Council member calls to postpone streetcar and atrium projects - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Council member calls to postpone streetcar and atrium projects

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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Cincinnati City Council member Christopher Smitherman released a statement calling for the postponement of the streetcar and atrium city projects.

"City Council is preparing to raise property taxes to build a streetcar and an atrium. The cost to service the $64 million in streetcar debt is $5 million per year. The cost to build the atrium is $4.4 million. If City Council were to postpone both projects, it would save the capital budget $9.4 million. "It is outrageous to raise property taxes while moving forward on projects that are not priorities for the citizens of Cincinnati. Citizens in Cincinnati do not support increasing their property taxes."

Despite a groundbreaking on the streetcar project, checks from the federal government, and two votes of support on city referendums, Smitherman argues it is not too late to put a halt on the project.

"Send the millions of dollars back to the government," Smitherman said Wednesday.

Smitherman believes the streetcar and property tax increase go hand-in-hand.

"They're trying to raise these taxes now to position the streetcar to run in the black off the back of the citizens of Cincinnati," he argued.

The city, however, says it is too late to put the brakes on the project because the streetcar is already moving forward.

Water utilities are currently being relocated on Elm Street, the city is in talks with the Metropolitan Sewer District on moving utilities, and negotiations with Duke Energy are looking up from following the February impasse announcement.

"I would say between Duke Energy and the City of Cincinnati, we've made good progress," Duke Energy spokesperson Jason Walls told FOX19 Wednesday.

After visiting streetcar projects like the one in Portland, Duke Energy officials say they are willing to compromise on utility location under certain conditions.

"What we really learned from those trips is that with a strong operating agreement you can safely access, safely maintain and continue to provide customers with the reliability that they've come to expect," Walls said.

No one was able or willing to go on camera to talk about the streetcar project at City Hall Wednesday including five fellow council members and staff in the City Manager's office. Some felt the streetcar is a moot political point.

In response, Smitherman sent FOX19 the following statement:

"I would not discuss the Streetcar project if City Council was not preparing to increase property taxes by 23% on Tuesday of next week to pay for [the] capital project. The debt service on the $64 million of debt is $5 million per year. City Council should postpone the $150 million Streetcar and $4.4 million Atrium project with a known $40.8 deficit million deficit."

Smitherman says he would be more than willing to support postponing the atrium project as a separate motion.

"Only half of the [atrium] money was approved but they're compacting everything into this year so that it's not connected to the property tax increase which is absolutely unacceptable," Smitherman said.

City Council members will vote on the proposed property tax increases in a committee meeting Monday. The final full council vote is due by the end of the month.

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