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Streetcar's Future Could Be Known Wednesday

Bill Rinehart

Cincinnati council could vote Wednesday on an alternate funding plan to resume streetcar passenger service. 

Council's Budget and Finance Committee Monday approved using about $1.8 million from tax increment financing (TIF) accounts for Downtown and Over-the-Rhine. 

The alternate plan came together after Mayor John Cranley vetoed legislation in June to use city income transit tax dollars to resume full streetcar service with free rides.

City officials said the state of Ohio is now allowing cities to use 25% of TIF funds for public safety needs. Cincinnati would transfer TIF money from the two neighborhood funds for public safety, and then that allows general fund dollars to be used for the streetcar.

Council Member Chris Seelbach proposed it.

"To me it makes the most sense that we take dollars from the neighborhoods that are most impacted by the streetcar, the businesses and the residents that live there," Seelbach said. "Convert those dollars to public safety dollars, which then frees up the public safety dollars to support the streetcar, reopening it, not having a zombie streetcar."

The committee rejected a proposal from Council Member David Mann to use "carryover" money from the last fiscal year to resume streetcar service. One city administrator said that was "putting the cart before the horse" since the city is still working to closeout last year's budget, and officials don't know how much the "carryover" will be.

Council Member Jeff Pastor voted in June to use city income transit tax dollars for streetcar service. He said now that plan is probably not a good idea, and he's not sure about either alternate plan.

"At the end of the day, we have to get the streetcar up and running, and that's what I'm committed to do," Pastor said. "And I'm committed to going about this the best possible way."

Streetcar supporters and some members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 627 addressed the committee Monday about resuming streetcar service. Some ATU workers, who operate the streetcars, have been laid off as a result of passenger service being stopped in March because of safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The dramatic sound of that veto stamp was in fact, the sound of killing jobs," said Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld. "And it's not just a job. I mean, behind the job is a human being, and we heard from several of them today. People who are navigating life's tumultuousness trying to support their family."

City Council on Wednesday could attempt to override Mayor Cranley's June veto. But Council Member Mann has said he will not vote to override that veto, and with Pastor's concerns, there may not be the six votes needed for such an override.

The city has appropriated about $3 million to maintain the streetcars and the system's infrastructure.  But that won't pay for passenger service, and right now without funding, it's scheduled to remain shutdown until at least July 1, 2021.

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.