which is paid by the taxpayers to the newspaper. Real savings. Hundreds of thousands of dollars that can go instead to critical public services.

2) Allow counties to at least explore the option of online advertising for their websites. Of course, as other governments have done in different parts of the country (see this site, which includes advertisements from, each county would have to come up with rules to deal with conflicts of interest, prohibiting companies who do business with the county from advertising, etc. But the change in law would at least allow such discussions to take place.

Together, these two changes would help counties across this state alleviate some of their budget woes. And they could literally save taxpayer dollars and jobs--keeping patrols on the street and services going.

But they do have one thing in common. They directly or indirectly threaten some of the revenues of our friends in the newspaper business, including revenues that come right from the taxpayers. Our hope was that despite this, newspapers--seeing the squeeze placed on governments right now by the tough economy--would allow government to be creative, and save taxpayer dollars and jobs through these changes. Apparently that was naively optimistic.

Several days ago, the Ohio News Association, the lobbying arm for newspapers across the state, sent the following alert to its members . . .


(Another alert on public notice provisions is coming on Tuesday)

Attached are the sections of the state budget bill that propose allowing any and all county government offices to sell commercial advertising on their websites, including links to and from commercial websites. . . .

ONA opposes this provision and is lobbying for its removal from HB 1 as the conference committee resolves House & Senate differences in the state budget. The negative aspects of this proposal should be brought to the attention of legislators and the public. Among those negative aspects are:

· Government would be creating commercial websites in direct competition with private enterprises

· Government would be soliciting advertising from the same companies & businesses advertising on traditional commercial media, thus taking revenue away from media outlets in Ohio that are already suffering from the recession with massive cutbacks, including layoffs of media employees

· This concept presents the potential for abuse and misconduct as county offices would be allowed to solicit advertising from the same companies that are trying to get government contracts, or the same business people who may be contributing to the political campaigns of elected county officials

· This concept allows government to set up its own internal revenue stream, away from the oversight of taxpayers

· This concept allows government to operate with non-tax revenue, setting up the potential of avoiding voters whenever additional county revenue is needed

· This concept is a conflict of interest that violates the separation of government (the public sector) from business (the private sector)

. . . .

Please editorialize immediately against the proposal and call for its removal from House Bill 1.
Please write a letter calling for abandonment of this proposal.

Lo and behold, in today's Enquirer, look what ran. An editorial that basically repeats, point by point, these "scare tactic" and loaded talking points. (It's interesting that the editorial is so skeptical that government would be unable to create conflict of interest rules that separate advertising from their neutral performance of public service, yet the very business model of newspapers rests on an assumption that they are able to do exactly that when it comes to their advertising interests not interfering with their neutral coverage of news).

Interestingly, there was also no objection when then-Commissioner DeWine proposed several years back, and we explored, increasing revenue by placing advertising billboards on County property to potentially generate revenue. No real difference there except the medium of the advertisement, and who it would compete with.

UPDATE: The Enquirer today ENDORSED a public notice reform proposal that has just been put forth--but it is a watered down version, and would replace, the Auditors' proposal described above that would save the most money.

Let's face it. This is a very difficult time for all. We know newspapers are struggling, and as a firm believer in the importance of a strong press, I don't like to see them struggle at this time. I feel for reporters and staff who are going through furloughs, just as our public employees are.

At the same time, government leaders are working hard to find solutions to minimize cuts in services and jobs while avoiding asking the public to pay any more to government than they already do.

Let's call time-out on narrow special interest lobbying, and do what's best for the taxpayers and the public. Rather than killing cost-saving and job-saving reforms at a challenging time, at least let counties explore new tools and options such as these.

Let the Games Begin: Cincinnati To Host 2012 World Choir Games

The largest event Cincinnati and our region have ever hosted.
20,000 singers from around the world. Hundreds of thousands of visitors to watch them compete.
A short-term economic boom of tens of millions of dollars from spending and activity alone. But even more importantly, a long-term chance to build an international brand as a cultural capital--which has an incalculable economic benefit for years to come.

That's what our successful bid to host the 2012 World Choir Games--the first ever held in the United States--means. 50 cities across the country sought this honor, by the way. We won. (And the Enquirer provides a good explanation of why).
Thanks to all who helped make this happen--the Governor, the Mayor, County leaders. And our Convention and Visitors' Bureau leaders most of all. (And Nick Lachey and the Cincinnati Choir for putting us on the map as the City most excited about singing in the country!)
(On a side note, in the last several years, and with some criticism from others, we have made the strategic decision to invest in better infrastructure, better facilities, and far more proactive marketing of these assets across the country and the world. This is why!)
Next stop? World Cup, 2018.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Update: Resolution Opposing Mining Plan for Anderson Township

Today I introduced a Resolution at the Hamilton County Commission that, if passed, would voice the County's strong opposition to the mining proposal for the Martin Marietta site in Anderson Township.

I do this after 1) hearing from so many concerned citizens on the numerous ways this propose use would damage the community, 2) seeing the opposition of so many bodies of government in the surrounding communities, and 3) after listening to considerable testimony at several hearings. In my judgment, the potentially enormous costs to the community of this proposed use far outweigh any benefits that the community would ever see from the mining operation (to say the least!).

