Wednesday, September 30, 2009

COAST 2009 Sample Ballot

COAST hereby issues its 2009 candidate and issue endorsements, enthusiastically backing Brad Wenstrup to be our next Mayor, Chris Monzel and Charlie Winburn to be re-elected to City Council. We wholeheartedly endorse Charlie Norman for re-election to Treasurer of Cheviot, John Banner and Christopher McDowell for CPS school board, Arnold Engel, Victor Erik Rivera and Tony Steer for the Board of Fairfield City Schools, Jennifer Miller for re-election to the Mason School Board, and Shannon Hartkemeyer and Jeremy Furniss for Fairfield Township Trustee. Our suggested sample ballot is listed below.

Mayor of Cincinnati - Brad Wenstrup
Wenstrup was instrumental in cleaning up the Abu Ghraib mess in Iraq. He won the praises of his adversaries at an enemy prison in the middle of a hot war zone. That's the kind of leadership we need! Wenstrup has also pledged not to raise taxes or fees during his term. The man he'll replace has made an enemy of his own police force and labor unions, and brought at least one beleaguered neighborhood to the brink of secession. This choice is a no-brainer.

Cincinnati City Council - Chris Monzel, Charlie Winburn
Both have taken strong public positions to advance responsible spending, and have pledged not to raise taxes or fees. They also strongly advocate that the people should have a right to vote on any sale of the Water Works, or major passenger rail purchase. Other candidates who have pledged not to raise taxes or fees, but who have not affirmed our right to vote on expensive, long term public policy issues are Leslie Ghiz, Amy Murray, LaMarque Ward, and George Zamary.

Cheviot Treasurer - Charlie Norman
Charlie is a COAST Board Member, and a very strong fiscal conservative. As a lifelong Cheviot resident and former City Council Member, he has the qualifications and credentials to continue leading Cheviot to even better financial health. Norman has been an unwavering taxpayer watchdog, and a consistent advocate for responsible government.

Cincinnati School Board - John Banner, Christopher McDowell
John is a proud member of COAST who embodies the ideals of fiscal restraint and excellence in education. Both will be strong voices on the board to make sure that taxpayers receive value for their investment in public education.

Fairfield School Board - Arnold Engel, Victor Rivera, Tony Steer*
All three candidates promote excellent education, accountability and balanced budgets. Incumbent Arnold Engel has proposed 33 ideas that could save or generate over $10,000,000 for the district. They deserve your vote.

Mason School Board - Jennifer Miller
Mason has grown a lot, and spent a lot. But they enjoy some of the highest education rankings in Ohio. Clearly they are doing a lot of things right, and Jennifer Miller has been a key ingredient in that success. Often she is the lone voice advocating fiscal restraint and accountability. And she's just as demanding on educational excellence. She doesn't back down from uncomfortable situations, and that vigor has led Mason to new heights. Voters are lucky to have her, and would be wise to return her to the board.

Fairfield Twp Trustee - Shannon Hartkemeyer, Jeremy Furniss**
Shannon believes in conservative values such as fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets. She has worked in the private sector as an industrial engineer and with The Cincinnati Tea Party. Her experience would be beneficial to the township. Jeremy is also active in the 9/12 and Tea Party movements. He beleives in fiscal conservative values, and also deserves your vote

Issue 7, Public Library - AGAINST THE TAX LEVY
Saves the owner of a $100,000 home about $31 a year if it fails. The library has shown no willingness whatsoever to reduce its costs or economize its operations. Click here for full story. The state reduced the overall library budget by 15%. We recommend giving them a year to adjust to the new funding level to see how much they really need.

Issue 8, Water Works Charter Amendment - Yes
Requires the city to get voter approval before selling or otherwise disposing of our 170 year old, award-winning Water Works utility. Once it's gone, it's gone forever. This decision is too far-reaching to entrust solely to a group of two and four year elected officials. The public owns it, and must be consulted prior to any change in ownership.

Issue 9, Trolley or Streetcar Charter Amendment - Yes
Requires the city to get voter approval before spending money on the two most expensive aspects of a passenger rail transportation system. In 93 years the city has undertaken three major passenger rail projects. All were complete failures costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. All signs indicate that the proposed streetcar plan will be the fourth such expensive failure. A vote will allow the public to speak with one voice to either accept or reject such a plan, and the massive long term debt that goes with it.

Issue 52, Cincinnati School Levy - AGAINST THE TAX LEVY
Saves the owner of a $100,000 home about $279 a year if it fails. Over the last several years enrollment has declined by over 20%, but their tax levy has remained virtually the same. In fact, this proposed levy remains the same as the one it replaces. Failure of this levy would reduce their overall budget by about 15%. Now would be an ideal time to help them make the necessary adjustment.

