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Council Member Mann Changes Position On Streetcar Funding

Bill Rinehart

Cincinnati Council Member David Mann released a statement Thursday saying he no longer supports using city transit tax dollars to pay for streetcar operations.

That's a reversal from a decision in June, when he voted with six other council members to use $1.5 million from the transit fund to restart streetcar passenger service and make those rides free.

Mayor John Cranley immediately vetoed that ordinance, and council could attempt to override his veto at its next regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 5.

Mann said he's against overriding the mayor's veto.

"We must not use SORTA transit funds to operate the streetcar," Mann said in a statement. "The pledge not to do so was made before my return to council. I expect that pledge to be kept."

Mann said the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) will face a budget gap as it transitions from the city's 0.3% income tax for transit to a new 0.8% Hamilton County sales tax as its primary funding source. The sales tax will start being collected Oct. 1, but SORTA will not receive those funds until sometime in January. The city's earning tax for transit ends Oct. 2.

But Mann has an alternative funding source to operate the streetcar with passengers.

"Instead of the transit fund, my plan appropriates funds from the unappropriated surplus of the general fund," Mann said.

In June, City Council approved a proposal from Council Member Chris Seelbach to spend $4.9 million to resume streetcar service, and part of that plan would be funded with monies from the city's transit earning tax.

That fund will have a surplus when the funding source for SORTA is transitioned.

"Council Member Seelbach promised his colleagues he would look for alternative sources and we're thrilled to have already found another option," said Jon Harmon, Seelbach's legislative and policy director. "That being said, we're happy to see other (council) offices join our efforts and look forward to the discussion in committee."

Now former City Manager Patrick Duhaney and the mayor had proposed spending about $3 million to maintain the streetcar system, but it would not operate with passengers through July 1, 2021.

Mayor Cranley said in the middle of a pandemic and protests concerning systemic racism, council's priority shouldn't be funding the streetcar and making it free to ride. He called it a "luxury item."

"This is the worst budget in 100 years and we're going to start giving away streetcar service," Cranley said in June.

Council also voted in June to pass the $3 million proposal. Without that action, there would be no funds for the streetcar on July 1. 

Even if City Council approves the Mann ordinance to change funding sources for the streetcar, it's highly likely Cranley will veto that, too.  If that happens when council meets Aug. 5, a veto override wouldn't happen until Sept. 2.  That means streetcar service would remain on hold for another month.

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.