The resolution reflects the primary reasons citizens across the community are standing against this proposal.

I intend to hold a vote in two weeks on this issue, and then we will forward it on to the Board of Zoning Appeals as they begin to reach the final stages of their deliberations.

Thanks to the many citizens who have reached out and communicated to me on this important community issue.

County Earns National Recognition -- 6 Times!

Today, we announced the good news that six county programs have been awarded 2009 National Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties (NACo). These awards honor innovative programs that enhance county government by modernizing and streamlining processes while increasing services to residents. This year, NACo honored only 13 programs from Ohio, and 6 of those programs came from Hamilton County .

The programs honored at today’s ceremony include initiatives to: encourage recycling in the workplace; encourage employees to innovate and save taxpayer dollars; promote foster parenting (Everyday Heroes campaign); intervene with fathers in danger of falling short of support responsibilites; and holding accountable those that have failed in their child support responsibilites.

Especially at a time when our County workforce is being asked to do more with less, these awards are a testament to a talented, creative and innovative work force.

The award winning programs will be listed as “Model Programs” in the NACo national database and will be recognized at the association’s annual conference in Nashville on July 26.

Congratulations to all recipients!

Monday, June 15, 2009

County Launches Energy Efficiency Effort

At our staff meeting today, we received an update from our Administration on an energy efficiency strategy that should prove transformational in the long run.

Using federal stimulus dollars, we will invest millions of dollars in energy efficiency upgrades that will, over the long run, save taxpayer dollars, businesses and households millions of dollars, while creating new “green” job opportunities for residents. We will ultimately invest $4.8 Million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants (EECBG).

Our approach will allow governments, businesses and individual homeowners across the County to save money over time by making strategic, sustainable investments in energy upgrades. The program will also help generate job-creating economic activity across the County.

The county plans to make key investments in:
- public building energy improvements, both County facilities and in communities across the County (facilities are the largest user of energy in government);
- public grants and loans to implement and finance energy improvements for eligible small - businesses and residents;
- specific, high-profile energy improvements on the Banks Project; and
- support the purchase of hybrid or alternative fueled vehicles within Hamilton County.

One of the most important directional changes we've made in the County in the last several years is our commitment to improving our environment while saving dollars on energy, and this plan will play a key role in achieving these goals.

We will submit our plan to the federal goverment on June 25, and hope to begin making these investments in a few months.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tough Medicine: Sales Tax Still Off for June

Unfortunately, the tough news continues when it comes to our revenues.

We received our June sales tax results yesterday, which represents March sales activity (which may have been the low point of the economy, if the general media discussion is any barometer). Our June receipts were down 8% compared to the same month in 2008--a steep fall, but at least higher than the 10% fall we saw in May. State-wide, sales tax receipts were down 10% for June.

Because we have been erring on the side of the caution, we had already assumed a 10% reduction for June because of the 10% reduction realized in May, which prompted the cuts we made last months across departments.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Nominate A Local Civil Rights Pioneer

On June 20, Great American Ballpark will play host to the Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game (Reds versus White Sox). A number of national dignitaries will be present and honored during the day's events.

We at Hamilton County decided to take it a step further, and also recognize and honor five local Civil Rights pioneers at the same time.

To do so, we are asking for nominations from the community. Please go to this link to make your nomination. And please be sure to do so by this Wednesday, June 10, at 5:00 p.m.

A selection committee will announce the honorees on June 17.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Long-Term "Savings" of Prevention

After I posted a story (An Ounce of Prevention) early this week on investments we are making with federal stimulus dollars, in employment, job and job skills training for high-risk youth, I was sent a fascinating article by a friend of mine in the criminal justice world.

It is a detailed analysis of the "monetary value" of "saving" a high-risk youth from becoming a career criminal. The full article can be accessed here.

Let me be clear. The most important reasons to do all we can to keep high-risk youth from becoming career criminals go way beyond dollars and cents. It is to allow our young people to lead fulfilling, productive lives--and to prevent criminal acts against fellow citizens in our community.

But when measured in dollars and cents, this article makes it clear just what a good investment effective prevention is. Every high risk youth we "save" from a criminal path through effective prevention and intervention saves between $3.2 million and $5.7 million for the lifetime costs the community would have incurred if that young person had become a career criminal. We see substantial savings when we also prevent heavy drug use ($1.15M-$1.3M) and drop-outs ($675k-$1M).

I ran for the Commission seat arguing that I wanted to hold those who commit crimes accountable while also addressing the root causes of crime, after my opponent proudly stated he was "not a root cause guy." Not only is prevention the right thing to do, but it turns out, it also is the most fiscally prudent approach.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Lunch, Fountain Square

Not an empty seat in the Square (ok -- maybe there's one next to the guy who's relaxing in the sun).

Jails Opening, Jails Closing: There Has To Be A Regional Solution

Today's headlines are all about jails. One's being built (Kenton County). Others are underutilized or are now sitting empty (Butler County). Other places, like Hamilton County, are running short on jailspace. Campbell County is looking to rent space to others.

