"If people are sitting around and saying, ‘Boy, I sure hope that Columbus, Ohio comes to the rescue on the Western Hills Viaduct,’ or, ‘I sure hope the feds help us on our infrastructure so we can make improvements to Columbia Parkway,’ they’re going to be waiting and waiting and waiting," said Cincinnati Councilman P. G. Sittenfeld, continuing with, "If we’re serious about seizing the moment to make those fixes, we have to be ‘yes’ on the sales tax.”
If you take this statement from the Councilman at face value, he’s correct. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll understand why he decided to be a politician. Luckily, you’re subscribed to the Cheviot Gazette, and we’re going to do the digging for you.
What is Issue 7?
Issue 7 will raise the Hamilton County sales tax 0.8%. If passed, Hamilton County will have the second highest sales tax in the State of Ohio at 7.8%. This will be levied for 25 years.
If passed, Cincinnati’s earnings tax of 0.3% which provides funding for SORTA will be repealed. Anyone living or working in the City of Cincinnati will benefit from this. (This section correlates with issue 22 which has already passed.)
25% of the levied proceeds will fund public infrastructure. 75% will fund Metro. None of the proceeds will fund the streetcar.
The 0.8% increase would generate $130 million annually, with $30 million of that being used for bridges and roads. The other $100 million will fund Metro. This increase would double current local funding contributions to the bus service.
What is SORTA? Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority
SORTA is governed by a 13-member board of trustees. Among these trustees, seven are
appointed by the City of Cincinnati and six are appointed by Hamilton County.
The Sittenfield City Shuffle
As the 2019 year was coming to an end, I began to notice something different about Downtown Cincinnati. It no longer looked like Downtown Cincinnati, but in a good way. Electric scooters and red bikes were a new craze, and a Skystar Wheel ruled the night. Events were being organized and executed to precision. But, in the BLINK of an eye, I was reminded that the city legislators still believe down is up, the Bengals still suck, and Joe Burrow doesn’t like Skyline Chili. Yes, maybe things weren’t so different after all.
In my 33 years of living in Hamilton County, soon to be 34, I’ve come to realize I can count on the City of Cincinnati to not surprise me. I must say though, lawmakers are getting better at deceiving the public. According to Councilman Sittenfeld, we have to “seize the moment” by voting “yes” on issue 7.
Here’s what is really happening here. It’s called a bait-and-switch. This isn’t the Councilman’s first rodeo. This is how it works: if the levy is approved, SORTA will administer the $100 million to fund the Metro system. The other $30 million will be administered by the Hamilton County Integration Committee. Cincinnati City Council will dictate as much of the funds as you or I will. Zero.
So of course, Councilman Sittenfeld publicly endorses the levy. In 20 years, when the Metro system is still failing, and the Western Hills Viaduct is still crumbling he can point two fingers in opposite directions. Except what he should be doing is point them directly at himself for discrediting levy opposition, while he publicly rejoices from the table scraps of a terrible deal. His plan of attack is a devious one, but a good one.
SORTA’s 2019 annual approved budget had expenses projected to be $3.8 million higher than revenues. Keeping that in mind, the budget showed no change in current fares, no wage increases, and no employee layoffs. The City of Cincinnati provides funding to SORTA through a 0.3% earnings tax which generates over $55 million a year; and guess what earnings tax is cut if the levy passes? You guessed it. Looks like this is an important vote for council after all. Council wants to drop this dud from their books while receiving a tax break, not fix bridges.
If fixing infrastructure is really why voters need to seize this opportunity, then why isn’t the funding reversed? Shouldn’t it be 75% for crumbling bridges and 25% for a failing bus system that only 2% of Hamilton County uses, when nearly 50,000 drivers use the viaduct daily?
But maybe I’m overreacting, maybe the sky isn’t falling? Well, that might depend on where you’re standing, actually. On January 15, FOX19 reported that the City of Cincinnati’s budget and finance committee is considering a $2 million proposal to place netting underneath the viaduct in order to catch falling concrete before it hits unsuspecting drivers and pedestrians. Forget funding a bus service, we need a tank service. I wonder how much tanksportation costs?
Two million dollars seems excessive with the upcoming levy being voted on in March.
According to City Councilman David Mann, who stated in FOX19’s report, “But $2 million to protect human life, it’s cheap,” also adding, “Otherwise we’re going to continue to, you know, duck for the concrete.”
As if this all wasn’t bad enough, that the Western Hills Viaduct is just one of many projects in need of maintenance, these problems were never unforeseen. The viaduct itself is 88 years old and its last major rehab was in 1977. According to the 2017 Department of Transportation and Engineering’s annual report released in late 2018, it would cost the city $1 billion to bring all the city’s roads and bridges to “good” condition.
To be fair to council, the true champions for the Western Hills Viaduct, let’s have a look at that report, perhaps it was too vague.
Due to this incompetence from the council, Hamilton County was forced to raise the auto registration fee $5 which is estimated to generate $4 Million per year for the viaduct project. According to the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, if money for the project can be raised more quickly, taxpayers could save as much as $70 million on the project because 20% of the estimated costs is due to inflation.
With this report clearly stating the longer we wait the more it’s going to cost, and City Council members acting like 25% of the pot is a victory, the only reasonable conclusion I can come to is if your child is struggling in math class don’t worry. They are going to make one hell of a politician one day.
On March 17, the voters of Hamilton County will decide if we will continue to accept handing over our hard-earned money for illogical, disproportionate tax levies of fantasized pipe dreams over the livelihood of the workers who fill the offering tray. Simple arithmetic tells us a $335 million-plus project cannot be funded by $30 million a year, especially when that slice of the pie is divvied up for the entire county. If the viaduct received every penny of those funds, which isn’t feasible, it would take at least 11 years. Politicians are crying out “This bridge should be the number one priority!” and “We need to vote yes!" when the funding's proposed split isn't even 50/50. It's all theatre folks, and the show is over. On March 17, it's time we pull back the curtain.