As city works to fill gap in streetcar funding, argument continues

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Prep work for the $133 million streetcar project is moving forward, even though $17.4 million is still needed.  That deficit could be closed soon, pending a vote from council to move some money around.

But, as some city council members say the project should move forward, others are calling for the project to stop.

"Continuing to move forward with this project is a very, very bad idea," said council member Chris Smitherman.

"I'm a strong supporter of the streetcar project.  I always have been, and I still think it's one of the very best investments our city can make," said council member Laure Quinlivan

Those are the two sides of the streetcar argument.  With a $17.4 million deficit for the project, the argument could be settled soon.

"The city manager has already identified several sources that he's going to take a little bit here, a little bit there from our capital funds to come up with the $17 million that we need," added Quinlivan.

Here's a breakdown of those funding sources we previously reported from a memo sent by the city manager in late April:

  • $6.5 million from funds connected to projects around the Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino site.
  • $5.4 million from money originally set aside for the Music Hall project, which won't be needed until 2016.
  • $400,000 from money already budgeted for traffic signal replacement and improvements.
  • $500,000 from Cincinnati Water Works, which would help pay for water main work associated with the streetcar project.
  • Remaining $4.6 million from issuing General Capital debt, which would reduce money available to pay for economic development and housing projects
    by 3% over the next 20 years.

Smitherman says the city needs to stop putting money in a project that keeps increasing in cost.

"During two cycles of an election, this administration said that the streetcar would cost $110 million dollars.  That was a hard number.  We're now at $133 million, and I just know that we are going to around $150 to $180 million," added Smitherman.

A political science professor at Xavier University says, politically speaking, moving forward is the incentive.  But, financially could be a different story.  He adds these are the types of situations cities sometimes find themselves in, and the financial uncertainty only makes it harder.

"Does it make fiscal sense?  Can we afford it?  Can we pay for it?  How much will it cost?  A lot of these things we don't really know, and even this far into it, we still don't know.  Those kind of uncertainties, I think, make it very difficult," said Mack Mariani, a professor at Xavier.

Quinlivan told FOX19 when the project is all said and done, a 3-to-1 return on the investment is expected.

Smitherman said by breaking ground on the first leg of the project, $200 million more is committed to a second leg to keep the project sustainable.  He says he has no idea where that money will come from.

Smitherman says if the $17.4 million isn't advanced, the project is dead.

He and Quinlivan expect a vote on the money before they head to summer break at the end of the month.

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