I've had the discussion before, but like other government "services," some mechanism for sharing jailspace and jail capacity among all these regional entities has to be part of the long-term solution. From a 30,000-foot level, the current situation just doesn't make sense. And the taxpayer is paying for it all.

I will pursue this further and keep you posted.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Our Tough Economy, Help is a Click Away

The economy continues to struggle, and so do many of our families.

I want to remind people that there is help out there, whether it's how to reduce costs on everything from prescription drugs to energy to child care, or avoid a foreclosure, or find access to job training and jobs.

You can find all these resources at a website we set up several months ago. Just go to

60 New "Green" Schoolbuses for County School Districts

I was excited yesterday to join the EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, in announcing a $1 million grant award for our Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services.

Working with seven school districts across the county, this grant, leveraging $3 million being invested by the school districts themselves, will build upon years of work to make our collective school bus fleet "green." Specifically, this grant will lead to the purchase of 60 new clean diesel schoolbuses, removing 15,000 pounds of contaminants from our air annually.

The Southwest Ohio Clean Diesel Campaign was started by Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services in 2004 after we received our first grant from EPA, and has already retrofitted 460 district-owned school buses with clean diesel technology, removing an estimated 28,000 pounds of air pollutants annually.

For stories on the announcement, go here and here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

World Cup in Cincinnati? Worth Going For

26 billion viewers across the globe. Four to six games--all sold out. Three weeks of hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the county and the world. A huge economic impact.

That could all take place in Cincinnati/Hamilton County in 2018 if we get the job done.

Hamilton County submitted our initial interest in being one of the sites for soccer's World Cup with the USA Bid Committee. We will put together a working committee to more intensely assess and pursue the opportunity, and the Bengals, Convention & Visitors Bureau, and City of Cincinnati have already agreed to take part.

It's a long time from now, and there will definitely be a competition to get there--but it's also a huge opportunity. More to come.

Monday, June 1, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention . . .

At our staff meeting today, we discussed the rolling out of a program that will benefit hundreds of young people in the County--particularly young people who face the greatest obstacles to "making it."

Through federal stimulus funds, nearly 700 area young people will see summer jobs and skills training for future employment opportunities.

The young people, ages 14 to 24, will be chosen based on certain barriers to employment, such as dropping out of high school or a history in foster care. They will then be exposed to skill training, jobs and careers in green industries, health care, construction, advanced manufacturing, education, science, technology, engineering and math.

Most young people will receive a combination of work readiness training and placement with a local employer. Additionally, participants may receive computer and financial literacy training, career exploration and planning, and/or student aid assistance.

By making these kinds of strategic investments in our young people, particularly those that are facing the greatest obstacles, we not only build the workforce of the future, but we prevent problems that cost us all.

Five providers with proven track recorders were selected out of 17 proposals to deliver the services – the Easter Seals Work Resource Center, Great Oaks, Jobs for Cincinnati Graduates, Arbor Employment and Training and the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.

We will shortly provide more information on how families can access this opportunity.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Well-Deserved Praise for Banks Project Manager

The Enquirer wrote a very nice story on John Deatrick, the person the County and City brought on about a year ago to oversee and implement the Banks Project.

As opposed to highly political appointments that too often can sink governent and waste taxpayer $$$ because they are unqualified and/or make politically driven decisions (ie. Hamilton County, 2005-2006), John is the epitome of a good, professional, competent public servant.

John came back to Cincinnati from Washington to help us complete the project.

He was instrumental in the County/City successfully securing millions of stimulus dollars, as well as keeping the project on time and under budget. And as some argue that we should do nothing but leave a parking lot and mudpit at the heart of our riverfront, John articulates well why that is not the answer: "It's a real problem to have empty surface parking lots where we should have a beautiful riverfront," he said. "Getting the central riverfront developed is absolutely critical to getting any economic benefit."

Read about John here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bringing Hope To Our Kids

Source (here)

About a year ago, I sat down with a small group of faith leaders and other citizens who are passionate about helping our most vulnerable young people. We talked through ways they might apply that passion to the critical need of supporting and caring for foster children in our community.

And most importantly, we agreed that the top solution is simple (in theory): find as many loving, caring adults to help and support our foster kids as possible.

Well, this weekend (the last of May, Foster Care Awareness Month), their incredible hard work and passion will come to fruition through a multi-day, multi-location effort called "Every Child's Hope." Twenty six churches and congregations will be involved. Their goal is to inspire people across our community to help kids in foster care--whether to become foster or adoptive parents directly, or for those who are not in a position to take those steps, to help support foster kids or foster families in all sorts of other ways.

These types of grassroots and community efforts that will ultimately make all the difference. And as I said in the State of the County Speech, there is no better prevention program than proactive support (and ultimate adoption) of foster kids.

Thanks to the leadership of the Coalition of Care for organizing this wonderful, compassionate effort.

Here's an Enquirer story on the effort, and here's the website for Every Child's Hope, laying out this weekend's program.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Always Remember

Photos from the Newtown Memorial Day Parade.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let the County Know YOUR 2010 Budget Priorities

This year, the County Administration is seeking more public input than ever as they put together the 2010 County budget. If revenues continue to stagnate, we will have some very tough choices to make, and public input on those choices is incredibly helpful.

