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Cincinnati City Council approves $64M in bonds to fund modern streetcar system

Cincinnati City Council's Budget & Finance Committee voted 6-2 to approve $64 million in bonds for the city's proposed streetcar system on Monday, May 10th.  The move is the first bold commitment from City Hall in terms of financing for the project to date, and is seen as a strong signal to the Federal government that there is local support for the project.

"This project can help us grow our tax base without growing our tax rate," described Brad Thomas, founder of CincyStreetcar.com.  "The approval of these bonds will send a clear message to Washington D.C. that Cincinnati is serious about this project, and will strongly position Cincinnati for the next two rounds of Federal funds."

Specifically, the vote approved three separate bonds that were made up of $11 million from the Blue Ash Airport sale proceeds, $28 million from General Capital sources and $25 million from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) sources.  The General Capital and TIF bonds were strengthened with proceeds from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport.  Beyond the technical proceedings, several young people spoke about the future benefits the project will have on the city and its citizen's quality of life.

"I'm really excited about what I'm seeing in this city, and I'm very excited about the prospect of urban living and more transportation options," said Xavier University student Adam Clark.  "It's very important that we provide these options, and I'm looking forward to riding the streetcar soon."

During Council's deliberations, Council member Jeff Berding asked Cincinnati Budget Director if the Blue Ash Airport sale proceeds could legally be used for cover the City's pension fund or close the City's Operation Budget deficit.  The City's Budget Director proceeded to give a direct and clear message that those funds could not be legally used for the City's pension.

The meeting heard 10 public comments that ranged from local entrepreneurs, students and residents in support of the Cincinnati Streetcar project.  Tim Mara, a lawyer representing Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending & Taxes (COAST) member Mark Miller, was the one public comment in opposition to the project and threatened a lawsuit against Council member Chris Bortz should he vote on the issue.  On April 19, 2010, City Council voted to approve $2.6 million in bonds for the project and had 29 public comments in favor of the Cincinnati Streetcar project with just three in opposition.

The meeting was once again defined by the participation of young people in the political process with several of the public comments coming from young professionals and students alike.

"This has been one of the single issues that has involved a diverse group of people, and has involved more young people in the decision making process in the future of Cincinnati," Council member Laketa Cole stated.  "People always ask me where the young people are, and I can say that young people have been up in the front on this issue from day one making their voices heard.  That is something I'm excited about."

Chris Bortz, Jeff Berding, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Laketa Cole voted in favor of approving $64 million in bonds while Chris Monzel and Charlie Winburn voted in opposition.  Leslie Ghiz was not present.  The vote will go to the full City Council meeting on Wednesday, May 5th for a final vote where it is expected to pass by a similar vote.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Stay connected by following Randy on Twitter @UrbanCincy
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