Saturday, January 31, 2009

Making Work Pay: Helping Working Families Get Back on Their Feet

This morning, I was thrilled to help kick off our annual Make Work Pay partnership free income tax preparation program, which helps provide working families in our community with a real economic boost.

By the time I got to Elder High School (one of our sites) at 10:00 a.m., dozens of residents were already working with our team of volunteers to file their taxes (for free), and to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit. Applause broke out at one point when a hard-working woman learned the good news that she was eligible for a sizeable credit, which she will receive in a few days. (And, every one who came to the clinic also received a County Prescription Drug Discount Card.)

Under the program, volunteer tax preparers make sure applicants file for eligible earned income tax credits (EITC) and child tax credits (CTC). The EITC is a bipartisan program designed to help working lower income families get out of poverty. Filers are eligible for a credit of up to $4,716. Our program not only ensures that eligible citizens claim the credit, but it avoids costly fees and interest rates charged by private, storefront tax preparers.

Last year the program, which offered 33 sites across the region, filed 9,200 returns and garnered almost $9.2 million in refunds for applicants, with $7.7 million of that going to Hamilton County residents—and into the local economy.

I was proud to initiate this partnership while on Cincinnati City Council, and to have brought it to the County once I arrived here. And given our current economic climate, it is especially important that we bring these dollars back to Hamilton County residents, and back into the local economy.

Tax preparation sites this year include Elder High School, Xavier University, the Hamilton County Public Library, the Madisonville Community Center, and the Cincinnati Community Action Agency. And the key global partners in the program are the City of Cincinnati, the United Way, the Legal Aid Societies of Cincinnati and Southwest Ohio, and many other site partners such as Elder, National City Bank, Children's Hospital, and our Library.

But the key to it all are dozens of volunteers who greet residents, sit down with them, and then work with them side by side to file their taxes. These volunteers undergo a lot of training to be able to do this work, but it's worth it. Today, I spoke to one volunteer who has volunteered every year since we started the program six years ago, and he still loves the work.

It's a fantastic program, and part of our larger effort to help local families through this challenging time. Thanks to all in the partnership who make this happen.

To find out more information on eligibility, site locations and times, or how to volunteer, citizens should contact the United Way by calling 211 or visit

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stepping Up: Governor Takes on Education Challenge

I just left a press conference with the Governor and local education officials at Withrow High School, and watched as he shared his vision and plan to remake Ohio's schools. I applaud him for being willing to take on--in a serious and substantive way--the topic that so many talk about but ultimately do so little on.

As the Enquirer said at the end of its editorial today, if he succeeds, "it is likely that Ted Strickland will have been one of Ohio's most consequential governors."

You can read his whole State of the State speech here. Key parts of the education plan include: all-day kindergarten, lengthening the school year by 20 days, moving to a system where all students take the ACT, the state taking on a greater share of the funding (relieving local property taxpayers), upgrading the curriculum to comport with 21st century demands, accountability and transparency (including for Charter schools), better teacher and principal training, and more.

It was fitting that this took place at Withrow, where with great leadership and strong students, as well as some of the reforms Gov. Strickland proposed today, this historic high school has seen tremendous improvement and excellence in recent years.

This will be a much-discussed topic in the coming months in Ohio. And its outcome will impact this state for years to come.

Digging Out

Streets are looking much better today, but still watch out for slippery spots.

As of 12:30 p.m., there were 1,427 people still out of power in Hamilton County. Most are small groups of homes or single locations, but apparently there were some larger areas in Green Township who were out this morning, and Duke was working to get to those areas as soon as possible. They are also prioritizing any homes that have more vulnerable residents.

When I spoke with them this morning, Duke officials said they anticipate getting everyone in the region back on by the end of Saturday, and that includes the more rural counties that are harder to reach. Which means they are confident that most Hamilton County homes will be back up before then.

We appreciate citizens' patience with yesterday's Level 3 status. That decision made a real difference in allowing our public safety and public service officials to safely do the job of cleaning up. And it no doubt headed off countless accidents and potential injuries.

As in all situations like this, we will of course analyze ways that all involved could have done better.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Update from Duke Energy

Here's an update from Duke at 2:00 p.m. Note the concern for later about winds potentially knocking down weak trees and limbs. Be careful out there!