So the Administration is rolling out on online survey to understand public priorities. It's quite long, but very exhaustive. But it will only be helpful if many people, and a true cross-section of citizens, take it.

If you have a few minutes, take the survey here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

UPDATE: A Local Poison Pill for All Passenger Rail

(Source: White House blog)
One of the more exciting proposals in Ohio today is a passenger rail line, ultimately high-speed, between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, to also include Dayton. It's called the 3C Corridor.

Several months ago, the County Commission unanimously passed a resolution that Cincinnati/Hamilton County be included in that rail line (because occasionally there are rumors that it would simply go between Cleveland and Columbus). And just last month, the Cincinnati-Cleveland corridor was included in the 10 national high-speed rail corridors that have been identified by the federal government for long-term development.

In other words, this looks to be an enormous long-term opportunity for the state, and for our region. In my recent survey, 85%(!) of 300 voters were supportive of the idea, including 68% who were strongly supportive.

Which is why it's sad to see that a political dispute over streetcars in one part of Cincinnati could turn into a political fight that harms this much bigger regional opportunity

As the Enquirer reported today, the petition language circulating to stop streetcars is written incredibly broadly:

"a new Article XVI of the Charter is hereby added as follows: The City, and its various boards and commissions, may not spend any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the City and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same."

So even though the public dispute and opposition centers around the streetcar proposal, the language appears to apply much more broadly--including throwing a wrench into this exciting opportunity for a cross-Ohio passenger rail corridor.

Given that we are already concerned about being included as a full participant in the Ohio rail corridor, the last thing we need in making our case is a provision that prohibits the City of Cincinnati from being part of it without a later vote. And practically speaking, as transportation planners at the state and federal level make major decisions about where to invest money, and choose among different priorities and competing regions, such an anti-rail poison pill in the City charter would clearly put our entire region at the bottom of the totem pole.

In other words, we would be voluntarily taking ourselves off the passenger rail map, as 10 other parts of the country (including Northern Ohio) move forward into the 21st century. A decision with decades of ramifications.

There are certainly strong opinions on both sides of the streetcar debate. And those will play out over time, as Councilmembers, citizens and advocates on both sides debate and decide on the best course, what plans might work, and what plans the City can afford, if any.

But let's not let that debate spill over into the much larger issue of state and national passenger rail options, and our region's (or the City's) ability to be part of them.

The current language of the petition risks exactly that.
UPDATE: Kudos to the Cincinnati Beacon for being open-minded (a rare trait in politics) in considering my observation. I think many streetcar opponents will echo their stance once they look closely at the language of this ballot initiative, which (intentionally or not, and completely unnecessarily) encompasses far more than the streetcar issue.

UPDATE: Feedback on Blasting

The controversy continues to brew on the proposal to allow underground blasting in Anderson Township, as residents fear the potential impact on a number of commuities. The next public hearing is June 4, at Turpin High School. (Here's a summary of the public hearing, which I attended last night. It's fair to say it was packed, and almost unanimously opposed).

In the meantime, I know the public hearings are packed, lines are long, and comments are limited to two minutes. So I'd love to hear people's comments on this proposal here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New Tool To Promote Foster Care and Adoption

It's Foster Care Awareness Month, and we are doing all we can to promote the criticial need for more foster parents in our community. I have addressed this issue many times on this blog, and how it makes such a difference in the community.

There are many great initiatives taking place, including public service announcements (see above) and a faith-based foster care initiative that will roll out later in the month.

And we are launching a new internet tool to make the process of thinking through becoming a foster or adoptive parent far more accessible and user friendly. The new website is, and it even includes personal videos of some of the kids who are awaiting a foster or adoptive home. Check it out, and pass it along.

(This is also part of the County's effort to make all sorts of services that help our families more accessible, particularly at this challenging time. Go to to see others.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Saving $$$, Reducing Energy Usage of County Buildings

At our staff meeting this morning, we received a great update on steps the County is taking to be more energy efficient (and save $$$) as a government--specifically, in the way we operate our facilities/buildings.

As background, by far our biggest use of energy as a County comes from the operation of our buildings and facilities. Operating jails, courthouses, large administrative buildings and offices, engineers' garages, and the like, which comprise the daily workplace of thousands of employees, takes up a whole lot of energy. So when we assessed County government's carbon footprint several years back, it was not a big surprise that by far the biggest source of our carbon footprint was our buildings.

So improving the energy efficiency of our facilities is the most important step we can take to reduce our County's carbon footprint. Which is why the good news from today is so important. A couple highlights:
  • In 2008, we reduced our green house gas emissions by 2,715 tons in 2008. This means we have reduced our total emissions 7% since 1997.
  • One building, 800 Broadway, qualified for an EPA Energy Star Award in 2008--the first and only government office building in the state of Ohio to do so. Through increased automation and technology, better scheduling of energy usage, and some other steps, the operation of energy systems of this building has become a state model.
  • Numerous steps and individual projects our Facilities Departments has taken to increase energy efficiency and reduce electrical usage decreased energy costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2008 alone. At this time of budget challenges, these savings are incredibly important.

