Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dealing with Jail Overcrowding

There are many things we are working on to try to deal with the safety and jail overcrowding problem amid a tough budget. I've talked about many of them at this blog. Examples include:
  • Find ways to get homeless people in shelters and transitional housing, as opposed to jail
  • Identify veterans that can be appropriately diverted and receive treatment, paid for by benefits they earned through their service.
  • Get citizens with mental illnesses and substance abuse the treatment they need, and out of the revolving door of the jail.
  • Improve and reform processes so we move cases more quickly, and house fewer felons waiting for trial.
  • Use more electronic monitoring units, and more fully utilize the River City (state-funded) facility.
  • Use pretrial services to do "reentry planning" to reduce recidivism.
  • Use federal gun laws (Project Disarm) to get the worst offenders into the federal system.
Even in our tight budget, we are working on all these, and many more solutions. They are all important steps.

But even with all these solutions being pursued, there remains a jailspace crunch. Specifically, with a great percentage of jail beds being taken up by accused felons waiting for trial (who, if convicted, will go to the state penitentiary), there are very few spaces left for convicted criminals (misdemeanants) to serve any sentence at all. (Note: Misdemeanor sentences are served at the county jails, while felony sentences are serves at state penitentiaries). And nothing more frustrates judges, police officers or citizens than convicted criminals walking away from sentences because there's no room at the inn.

Which is why, after discussions with Campbell County officials, I offered a plan to the City that was reported in the Enquirer today. Campbell County is willing to house convicted misdemeanants at a far lower rate (under $44 per bed ber day) than is available in Ohio. They are willing to pay to transport these offenders to and from our court. And unlike past agreements, there is no "guaranteed minimum" of beds that must be paid for. So the City would only pay for the beds it uses.

But the point is, through the Campbell County option, the City (or any municipality) could guarantee itself a number of beds for convicted misdemeanants (arrested through their police agency) to actually serve their time.

My role has been simply to facilitate another option. It will up to each jurisdiction to determine if it's worth taking advantage of.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Real Boost: County Lands $45M+ in Stimulus

Today we received some fantastic news.

Ohio Governor Ted Strickland announced his priority transportation projects to be funded by Federal Recovery Act Resources (aka “The Stimulus”). In that announcement, Cincinnati and Hamilton County are slated to receive a total investment of $23.2 million in stimulus funds for the Banks Project. We also received an additional $25 million for other key transportation priorities.

In our stimulus request, we chose to be strategic, and the City and County worked in close collaboration —and we’re thrilled this approach received so much support from the Governor. Overall, we received more than almost all other counties and regions in Ohio.

The result of these investments will be job creation and economic stimulus in the short run, and the transformation of our Riverfront in the long run.

Little Known Fact: Hamilton County Taxes Lower Than Our Peers

Sometimes politics can get in the way of some basic facts. And sometimes politicians don't even look at the facts before they start arguing.

As we try to compete for jobs and businesses in Hamilton County, one fact that always gets bandied about is our rate of taxes. Is it high? Is it low? Especially around property taxes, this has been a highly contested question.

Well, a recent Forbes survey studied property taxes (as a percentage of income) across the state and country, and the results might surprise you.

Of Ohio's six largest urban counties (400,000 people and up), Hamilton County had the lowest property tax, as a percentage of income, in the state. We were 26% lower than Cuyahoga County, 16% lower than Franklin County and 8.5% lower than Summit County.

Of Ohio's 10 largest counties (250,000 and up), we were tied for the third lowest property tax.

Again, these are the results of Forbes research, and a nonpartisan group called the Tax Foundation--not me or Hamilton County.

In addition to this, few people realize that our sales tax is also relatively low.

Of the top 6 urban Ohio counties, we are tied for the lowest sales tax with Summit County. We are 16.5% lower than Cuyahoga County, 7% less than Montgomery County and 4% less than Franklin County. (And don't forget, .5% of our sales tax goes for stadiums, etc., while most of these other Counties' taxes go directly to their governments).

This data does not suggest we should not be tax sensitive. We definitely should be, especially at this challenging economic time for families and businesses.

But what we should also do is realize that, as we compete for jobs and businesses to come our way, we actually have a pretty competitive tax burden when we compare ourselves to the other major counties in Ohio.

UPDATE: Here's a great example of the misinformation that this study rebuts. Americans for Prosperity recently wrote that "Hamilton County . . . has the 2nd highest county property taxes in Ohio." I believe they got that from local sources--looks from this website that then-Commissioner DeWine wrote the same in an editorial. Problem is, it's totally false.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Making Transportation Truly Regional

Today, the Commission approved three new appointees to the Board of the newly reformed Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). These appointments are historic because they represent the first time this transportation board has had true, regional representation--representing all four Ohio counties from the region.

Equally importantly, the three individuals we appointed will greatly enhance the board because of their personal experience, background, and interest in the area of regional transportation.

To represent Clermont County on the SORTA Board, we selected Ed Humphrey, the President of the Clermont County Board of County Commissioners, who has a strong interest in regional transportation. To represent Butler County, we selected Liberty Township Trustee Christine Matacic, who has been a long-time leader at OKI, our regional transportation planning organization. And to represent Warren County, we selected Gregg Hothem, a private realtor and former developer who also is a member of the Warren County Planning Commission, and an appointee to the Loveland Finance Committee.

These individuals will not only represent their counties well, but they will help lead us into a far more regional approach to public transportation in the coming years.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Community Tour #2: Forest Park

We had an incredibly substantive discussion last night in Forest Park, for our second "community tour" meeting of the year.

The Mayor (Chuck Johnson), City Manager, Vice Mayors and Councilmembers put a lot of time into a presentation that highlighted their priorities of economic development, infrastructure, blighted and foreclosed properties, and public safety.

Needless to say, any regular reader of this blog knows that those priorities align directly with the County's priorities. While we don't have the resources to address these issues as much as we'd like, we look forward to working with Forest Park leaders and other communities to take on these very challenges, and we will follow up on many of their concrete suggestions.

Thanks to Forest Park leaders and citizens for making last night's meeting such a successful and productive session.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Brownfields, Infrastructure and Public Safety

We had a busy week last week--and today the Enquirer posted stories on three items we worked on.

First, we have finalized a list of brownfield revitalization projects for the County, and we are looking for resources to do this work through both stimulus funds and other opportunities. This is a priority for me, because turning these locations into development-ready sites is a critical step to better compete with "greenfields" in other counties for new and expanding businesses. If we don't have good locations, we won't drive the business and job growth we need within the County.

Second, the Enquirer provided nice updates on the Project Disarm and road improvement work I also discussed last week on this blog.
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