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Council Overrides Mayor's Veto On Streetcar Service, But Fight Isn't Over

Bill Rinehart

Cincinnati's streetcar system will soon begin operating with passengers and those rides will be free. 

City Council voted Wednesday to override Mayor John Cranley's veto from June to use about $1.8 million of city transit funds to pay for it. And council in September could override another Cranley veto on an alternate plan.

Council members Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney, Greg Landsman, Jeff Pastor, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld, and Wendell Young voted to override the June veto.  David Mann, Christopher Smitherman, and Betsy Sundermann voted against it.  The city Charter requires six votes for an override.

Streetcar passenger service could begin later this month, and the decision also means laid-off streetcar operators will go back to work. 

Council Member Pastor said that was his objective.

"We're talking about simply, either we're going to run a $3 million streetcar with nobody on it, and folks lose their jobs," Pastor said. "Or we're going to do what's right and fiscally responsible and run the streetcar and deal with everything we need to deal with later," Pastor said.

Meanwhile, City Council also approved an alternate source of funding for streetcar operations, and Mayor Cranley vetoed that plan after the meeting was over.

That plan would use $1.8 million from Downtown and Over-the-Rhine TIF accounts to fund streetcar service. 

"But who exactly is going to ride it right now in the middle of this pandemic? Who should ride it right now in the middle of this pandemic?" Cranley asked. "And is that more important than finding additional dollars for bus riders? Is that more important than using Downtown/Over-the-Rhine TIF dollars?"

The override vote on the June veto allows streetcar service to resume sooner because with Cranley's veto on the alternate plan, City Council cannot act on that override until Sept. 2.

The streetcar will be using city transit funds to operate for now. But in September, council will likely switch the source of funds to the TIF dollars.

In June, council had appropriated about $3 million to maintain the streetcars and the system's infrastructure. But that wasn't enough to pay for passenger service, and that plan would have kept the streetcar shutdown until at least July 1, 2021.

Earlier in the meeting, council approved an ordinance that would transfer the balance of the city's transit fund to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) as part of a plan to guarantee bus service in the city in future years. Cranley said using $1.8 million from that fund for the streetcar violates the agreement with SORTA and could result in legal action. 

But Council Member Seelbach disagreed, saying SORTA was entitled to what's in the account as of Oct. 1.

The city's income transit tax will end on Oct. 2, the day after a new Hamilton County-wide sales tax is implemented and becomes the primary funding source for SORTA.

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.