The best news? In the coming months, we will be rolling out many more steps to do even better--and there are new resources (federal Energy Efficiency Block Grants) that will allow us to make even more upgrades, and save even more taxpayer dollars on operations every year.

As we work with all jurisdictions in the County to reduce their carbon footprint, it's great that we have an in-house case study of improvement to point to.

Thanks to our Facilities Department for leading the charge on this important issue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Update: County Passes Stream Protection Measure

Last month, I mentioned an exciting piece of legislation that I've worked on, as a member of the County's Stormwater Committee, for some time: creating stream corridor protection zones in order to clean up our streams and rivers.

After two public hearings, the Commission unanimously agreed today to the legislation. This echoed a unanimous, bipartisan vote of the Stormwater Committee several months back.

Going forward, we will have in place "zones" that protect headwater streams that, when polluted with runoff and other materials, ultimately lead to the pollution of our major water corridors. (The EPA explains the issue well here -- including the photo above).

By reducing runoff and pollution into these headwater streams through the new "protection zones," we are taking a major step toward cleaning up our rivers, streams and water corridors.

Thanks to all those who helped bring about this important change. It was a great consensus-building process.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Moving Forward on Transparency, Ethics: UPDATE

Today's meeting brought forward actions steps on two important principles we are bringing to County government: transparency and ethics.

1. On transparency, today we will go live on our updated approach to the Government Accountability in Spending Program (GASP), introduced last year by now-Judge Dewine, and supported unanimously by the Board in 2008. Previously, the approach only allowed citizens to examine the spending within County Administration/Commissioner departments--which does not make up the majority of the County's spending.

The new version launching today allows us to examine ALL County spending, across all departments. It also has an easy search function allowing citizens to search by category and department. We also have taken steps to ensure that there are no privacy risks in this effort at transparency (unfortunately, such a breach occurred in the roll-out of the first version), and that the program can be implemented in real-time, and at minimal cost.

UPDATE: It is now up and running. Search away by clicking here. And if you find questionable spending, etc., let us know. This is all about transparency, and empowering citizens.

UPDATE: Here's an Enquirer story on this. From the comments, it looks like a lot of people are already looking through the spending.

2. On ethics, we have finalized and will distribute a County manual on ethics and County government. This manual is a resource clarifying for all employees and citizens the laws and rules around permissible and impermissible political involvement of employees, the law against nepotism, our policy against double-dipping, and all sorts of other guidelines to ensure County ethics are first-rate.

This work is critical--to ensure county employees are always doing the right thing, to ensure that decisions by all levels of employees are always made on the merits, and not other influences, and that employees are hired and promoted based on the quality of their work for the taxpayers, and not other, unrelated issues.

Both employees, and citizens, will benefit from a full knowledge of our laws, rules and policies around different ethics issues. And County government performs at its best when these rules are adhered to 100%.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Media Review

A couple stories relevant to things we're working on at the County.

1. Story on electronic monitoring units: kind of states the obvious that an EMU is not 100% substitute for a jail cell. But the point is: it's a very cost-efficient alternative (and in many cases, perhaps the best solution), especially at a time where we are low on resources, have an overcrowded system, and voters have spoken twice, loudly, about paying higher taxes for a new jail.

2. A pretty tough column on the Queensgate Terminal project: like 80% of almost 300 citizens who took my countwide survey, the columnist thinks moving forward is a good idea. Most of the commenters agree.

3. A big story on State efforts to reform our criminal justice system: there will be a lot of debate about this. We at the County will take advantage of every dollar made available to us to reduce crime and recidivism, and alleviate jail overcrowding--particularly the low-level cases that take up space and waste money.

On to a busy work week.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

NAMI Walks: A Great Event, an Important Cause

I was honored today to serve as an honorary co-chair, with Channel 9's Carol Williams, of the annual NAMI Walks event--a community walk to support the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Hamilton County, and to raise awareness, and help end the stigma, of mental illness.

NAMI and its members and families have been a great help to me in understanding the impact of mental illness on families across this community. Many have shared incredibly personal and difficult stories, but it is those stories that all citizens need to hear to understand. Carol highlighed one heroic mother in this story.

And NAMI and its members have been effective advocates to spur government, and the criminal justice system in particular, to better address and respond to citizens with mental illness.
Partly due to the relationship I have built with NAMI, we are working hard at the County to ensure that we improve our system. Amending the Medicaid rules so those who leave jail can immediately get the treatment they need for their mental illnesses, pushing for a mental health court at the felony level, expanding our pretrial and reentry services so there are upfront assessments of those with mental illnesses, and other steps, are all part of this important effort.

Thanks to NAMI for all you do in the community, and thanks to NAMI families for opening up, sharing your stories, and educating us all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

EMUs: Everyone Take a Deep Breath

It's disappointing to see this EMU issue become such a source of controversy online and on air.

And we definitely can't let it drive a wedge between the City and the County at a time where we must build on what has become a great partnership on so many issues.

Indeed, it was due to the Mayor's and my positive working relationship that the City and County worked out a 50-50 split of the joint stimulus public safety dollars (through something called the Byrne Grant). Under the federal formula, the funding allocation for the Byrne grant requires signed consent of both the City and the County (ie. no one "gives" money to the other; it's a mutual agreeement about how to divide up a joint allocation). We have always split it 50/50 for that reason, which also makes sense because we both bear the costs of criminal justice in the City.

