Special meeting on streetcar funding canceled

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A special Cincinnati city council meeting scheduled for Friday to talk about funding for the streetcar has been canceled.

Council Members Winburn and Smitherman say the meeting was postponed in response to casino collapse.

According to a spokesperson in Winburn's office, major concerns for the councilman include the cost of utility relocation, right of way costs, and the timeline for the project's construction.

The concern about utility relocation and upgrade costs associated with the streetcar project stems from a loss of anticipated funding from the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati.

City Manager Milton Dohoney sent a letter to the county administrator in September asking for a match in funding from MSD to reach the $6 million  needed to conduct necessary sewer system improvements associated with the streetcar project.

Hamilton County Commissioners would have needed to approve the use of MSD funds.

According to a 1968 agreement, the county owns MSD while the city operates and manages it. Thus, the county maintains overall control of any budget decisions.

County Commissioners have made it clear on two occasions that they do not want MSD funds to pay for utility relocation associated with the streetcar. According to a representative from Greg Hartmann's office, the commissioners voted on the issue on  October 12, 2011 and then brought the issue up again during the December 2011 budget discussions. The vote to deny MSD rate payer funds was unanimous.

County Commissioner Chris Monzel says MSD has been instructed by the county that no MSD rate payer funds can be spent on the sewer work associated with the streetcar project.

"The streetcar is an issue that is in the City of Cincinnati, but the Metropolitan Sewer District is paid for by rate payers across Hamilton County," Commissioner Monzel explained. "Why should they pay for something they don't support? Or even had the chance to vote on? So to me it's a matter of fairness."

The city, however, has advised MSD that they are going to be moving forward with the work using their own funding.

The city has allocated roughly $3 million to do some priority sewer relocation and maintenance.

MSD's Executive Director Tony Parrot says they will still inspect the work that will likely be bid out to outside contractors.

"As a utility we have to do our due diligence to make sure that the scope is not impacting our ability to operate, access, and maintain the sewer system," Parrot said.

Parrot says their focus is to make sure there are no access restrictions to the sewer lines as a result of streetcar construction.

Possible sewer work that would need to be completed by the city could include raising manholes and relocating sewer lines.

MSD is working with city project engineers and Parrot says some of the sewers are at the end of their useful life. Because the limited funding has resulted in a limited scope of improvements, line breakdowns in the future could cause additional problems.

"There could be some type of failure," Parrot said. "If there is a major repair there may be some impact to the operation of the streetcar, but we're trying to minimize those risks."

A spokesperson for the City of Cincinnati argues the county missed out on a good deal. Because the city would have chipped in three million in funding, they argue the county would have only paid half price to upgrade utility lines that will likely need attention in the near future anyway.

"Well we don't know that," countered Monzel. "We don't know if we would have to move them or not and if they're going to build that on top of it that potentially damages what is owned by the county rate payers they need to pay for those damages and for me that is the crux of this issue."

The meeting will now be held Friday, February 10, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. in Council Chambers, 801 Plum Street, Room 300.

Copyright 2012 FOX19. All Rights Reserved.