As of 2:00 p.m. there are approximately 32,800 customers without electric service in the Duke Energy Ohio service territory. The outages by County are as follows: Brown (2,900), Butler (300), Clermont (21,600), Clinton (2), Hamilton (4,400 -- NOTE: at 3:54, it was down to 3,622), Highland (3), and Warren (2,000). There are currently 395 Duke Energy Ohio resources working on restoration. Included in that 395 employees are 77 native contract crews. Additionally, there are 320 Vegetation Management resources on system. Duke Energy Carolinas has sent 84 resources and contractors to help with the restoration effort as well. Finally, there are 368 mutual assistance on property for a total of 1244 resources working on restoration. Currently we have 7 distribution feeders locked out and 1 transmission facility out. The transmission outage affects 4 of the 7 distribution feeders.

The weather appears to have moved through the service territory. We are still assessing the storm damage and are unable at this time to provide an estimated restoration time. The peak of Ohio service territory outages was approximately 40,000 customers. This occurred approximately 11:00 a.m. this morning. Weather conditions appear to be stable, however, dropping temperatures are not allowing for any of the ice accumulation to melt. If winds begin to pick up this could cause our customer outages to increase significantly."

New Update on Winter Storm

Due to wind and more snow, more citizens lost power after the previous update. The most recent total of outages was 4,615, which was a decrease from 8,000 in the late morning.

Clink on the following links for up-to-the-minute Duke numbers, and a map of where power remains out. Again, call the hotline at 1 800 543-5599 if you have an outage.

The Sheriff announced at 3 p.m. his decision to end Level III status at 4 p.m. In the meantime, continue to stay off the roads if at all possible. And stay away from downed power lines, or any objects touching a downed power line.

Our deepest condolences go out to the public servant in Indian Hill who lost his life today trying to help residents get through this storm.

Major Storm Blows Through: New Update

UPDATE: Sheriff's Department has declared a Level III snow emergency. This means it is mandatory to stay off the roads to allow for plowing.

Hamilton County Commission business is closed for the day, which includes the cancellation of our regular weekly meeting.

Duke is rapidly getting power back to Hamilton County homes. At 7 am, there were about 8,000 out of power. By 8:15 am, it was less than 4,000. As of 9:00 a.m., it was down to 2,715.

If you or someone you know is out of power, the best thing to do is call Duke's hotline (800-543-5599). Most of the outages are in small clusters, so calling the hotline directly and letting Duke know that your power is out is critical. Otherwise, Duke may/will not know you need help.

Other than that, the best advice is to stay off the roads, and stay away from downed power lines.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A View of the Banks

The private developer leading the Banks Project just launched a new website featuring the work there, updates on progress, as well as hints of what it will look like in the not too distant future.

Take a look here.

2009 Economic Forecast: A Dark Tunnel, with a Light at the End

I attended the 2009 Economic Forecast breakfast put on by the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Chambers this morning. It painted a challenging picture.

Nationally, while the economist who spoke predicted several more quarters of tough times--and an overall down year in 2009--he did project that aspects of the economy should pick up toward the end of the year.

On a regional level, "it's going to be a rough year for the Greater Cincinnati economy." The economist predicted lower GDP, and lower employment for 2009. Again, she predicted that the decline will be most dramatic in the first part of the year, with the hope that things pick up in the latter half.

Both presenters placed strong emphasis on the importance of the stimulus in kickstarting the economy in 2009.

This forecast, combined with the news we received yesterday that our Local Government Fund allocation from the state was slashed $640,000 more than we had anticipated (and we had anticipated a large cut), and recent unemployment numbers, reinforces several things:
  • we must continue to search for each and every way possible to kickstart the local economy
  • with such turbulent and unpredictable times ahead of us, we must be incredibly conservative protecting our County reserve fund, and any general fund dollars
  • I am glad that we projected revenues so conservatively going into the year -- assuming a 4% sales tax decrease (from the prior year) for 4 months, then a 2% decrease for each month following. Knock on wood--those pretty negative forecasts will hold.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Challenge Your Property Valuation, Beginning Today

Starting today, the County Board of Revision begins to conduct hearings for citizens who want to challenge the valuation of their property value by the County Auditor's office.

I, and the County Auditor and County Treasurer, comprise the Board, and we each have appointed designees who will hear each and every case. Challenges must be filed between January 1 and March 31.

Necessary forms, instructions and guidelines for filing a challenge can be obtained by calling the Board of Revision office at 513/946-4035. You can also access the information at the Board of Revision web site.
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