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Council Committee Approves Streetcar Op Funds And Living Wage Proposal

Bill Rinehart

A proposal to fund the first year of Cincinnati streetcar operations could be approved Wednesday.

City Council will vote on a revised plan, and this time Mayor John Cranley said he will not veto it even if it passes with only five "yes" votes. It takes six votes to override a veto.  

The plan likely will use $550,000 from the streetcar construction contingency budget to reimburse the city for money it has already spent on start-up costs. That is the "B version" of the ordinance.  

The original plan took all those initial start-up costs from additional parking meter revenues the city has been collecting in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine since January 2015 to provide $1.5 million annually for streetcar operations.

Council Member Kevin Flynn wants to pass his "C Version," which would eventually take all of the initial $1.1 million start-up costs from the construction contingency budget. He said that preserves more funding for future operating expenses.  

"So that in year two, this council or the next council, is not facing a need to either reduce service or increase funding through using general fund dollars," Flynn said.

But city attorney Andrew Garth said administrators prefer the "B version" for several reasons.

"Chief among those reasons is that we have talked to the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) about the B version," Garth said. "They are comfortable with that approach. It has certain safeguards built into the ordinance to ensure that the construction contingency is not spent on operations prior to the close out of construction. Those safeguards are not included in the C version."

Council voted two weeks ago to fund the first year of streetcar operations, but that was later scrapped in the same meeting to try and come up with a plan that Flynn supports.  

A Cranley aide said the mayor is willing to move on and that is why he will not veto it.  Cranley could sign it or allow the measure to take effect without his signature.

Meanwhile, City Council also will likely vote Wednesday on an ordinance increasing the city's living wage.  

It will increase the rate to $15 an hour for full-time city workers and to $10.10 per hour for part-time workers.  

Officials estimate it will add about $1 million to the city budget.

"By passing the living wage ordinance, Cincinnati City Council can be leaders on this very important issue," said Chandra Yungbluth with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 75. "You can show that our city values its workforce, seeks real solutions for poverty and is committed to creating better lives for hard-working people."

Opponents say the living wage ordinance will add to the city's deficit for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The Greater Cincinnati Chamber expressed its opposition in a letter Monday to the mayor and council members.

"Given the budget deficit that's facing the city, increasing the cost of doing business is not fiscally sound," said Jason Kershner, the Chamber's vice president of government affairs.

Council will also vote on a proposal to increase crane safety and to apply the city's prevailing wage to some private development projects receiving some sort of city subsidy or tax abatement.