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Supporters Collect 9,000 Signatures, Council Asks Feds for Help
CINCINNATI (Angenette Levy) -- Streetcar supporters announced Monday evening they collected more than 9,000 signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot as six city council members sent a letter to the Federal Transit Administration asking for information on ways other cities have paid to operate streetcars.
Supporters gathered at the First Lutheran Church in Over-the-Rhine Monday night to turn in petitions. With several hundred petitions still in circulation, supporters said they are nearing their goal of collecting 12,000 signatures - nearly double the number required to place a charter amendment on the ballot.
"I'm on my fifth petition form," said streetcar supporter Chas Wiederhold.
At the meeting in the church sanctuary, supporters touted a letter sent to FTA administrator Peter Rogoff signed by six council members including streetcar swing votes Vice Mayor David Mann and council member Kevin Flynn.
The letter stated "for the first time since the new mayor and council were sworn in earlier this month, we are beginning to see a viable path forward to complete construction on this first phase of the project."
The council members asked the FTA for information about how the city could fund the streetcar's operating costs without using general fund revenues. It also asked for information about how other cities have paid for operations.
"I don't know about you but I feel some divine intervention happening this week," said Ryan Messer of We Believe in Cincinnati.
Mayor John Cranley said last week he would support completing streetcar construction if supporters could guarantee the operating costs could be covered by the private sector for a minimum of 25 years. Cranley said he does not want to sacrifice services such as police and fire to operate the streetcar.
"I think we need to make sure we're having the conversation that we're aligned, if we can afford more police and fire, great. But these dollars for the streetcar cannot simply be reallocated to start hiring people," Messer told supporters.
The FTA has set a December 19 deadline for the city to move forward with the project before the agency will pull nearly $45 million in federal funding. Council member Kevin Flynn told Local 12 News Monday night that he had been in meetings with private organizations about the streetcar but not one had stepped forward to guarantee operating costs. Flynn said he had spoken with the Haile Foundation and others but would not elaborate. Haile Foundation Vice President said he will continue to look for private funding but reiterated he would not sacrifice police, fire and other services to run the streetcar.
Streetcar champion and council member Yvette Simpson said she is optimistic something will be worked out to cover operating expenses.
Vice Mayor David Mann's spokesperson said he also remains undecided on whether or not to move forward on the project.
"It's going to be some kind of structure where the private sector agrees to take on the part of the operation that does not include the funding sources that we know we have available which are fares, which are advertising and sponsorship dollars, which are federal transit dollars that could fund operations," Simpson said.
The first results of an independent audit from the firm KPMG on the cost of completing or canceling the streetcar could be released as early as Tuesday evening. The entire report is expected to be presented to the streetcar committee Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, streetcar supporters cried foul Monday night over and email sent by former Cranley campaign staffer, Robert George.
He wrote: "Just emailing you to remind you about the Council meeting this Wednesday, December 18th, at 1:30 pm. We are looking for folks to come to the meeting at 1:00, and then sign in and tell council they want to see general fund money go to police, fire, parks, and general service, not the street car. Let me know if you have any questions!"
Cranley's Chief of Staff Jay Kincaid said, "John asked friends and allies to reach out their network to encourage folks to show up and say that they don't want the streetcar built at the expense of firefighters, police officers, road paving, and trash collection. That is exactly what John said at the press conference on Thursday when he said if streetcar supporters would guarantee that operating costs wouldn't be borne by the city that he'd let the construction continue."
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