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City vs county political dispute jeopardizes construction projects

CINCINNATI (Jeff Hirsh) -- Thursday marks the first spring training game for the Cincinnati Reds, which means the regular baseball season is not far away.  
Another season is about to start as well... the construction season.  But some key projects could be delayed by a political dispute and that could cost some people their jobs.

Howell Contractors has been doing sewer maintenance work for the metropolitan sewer district for a dozen years.  Providing jobs and paying taxes; but a dispute between the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County could be disastrous for these workers.

"I'm telling them we have to go out of town to find work or they're going to be unemployed," Paul Bricking of Howell Contractors said.

The city-county dispute, over something called the 'Responsible Bidder Ordinance,' has been simmering for over a year.  But with construction season about to start construction season for some sewer projects may be about to end as well.

"We're good through June but that's it. I don't know what comes after that," Bricking continued.

The Responsible Bidder Ordinance, passed by city council, requires all bidders on metropolitan sewer projects to have an apprenticeship training program.  But the county, claiming that would steer work to only unionized companies and away from non-union firms like Howell, is refusing to sign any sewer construction contracts.  That means no projects.

Paul Bricking says he, his business, and his workers are caught in the middle of the battle between the city and the county.  His fear is that while the city and the county verbally and politically shoot it out, the causalities will be him, his business, and his employees.

He tells us, "These guys were already notified.  I would just as soon city council come out and tell them they're going to be out of work.  The laws are saying after 12 years these guys are unqualified and irresponsible and it's just not true."

The Responsible Bidder Ordinance was passed before John Cranley became mayor.

"My position is that we should repeal it. The county owns the sewers.  We manage it.  The county doesn't want us telling them what to do, we wouldn't want them telling us what to do.  But city council refuses to repeal it so it looks like the county is suing us," Mayor Cranley said.

And unless there's a solution soon,  lots of jobs will just go down the sewer.  To complicate things even further, there's another city ordinance called 'Local Preference' which is supposed to give city residents a better chance to get these jobs. 
But critics complain the requirements are so hard to meet, based on income and neighborhood, that even union companies can't easily meet them.  
We should point out that the county has not sued the city yet over all of this.   But there are no city-county negotiations scheduled either,  so it's probably coming. 
Supporters of the Responsible Bidder Ordinance say it will not increase costs, as critics claim.  They also say the measure excludes contracts under 400,000 dollars, which should help small businesses.

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