And to be clear, when some had inexplicably proposed that the City horde far more than their usual 50% share of the 2009 grant (something the County would not have agreed to, meaning no grant would have been received by either), the Mayor was the key person who intervened to ensure, as common sense dictated, that we maintain the usual 50-50 split once again 2009.

That is what happens when you have a good working relationship.

With the 50-50 split in place, it is indeed up to the City to determine how it spends its half of the money.

Of course, I have made clear that Electronic Monitoring Units are incredibly helpful, especially at this time of jail overcrowding. That's why I originally proposed, and we at the County ultimately will add, 75 EMU units, along with the Sheriff's deputies to oversee them, with our portion of the stimulus dollars. While we are working on many long-term solutions to our jail problem, I can't think of a near-term expenditure that will more immediately help us than this investment in more, and more modern, EMUs. (The story today on the 90-year old arrested for DUI shows how helpful an EMU can be in dealing with some inmates in better ways than having them occupy valuable jailspace).

And knowing of Councilmembers Ghiz's and Harris's motion to spend some dollars from their allocation on EMUs, I even wrote to explain to Councilmembers on Monday why we at the County believe that EMUs make a big difference, and why such an investment would help if they made it. (At the time, I honestly did not anticipate how much this issue would boil over in a few days) (See below).

But in the end, it is up to City Hall to make this decision--weighing all the pros and cons of EMUs versus other investments they might make, and hearing from their constituents about their priorities. And it is clearly not for the County to tell the City how to spend dollars it receives, just as the County would not respond well if the City told us how to spend dollars we receive.

Most importantly, whatever decision is made by City Hall about how to spend their share of these funds, that decision should and will not become a source of friction between the County and the City.

We've come too far to return to the old days of City-County bickering.

My email on Monday:

Friends on Council:

I understand that Councilmembers Harris and Ghiz have put forward a motion to invest a small part of your overall stimulus allocation for the leasing a significant number of electronic monitoring units (EMUs) for several years.

It's obviously up to each member to determine whether this spending would be more impactful on public safety than the other ways these dollars could be spent.

But I wanted to relay that we at the County believe that within the current economic and budgetary difficulties, EMUs are the best immediate way to expand jail capacity. Which is why we are investing the majority of our stimulus (Byrne Grant) dollars to support adding EMUs--and the added sheriff's deputies needed to monitor them, and any the City might also invest in.
(While we are also pursuing many other reforms and changes to increase efficiency and jailspace, and reduce recidivism, those have a longer timeframe).

As you may hear from the judges tomorrow, the bottom line is that the number one result of our overcrowded jail system is that there is almost no space for those convicted of misdemeanors to serve time. (Felons go to the state prison system, and await for their trial in our jail, and this takes up most of the space we now have). So most of the work of (and your investment in) the police department and city prosecutors to enforce those misdemeanors goes for naught.

Needless to say, a sizeable investment in EMUs (earmarked for City arrestees) will help alleviate the problem.

Of course, we at the County will continue to do all we can within this tough climate to also solve the problem. But it's safe to say there will not be any big influx of local revenues anytime soon--so spending these one-time stimulus funds on top priorities such as EMUs has been doubly important to us.

Just wanted to share my perspective on this important issue.



Thursday, May 7, 2009

Updated Survey Results

262 Responses, from all over the County .

1. High speed rail (Cleveland-Cincinnati) idea: 84% support the idea (68.7% strongly); 7.3% neutral. 8% oppose.

2. Queensgate Terminal project on the river: 78.5% support the idea (39.6% strongly); 13.5% neutral. 8% oppose.

3. Banning texting while driving. 65% support the ban (41.5% strongly). 16.5% oppose the idea.

4. Casino. 54.4% support (32% strongly); 16.6% neutral; 29% opposed (14% strongly).

5. Consolidating fire districts. 55% support; 31.5% neutral; and 13% opposed.

6. Lengthening the school year: 50% support; 28.4% neutral; 22% oppose.

7. Charter referendum that stops all investments in passenger rail pending a separate referendum: 58.8% strongly oppose; 13.2% oppose; 13.6% neutral. 14% supported (10% strongly).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Survey Results: Strong Support for Rail, Port Projects

We've received numerous responses (140) in just one day on the survey, and the results so far have been pretty clear-cut. People answered from around the County.

1. People are very supportive of the high speed rail (Cleveland-Cincinnati) idea: 76% support the idea (54.7% strongly); 10.2% neutral. 14% oppose. This was the most popular idea.

2. Second most popular is the Queensgate Terminal project on the river: 75.6% support the idea (35.3% strongly); 12.2% neutral. Only 12% oppose.

3. There is strong support for banning texting while driving. 65% support the ban (44% strongly). 22.3% oppose the idea.

4. The casino idea receives general support, but with some strong opposition as well. 57% support (34% strongly); 13% were neutral; but 30% opposed (20% strongly).