*2009-10-01 Correction: Engel, Rivera & Steer are running as a slate.
**2009-10-09 Addition: Furniss requested and received COAST endorsement.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vote Against Issue 7, the Library Tax Levy

The Library Levy is arousing passions on both sides of the debate. COAST founder and former State Representative Tom Brinkman researched the situation, and submitted the following "Two Risks and One Proposal for the Library" to the library board back in July:

Recently the library avoided a 50 percent cut to their funding in the just-concluded state budget, but they did get a 15 percent cut. Experience leads us to believe that state government will revisit this cut. Quite frankly, in the way of Columbus politicians' thinking, a 35 percent cut to the libraries remains on the table, and could take place this fall or spring depending on revenues.

Risk # 1: First is that the weight of the three levies you have already reviewed, along with a brand new library levy and huge local levies, most notably the Cincinnati Public Schools. The risk is this will break the bank of too many taxpayers and they will come out and vote NO to some if not all of these items. Voters will have to weigh the public disaster should so many good programs fail against the very personal disaster should their personal budgets be swamped with over one half billion dollars in taxes.

Risk # 2: Second is the very real fact that the library is faced with making many of the cuts I describe today anyway. Refusing to make them now, but instead making them after the levy passes and future state cuts are made, will leave the public feeling cheated and frustrated. After all, they were told to pass the levy to stop library cuts, they answered the call, yet the cuts happened anyway.

A Proposal that makes sense:
Honestly, the best course of action would be for the library to make these cuts NOW and place their levy on the ballot in November of 2010 where they would have a clear shot, with no other county levies and thus not risk sinking other levies this year.

It is easy to urge others to make cuts and improve their financial standing and then NOT make suggestions. While we feel the library is generally run by good people, they have failed to really turn over every rock and stone to increase revenue and cut costs. We have identified several ways to do just that and we believe there are many more than this list. (Data attached):
  1. Using 2008 figures the library loaned over 15.6 million items. 45% or approximately 6.9 million items were audiovisual and digital. A simple $1 charge per item would raise $6.9 million. Sure there may be a drop off of circulation, but with Blockbuster charging between $4 and $5, it is still a bargain. Recently Clermont County libraries instituted a similar charge when their budget was tight. Our library used to charge and they can still keep their aggressive fine system.
  2. The 40-branch network, not counting the Main Library, circulates 10.9 million items with the average of 272,000 each. Yet 9 branches circulate one third or less than that. Serious consideration must be give to closing these underutilized branches. Every one of these branches is within 2 miles of another branch.
  3. Of the branches, the library owns 30. Three have a rent of one dollar or less, but 7 pay full rent. It would seem logical to stop paying rent. I do not know which rental facilities also have low circulation and are close to other libraries and are on the bus line and have a separate children’s section and special magazines ect. That is not my job. We are just pointing out that there is a basis to make hard choices and they must be made.
  4. Currently one can run up fines to $9.99 without loss of privileges. Dropping this tolerance to $4.99 and thus forcing the repayment of outstanding fines could result in collections of $374,000 to $721,000.
  5. There are 206,000 cardholders in Hamilton County and 29,000 out-of-county cardholders. A simple charge of $10 to out-of-county cardholders would sure make the county residents happy, who will pay much more with this levy. After all, these 29,000 out-of-county folks use our library and do not pay.
  6. Some have advocated charging the 206,000 cardholders a dollar a year. After all, the Hamilton County parks charge a fee even after we are taxed. While we do not like this suggestion, how about charging a high fee like $20 for a special preference card that gives those card holders a first shot at getting new titles and access to on line resources. Friends of the Library members are already receiving special treatment, so this is nothing new.
  7. Finally, library employees are paid every two weeks. Many state employees are paid monthly. This simple change saves money. Hopefully they are paid ONLY with direct deposit and NO check stub is distributed, they can see it on line.
  8. Was buying 1,000 copies of the last Harry Potter necessary? That is 25 copies a branch. Once again, the library is NOT Barnes & Noble. We have witnessed the pulling of hundreds of books off the shelves that were NEVER checked out. And where are those copies of Harry Potter now? Overbuying of DVDs in order to have the latest HOT release is wrong; the library is not Blockbuster and should not even try to complete.
The library board implemented NONE of these suggestions. Nor have they taken any other steps to mitigate the crisis. They are well aware that the library is a revered institution among Cincinnatians, so they chose instead to capitalize on that goodwill and go straight for a new tax.

COAST feels that this is an abuse of taxpayers' generosity. Until the library makes an effort to reign-in its costs through commonsense controls, we urge you to vote against their proposed tax levy, which appears on the ballot as Issue 7.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Okay to Vote Against the Tax Levies

Rich folks, poor folks, and everybody in between have taken a tremendous hit in this recession. And yet government wants an increase, or at least no reduction. That's just not reality.

