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Outgoing Council Makes it Harder for Incoming Council to Stop Streetcar
CINCINNATI (Joe Webb) -- The outgoing Cincinnati City Council went out with a bang at their last meeting and bought the streetcar project some time. It is now a city law that the first phase of the $148-million project be built.
Incoming mayor John Cranley has promised to kill the project and he has the votes on the new city council to do that. However, he may not have the votes to do it quickly. Local 12's Joe Webb was at City Hall this morning and has the latest developments.
It's complicated in many ways but the takeaway is pretty simple. Streetcar supporters got the commitment today of council member P.G. Sittenfeld to support keeping the project alive. His vote may not be enough to have a majority on the incoming city council but it is enough to keep the project going another 30 days.
At their last meeting, the outgoing city council passed an ordinance making the streetcar work a matter of law. They passed it with the 6 needed votes to declare it an emergency, so it takes effect immediately.
The incoming city council can repeal the ordinance when they take office Sunday. With Sittenfeld's move, the new council does not appear to have the six votes to declare an emergency. So, a 5-4 vote by the new council to stop the project would not take effect for 30 days, giving the project until the end of the year.
Before today's council meeting, Sittenfeld explained his position. He said council is faced now with two bad choices but he has to integrated the real with the ideal. "If the new council cancels the project immediately we would incur expenses. The exact amount of these closeout costs can be disputed but we know, minimally, it would be tens of millions of dollars. So no matter what, no matter whose analysis you believe, cancelling the project would mean that well more than 50% of the local budget for the project would be spend and gone with nothing to show for it."
Sittenfeld also proposed today that the city move the potential operating expenses of the streetcar off the books. The number people are throwing around is $3-million a year. He suggests that could be offset by about a million dollars in fares, a million dollars in advertising and sponsorships and the last million by creating a special improvement district that would raise the property taxes of those owning property around the streetcar.
Just how that would be worked out, isn't clear at this point. If the incoming council would kill the project by a 5-4 vote, supporters would have 30 days to collect signatures and put the issue on the ballot for a referendum. That could delay stopping the project until an election.