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Plugging A Hole In The Cincinnati Streetcar Operating Budget

Bill Rinehart

The Cincinnati streetcar system is projected to have a $1.15 million operating deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1st.  The city is now working on alternatives to plug that hole.  
Cincinnati Council will have the final say on how to close the gap, and that decision could come on June 19.

Declining streetcar ridership and therefore fares plus decreasing advertising revenue have cut into the operating budget. At the same time expenses are increasing. City administrators have presented two plans to balance the streetcar budget.  

One would eliminate the admissions tax exemption for non-profit organizations.  

That would impact tickets and memberships for the Cincinnati Zoo, Cincinnati Museum Center, Playhouse in the Park, and the Cincinnati Symphony.  A city memo said it would not include admissions tax from religious and educational institution events other than private colleges and universities.

Adding the admissions tax to non-profits is expected to generate $1.5 million annually for the streetcar.

The other option would consist of a combination of things.  Those include implementing the booting program for vehicles with unpaid parking tickets, increasing the price of Over-the-Rhine residential parking permits from $60 to $360 a year, and raising parking fines by $5 per citation.  Those various measures would raise about $1 million a year.

Council member Greg Landsman questioned some of the budget assumptions in the proposed streetcar operating budget.  He also said the city needs to stop delaying the implementation of digital advertising signs at streetcar stops to raise revenue.

"I don't know how we in good conscience vote on reducing services or asking taxpayers to pay more when we haven't resolved these issues," Landsman said.

Council Member David Mann said he wishes the city's system was more like Kansas City's, which is free and embraced by the public.

"Instead we've had this political divide which has consumed a lot of energy, but which I think has continued to set us back in a way that's very unfortunate," Mann said.

Council member Chris Seelbach said there are lots of frustrations with the system.

"If we just wouldn't hurt ourselves every day that could help the system in itself," Seelbach said. "Stop self-sabotaging. I thought that was what this executive director position was going to do. But it doesn't seem like it so far."

City officials are also looking ahead to 2026 when the Haile Foundation guarantee payment of $900,000 expires.  

That organization had pledged that money for streetcar operation back in 2013 when city council was debating whether to stop or continue with the project.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.