Reality Check: Is the streetcar project sustainable?

(FOX19) - Last night, I pointed out that the streetcar signs were paid for with grant money but that city workers had to install them and that taxpayers might have to pay to have them taken down.

It was true that taxpayers paid for it but not only local taxpayers.  Turns out the $2,900 dollars in federal grant money for those 16 streetcar signs included the cost to have them put up.  Also, the grant will pay for the labor if the signs have to be taken down.

Also in response to last night's Reality Check on the streetcar signs, I was sent this email from Donna in Covington who wants to know:

"I heard  a city council member (can't remember who) on the news sometime in the past year say that, even if they build the streetcar, the city has no money to run it.  If that's true, isn't that something the voters should know?

In any case, I would be interested in finding out more about the ability of Cincinnati to pay operational expenses to actually run a streetcar nobody wants." 

Donna, its not true that nobody wants it.  But lets talk about operational expenses.  The streetcar is expected to cost $2.5 million dollars a year to operate.  There is a plan to fund it, however at a much higher level than what would be needed.

Here is how the funding breaks down:

  • Casino revenue - $3 million
  • Parking meter revenue $400,000
  • Fare box  - $465,000 - $675,000
  • Naming rights, sponsored stops - $200,000

Meg Olberding with the city manager's office told me today, "This will ensure that the streetcar never competes for funding with essential services such as police and fire protection or trash pick-up."

Now comes the question, if the city has come up with $4 million dollars, and that is the low estimate, to fund the streetcar, shouldn't that money go to the general fund of a city that is projected to have a 33 million dollar deficit next year?

Before you get that far, go back and look at the numbers.

The $465,000 to $675,000 can't go anywhere because it is fare box money.  It doesn't exist without the streetcar.  Same with the naming rights and sponsored stops.  That $200,000 only exists if the streetcar does.

As for the $400,000 from the parking meter fund, it has certain transit-related restrictions (so no cops or firefighters with those funds)  Though that money could go to other transit projects.

But the $3 million in casino revenue has no restrictions.  Council has the ability to do what they want with that money and a lot of people would say, put it to better use.

On the other side, the city says, the streetcar is expected to bring $3 for every $1 spent.  And while that is a projection, if it pans out, those additional tax dollars would be general fund--for police, fire and sanitation workers.

Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide.

And that is Reality Check.

Copyright 2011 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.