5. There is general support for consolidating fire districts. 54% support; 30% neutral; and 16% opposed.

6. There was more lukewarm support for lengthening the school year: 46% support; 24% neutral; 30% oppose.

7. People are strongly opposed to a Charter referendum that stops all investments in passenger rail pending a separate referendum: 38% strongly oppose; 21.2% oppose; 20.4% neutral. 20% supported (12% of those strongly).

If you haven't yet done the survey, go to the blog posting below . . . .

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Survey: Weigh in on Some BIG Issues

There are a lot of big issues brewing in the County, region and state. From casinos, to education, to economic opportunities, to rail, leaders and citizens will be making some important decisions this year.

Weigh in with your views on these big issues through this month's Citizens' Survey, by clicking here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

NSP: Moving Forward to Invest in our Communities

As we work to push a local economic recovery in every way, one important aspect is our County's $7 million+ Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), which we planned last year and is in the early stages of implementation.

Fifteen Hamilton County communities have submitted plans to reclaim blighted and foreclosed property. With these funds, the County will support projects to remove blight and unsafe properties from our neighborhoods, to replace them with new commercial, residential and greenspace development, and to create job opportunities for our citizens.

Projects include four main options for communities: acquisition, rehabilitation, demolition and/or new construction of housing. North College Hill, for example, has already demolished a blighted structure to pave the way for a public parking lot in the business district. Mt. Healthy plans to demolish a vacant and abandoned structure so it can be developed into green space in conjunction with a park. Lockland plans to demolish six to seven condemned structures that have become eyesores.

So, one property at a time, we are using these dollars to improve our communities’ safety and quality of life. And the program also helps generate job-creating economic activity across the County.

NSP Investment Communities include: Cheviot, Cleves, Colerain Township, Elmwood Place, Forest Park, Golf Manor, Lincoln Heights, Lockland, Mt. Healthy, North College Hill, Norwood, Silverton, Springfield Township, St. Bernard and Woodlawn.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Informative Update on Port Opportunity

The Enquirer today provided a broader analysis and update on the Queensgate Terminals project I wrote about several weeks back. As I've said before, this is an opportunity all citizens of the City and region should know about, and weigh in on with their elected officials.

The Enquirer also wrote an editorial urging City Hall to solve the problem.

The choice is clear-cut: move forward to gain jobs and a long-term strategic advantage in this competitive global economy, or risk a multi-million dollar liability (paid for by taxpayers across Cincinnati) for an egregious government taking.

For more information and a video illustrating this important opportunity, go here.

And for another blog that's provided a lot of information, go here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Counting All Citizens: Preparing for the 2010 Census

In 2010, the U.S. Census will define us as a Nation, a State, a County, a Township, a City and a Village.

In addition to helping our state leaders define our Congressional and Statehouse districts, the census outcome directly impacts the allocation of billions of dollars in government funding. And sometimes an accurate count can mean the difference in the very identity of a jurisdiction--between, say, being a "city" (5,000 people or more) or a "village."

That’s why I've teamed up with Mayor Mallory, Green Township Trustee Dave Linnenberg, and Silverton Mayor John Smith, to create the best countywide effort possible to ensure that every citizen of the County is counted, and every jurisdiction’s count is as accurate as possible.

In the past two weeks, on the East and West sides of the County, we have brought together Mayors, Trustees and administrators from the vast majority of the County's 49 jurisdictions to meet with census experts to ensure a complete count in Hamilton County. From those meetings, each jurisdiction will form their own "Complete County Committee," which will work in the coming year to do all they can to get every citizen in their community counted in the 2010 census.

Stay tuned as this work begins.

For more information, go to the Census Website. (For a video, click here). And over this year, the County will be providing far more information to help ensure every citizen is counted.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Moody's Gives Positive Report on County Fiscal Discipline

Amid a lot of difficult decisions and severe revenue pressures, it was gratifying that Moody's rating agency not only gave the county a "stable outlook" on our bond rating, but praised our efforts to limit spending and bring strong fiscal discipline amid this challenging environment. Moody's also noted positively our continued investment in growth measures, such as the Banks project, as a way to "grow" out of the economic difficulties we all face.

Among Moody's observations:
  • "the stable outlook is based on the newly adopted minimum General Fund reserve policies, which should prevent further narrowing of reserve levels"
  • "Progress continues on various downtown redevelopment projects, including the Banks project, which is expected to bring long-term economic benefits."
  • "Unemployment figures remain lower than the state"
  • "Moody's believes the county's financial operations are well-managed"
  • "Moody's believes that county management's demonstrated commitment to making the necessary cuts will help maintain an adequate financial position"
  • "In response to declining reserves, in September 2007, county management, with the support of elected officials, implemented key policies and set specific goals to restore reserves to healthier levels"
  • In 2008, "county administration, including elected officials, moved quickly to make the necessary reductions to close the gap" to maintain the County's reserve policy
  • "In general, the county has undertaken a broad strategic initiative targeting key financial challenges, including frequent monitoring of budget to actual financial performance and a commitment to making adjustments to insure financial targets are achieved."
  • "Moody's believes that significant efficiencies have been gained"

Finally, Moody's concluded that the stable outlook "takes into account [] the county's adopted policy to rebuild reserves, and demonstrated willingness to make difficult budgetary decisions to reduce expenditures in order to retain limited reserve levels."

