New financial plan proposed for streetcar

By: Justin Worthing ~Staff Writer~

A new financial plan proposal for the Cincinnati Streetcar project would raise property taxes in Cincinnati’s Downtown and Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhoods.
If accepted, this plan would turn Downtown and OTR into a Special Improvement District (SID), which would create a new property tax to fund the streetcar. The plan does not name a specific amount for the tax.

The Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, a private foundation supporting the streetcar project, proposed the plan last Wednesday. Neither the foundation nor the city has the power to create the SID. It would only be implemented if property owners in the area voted to accept it.

Haile Foundation Vice President Eric Avner stated that this tax district is only one proposal among many for financing the streetcar.

“We see this as merely one set of ideas for funding the Cincinnati Streetcar 2016 ongoing operational expenses,”Avner said.

“All reasonable ideas should be considered. However, we agree wholeheartedly with the Mayor’s recent comments that we can’t wait around any longer and hope something comes together in time for the beginning of operations in 2016,” Avner said.

The foundation hopes the SID would cover 68 percent of the streetcar finances, or $2.9 million of the estimated $4.2 million in costs. Additionally, 24 percent would come from the streetcar’s suggested $1 fare and 8 percent would come from sponsorship and naming rights.

Some have also proposed earlier ideas for financing the project, including Mayor John Cranley’s suggestion for a new parking permit program for OTR that would create $300 to $400 annual parking fees. If approved, it would make OTR one of the most expensive places to park in the U.S.

Low-income OTR residents would be exempt from the parking fee plan, but some have concerns about what consequences the tax plan would have for them.

Mary Burke Rivers, executive director of OTR Community Housing, said she is concerned about the likelihood of providing affordable rent with the tax. She told the Cincinnati Business Courier that she hopes the Haile Foundation will value diversity in OTR when forming its policies.

The streetcar route is currently scheduled to travel from Second Street in Downtown to Henry Street in OTR. It will run 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The streetcar is expected to begin operation in 2016 pending construction deadlines.