We've all had to economize, make sacrifices, and figure out ways to do more with less. And we're better for having done so. We're leaner, more frugal, and creative. More importantly, we're grateful for our gifts and have learned to use them more wisely.

Are we really doing our schools, libraries, museums, and county agencies a favor by denying them the opportunity to do the same? We all know they could stand to streamline their processes, right-size their staffing levels, or innovate more. But if we spare them that pain, we prevent them from improving.

For their sake you should vote against the levies. Not to send a message, or to punish, but to help everybody get in step with the times. We appreciate all their fine work and want them all to remain viable well into the future. But to be there for us later, they need to slim down now. It's okay to vote against the levies. If you really can't bear to vote them all down, then pick your favorite and just vote for one.

Despite their protestations, it won't be fatal. None stand to lose more than about 15% of their existing funding if their levy fails. And when it does fail, we promise you'll have a chance to vote on it again next year.

Really, it's okay. Go ahead and vote against the tax levies. It's for the best.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Great Train Robbery of 2009

A group of thieves known as the "Fab5" held 138 police officers hostage for almost two weeks while absconding with improvement funds from two of Cincinnati's most distressed neighborhoods. "Progress" ring-leader Mark Mallory called this "comforting."

Ironically a train was not the robbery victim, but rather the beneficiary. Robbers had been misppropriating money to fund the hated trolley boondoggle; money which was supposed to pay police. Robbers initially threatened to terminate police, but later negotiated a partial reduction. Fab5ers have now seized money intended to construct the Avondale Pride Center, and emptied the College Hill Land Bank to makeup the difference, insisting that they are merely "borrowing it" to cover over a million dollars in salaries.

Mallory and other "Progressers" had previously insisted that funds for capital projects could NEVER be used for operating expenses. And now here they are doing exactly that. The Fraternal Order of Police has enlisted forensic accountants to untangle the Fab5's web of deceitful transactions, and vowed to bring the rogue gang to justice by denying them further sanctuary in their council hideouts.

Defiant gang members insist the trolley boondoggle remains "on track." Citizens are ready to "run them out of town on a rail," as the saying goes. But at seven miles per hour, it won't exactly make for a speedy getaway.
Trolley opponent Christopher Smitherman says, "The real goal of last week's "solution" was not to save City employee jobs, but to save the Mayor's and Councilmembers' jobs. The goal was to postpone the City layoffs until after the November 3rd, 2009 election. Once the election is over, the same workers will lose their jobs come the December holidays. The union leadership understands this strategy and will reject the current Council's mismanagement of City funds which then places more pressure on the Mayor and Council to actually get re-elected and balance the budget."
The "Fab5" band of hooligans have no regard for laws, police, or citizen rights. The only force they fear is voting. Citizens are therefore asked to help combat these thugs by Voting YES to reject the streetcar.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Legal Language Lesson (NSFW)

At today's hearing of the City Council Rules Committee, Councilmember Roxanne Qualls had some difficulty understanding the meaning of the word "any" in the context of the anti-boondoggle charter amendment:
"The City, and its various Boards and Commissions, may not spend any monies for right-of-way acquisition or construction of improvements for passenger rail transportation (e.g., a trolley or streetcar) within the city limits without first submitting the question of approval of such expenditure to a vote of the electorate of the City and receiving a majority affirmative vote for the same."
She wanted to know if this applied to federal and state as well as city funds. She wanted to know if it applied to capital, operating, restricted and unrestricted funds. After a lengthy exchange with COAST General Counsel Chris Finney reminiscent of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs & Ham," she appears to be clear on it now. "Any" means any. The charter amendment subjects certain expenditures to a public vote. It does not restrict funding sources.

Other testimony surrounded the use of the abbreviation "e.g." which comes from the Latin expression exempli gratia. Progressers worried that voters might be too stupid to comprehend 6th grade english, and asked that the phase containing the abbreviation be stricken. As a public service, COAST would like to present this brief lesson from the feature film, "Get Shorty" (NSFW):

Committee members realized that Progressers were talking about the very same citizens who elected them, and figured voters couldn't possibly be as stupid as Cincinnatians for Progress were portraying them. So the committee approved the ballot language as originally written, and as over 11,500 petitioners signed it.

The City Charter requires the full Council to approve the language tomorrow. This is a ministerial function; meaning that since all requirements were met, and no legal challenge was made, it must be done. Councilmembers have no other lawful option. The amendment will then be returned to the Hamilton County Board of Elections for inclusion on the November 3rd ballot.