In the last few years there’s been an explosion of economic activity in Cincinnati and it seems like every headline is better than the last. GE is bringing 2,000 jobs. Hotels are opening right and left. There’s not enough housing to meet the demand of people wanting to move back into the city. Travel writers are touting us as a destination. There are more new high-quality restaurant choices than my husband and I have time to try. And the crowds on the streets at all times of the night and day confirm this new prosperity.
The only thing that seems to be missing is the money.
According to the conversations I hear at City Hall and quotes shared on Twitter from talk radio – which is apparently the preferred conversation vehicle of serious elected officials these days – there is none. We’re still squabbling over a couple of million that might have to come out of the general fund for the damn street car like it was our last dime. Which it apparently is. Because the other day I saw an editorial asking if it was more important to fund treatment for heroin addiction or bicycle infrastructure, as though responsible adults in a prosperous, successful city should have to choose. We can’t afford our trash collection, enough cops or to fill our pot holes and neighborhoods have to arm-wrestle each other for financial support.
It’s the contradiction between this hopeless message from our political leadership and what I observe with my own eyes that has made me grab onto this property tax issue like a rabid dog.
Where the hell is the money? The increased revenue that should be coming from more sales tax and more income tax from all the new construction jobs.
7 days a week I call government agencies, write blog posts, visit Council Members, make requests for public documents, study charts and contracts and websites – scouting out clues as to where the money is going.
Not that it’s particularly appreciated.
“I assure you there are plenty of people who understand how this works,” the head of one agency snapped when I stated that I had been unable to find anybody in the city other than the real estate developers who understands the complicated funding mechanisms that are fueling our growth. While everybody makes lip service to more public engagement in the political process, the truth is city and agency employees already have more work on their desks than they can handle and they don’t need me adding to their to-do list.
This poor-mouthing is not all empty political rhetoric either. Our municipalities are taking in less money from the state, the percentage property taxes contributes to the city’s bottom line has declined from 14% to 7%, the county is hurting and every city department has come to assume additional budget cuts on an annual basis.
I’ve lived in this city for 58 years and let me assure you, in terms of economic growth, this is as good as it gets. If we can’t figure out our money now, we’re doing something very wrong. And to reduce our problems to the street car operating budget is either disingenuous or economically illiterate.