Streetcar issue will be on November ballot

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The Hamilton County Board of Elections has received enough valid signatures to get the streetcar issue on the November ballot.

"They are a well organized group so we expected them to get it," admitted Rob Richardson, co-chair of Cincinnatians for Progress. "I will say this; they barely got it."

"We [had] to get ten percent of the people who voted in the last election,"explained ballot initiative supporter Tom Brinkman. "There's fewer people and fewer voters in the city than there were two years ago so that [made] it a little tougher."

Wednesday was the deadline for opponents to turn in the petition with 7,500 valid signatures. Election officials say 6,500 signatures had been turned in by Tuesday.

After months of gathering those signatures, petitioners say today's announcement from election officials is a step towards sending a strong message to city hall straight from the voters.

"We want city government to spend money on the basics: safety, protection, cleanliness," explained Brinkman who is the co-founder of C.O.A.S.T. or Coalition Opposed To Additional Spending and Taxes. "We do not want them spending money on ridiculous stuff like a little trolley car that is not going to attract anyone and is going to cost a lot of money."

"I would say the other side would believe we could cut our way to prosperity and just not do anything but we can't," Richardson argued. "It's just not based on the facts. Cities that are growing make investments. Period, point blank."

The signs, banners, and buttons are likely to come back out as they did two years ago when a similar ballot initiative dubbed "Issue 9" faced voters and failed. Petitioners, however, are convinced the second time's the charm.

"Yes, I feel more confident because the city has stubbed their toe more: the pension system's blown up, the budget situation is a mess, we did compromise on some of the language making it a ten year thing," Richardson said.

"We actually think it's misleading and worse than the last ballot initiative that was brought out in 2009," Richardson countered. "It says: 'streetcar system' and the way it defines streetcar system is all passenger rail. So it's the same thing again."

Richardson says his concerns about the initiative go well beyond the streetcar project.

"Even if you disagree with the streetcar it's just not the way that smart cities legislate," he argued. "Every time there's an issue you don't agree with you don't change your city's constitution. Our city's constitution is sacred. It should only be changed under extreme circumstances."

"There are some people that say let's don't put things on the charter but unfortunately city government isn't listening," Brinkman said.

Richardson says voters, whether supporters of the streetcar project or not, should consider that the ballot initiative would eliminate any rail project for the next 10 years whether it be a public or private project. Brinkman believes the city will need at least that much time to get its finances in order.

Voters will now decide if construction should continue on the streetcar, which would run from Fountain Square to Findlay Market. The issue would also ban city leaders from considering any form of rail development anywhere in the city for the next for the next ten years.

Meanwhile, city leaders are moving forward with the project, working with Duke Energy to move power lines.

Those in favor of the streetcar say the first phase of the project will create more than 300 construction jobs and 25 permanent jobs and the investment will lead to $1.4 billion in economic activity.

Opponents to the project say there's no guarantee the streetcars will be as effective here as in other cities and countries and the city should first spend money on repairing streets and neighborhoods business districts.

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