No doubt, we've been making difficult decisions every step of the way, particularly since the economic slowdown began to hit. Much pain has been involved--and much of it shouldered by employees at all levels.

But as the Moody's analysis underscores, the fiscally disciplined (and pro-growth) approach we have been pursuing is the only responsible course we can take in the long run. And it is the best way to carry us through until the time that our economy--and revenues--rebound.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Making Work Pay: Another Successful Effort

Today, I was thrilled to meet and thank the volunteers who make our regional "Make Work Pay" effort such a success.

As I explained at the beginning of the tax season, this is a free tax preparation program that boosts working families by helping them apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit. For many, this provides the boost that lifts them out of poverty (while avoiding the fees and high interest payments they have to pay through a private tax preparer).

The key to the program are the hundreds of volunteers who sit down with citizens and walk them through the tax filing process. Today we recognized them and thanked them for their work.

At the same time, we got the first preliminary results from the season--and they were strong.

Last year, not including the one-time "checks" sent out from the first stimulus legislation in early 2008, Hamilton County's effort brought in $5,577,496 in tax refunds--including $2,486,050 in EITC refunds.

This year, that number jumped considerably--to $6,788,605, including $2,632,838 in EITC refunds. These refunds went to 4,826 total individuals.

This is almost $7M brought into the local economy through a voluntary effort. And in this tough economic time, this boost--along with the savings from our prescription drug discount program and other efforts--puts real money in our families' pockets.

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Build Hamilton County": Making the County More Business-Friendly

Today we began to roll out an exciting new change in Hamilton County.

It's called "Build Hamilton County," and it's our effort to streamline and accelerate the process for residential and commercial development in the County.

As the Business Courier reported, the process involves:

1. creating a one-stop approach to the development meeting process, with one, multi-agency predevelopment meeting (as opposed to the multiple meetings that are now required), saving valuable time and resources for all involved

2. creating a "Build Hamilton County" development web portal which provides the key information to developers on how to move forward with projects, including the ability to schedule and initiate the development process. Currently, no such centralized website exists to help projects go through the development process.

3. working with all the 48 jurisdictions of the County to share and coordinate on development projects and code enforcement, as opposed to requiring businesses to go through the ringer of dealing with multiple jurisdictions separately.

This is part of our broader effort to stimulate investment, economic activity and job creation as much as we can in this challenging year. I'll provide more details as we roll these changes out in the coming weeks.

Swine Flu Update

We had an update today from County Health Commission Tim Ingram about the swine flu outbreak in North America, the handful of cases in the United States, and what we are doing locally to prepare for any cases that might come here.

The bottom line: the cases that have been in the United States thus far have been mild (19 of 20 people didn't even go to the hospital), so there is no reason for alarm. If someone feels flu symptoms, they should see their doctor. And the best way to avoid getting or spreading anything is the same common sense one should always use: wash your hands, do not cough openly, and other basic hygiene.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Unemployment: Keeping Our Head Above Water

The most recent unemployment numbers are in, and although our rate is still far too high (8.2 percent), we remain among the strongest counties in Ohio in terms of keeping our citizens employed.

Only seven counties, out of 88, have lower unemployment rates. We have the second lowest of the major metropolitan counties. (Franklin: 7.8%; Cuyahoga: 8.6%; Montgomery: 11.3%; Summit: 9.6%). And we have the lowest in the region. (Warren: 8.5%; Clermont: 9.4%; Butler: 9.1%).

This is where our diverse economy really boosts us, even in tough times.

Next step: getting back below 8, then 7, percent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Honoring A Heroic Community Activist

Those of us in City or County politics know Amos Robinson well--he is a tireless advocate for public safety and law enforcement, both for his own neighborhood (College Hill) and the broader community. And to his credit, he isn't afraid to let elected leaders know when they need to do better.

Well, last week he stepped up even more than usual: he stopped a fleeing felon trying to escape a courtroom. He received a whole lot of attention for this selfless and courageous act, from Akron, to Columbus, to Toledo.
Today, on Commissioner Hartmann's initiative, we honored Amos for not just what he did last week, but for what he does every week for our community. Thank you, Amos.

Earth Day Activity: Climate Initiative Moves Forward

As part of our Earth Day activity, Hamilton County hosted the last of our series of community meetings that comprise our "Climate Community Initiative."

This has been a wonderful partnership with the majority of our local jurisdictions, as we together work to reduce our carbon footprint while saving taxpayer dollars through reduced energy usage.

Today's meeting was "the end of the beginning" of our process. After months of meetings covering different topic areas, we launched a new tool that will help all of our local partners achieve these goals. It's called the Carbon Calculator, and it will allow each community, in the coming months, to create their own path to reduce their carbon footprint. We will then compile these individual community plans into one Countywide green plan.

And the best news? Federal stimulas dollars, in the form of Energy Effiency Block Grants, will allow us to support initiatives that come out of this work. We are also working on ways that these block grants can be used to incentivize energy efficiency and cost savings for businesses, citizens and local governments (and taxpayers) across the County.

In all, important progress in a critical area.

Happy Earth Day!
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