Two county commissioners ask OKI to pull streetcar funding

May 23, 2013

Hamilton County Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann are calling on the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) to pull promised dollars from the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

In a letter, the pair say that because of "significant cost overruns" they believe OKI's $4 million could be better spent elsewhere. They also request alternative options for the money's use be brought before the OKI executive council.

They write:

"In light of the City's projected significant cost overruns on the Cincinnati Streetcar project, we believe the 4 million dollars in OKI funds currently reserved for the Streetcar project could be better utilized on infrastructure projects that would benefit not only the residents of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, but the hundreds of thousands in the region who work or engage in commerce."

The letter continues:

"As members of the OKI Executive Committee, we respectfully request that alternative options for use of these funds be brought before the OKI Executive Committee for discussion."

In an email shared by the board's third member, Commissioner Todd Portune, OKI Director Mark Policinski indicates there's no certainty the money in question would be redirected elsewhere in the region. He says there could be legal issues as well.

"These are CMAQ funds.  As such, they fall under ODOT's new policy regarding a statewide competition for these funds. In other words, there is no certainty these funds would go to projects in the region.

"To undo this commitment of funds would take a vote of the entire board of OKI. To the best recollection of the staff, taking committed funds from a jurisdiction, against the will of the jurisdiction, has never been done.  This is, at best, a difficult precedent. However, that is for the board to decide.

"Though the cost estimates to the city are rising, what are the grounds for taking back the funds, at this time?  To break precedent, we need to have a compelling reason.  

"The funds may have already been spent by the city.  There is a legal question concerning if they would have to be repaid on a project that is extant."

Also in an email, OKI Deputy Directory Bob Koehler writes:

"The funds have been encumbered, too late to take them back unless they don’t spend them for the intended purpose or do something illegal. If they have been spent, Mark is correct they may have to pay them back. Then, they fall under the purview of the new CMAQ (statewide) rules."