Models for Success Session Delves into Funding of Ohio’s Transit Systems

July 27th, 2016

By Alex Highley, GOPC Project Associate

As part of the first breakout sessions at the 2016 ODOT Conference held at the Convention Center in Columbus, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Deputy Director Alison Goebel moderated a panel session titled: “Models for Success: Moving Transit Forward in Times of Fiscal Constraint.” After Goebel’s brief comments to frame the session, speakers from Dayton, Cincinnati, and Toledo each discussed the funding models for their respective transit systems and highlighted the current challenges of ensuring that transit is well supported in Ohio. Brandon Policicchio of the Greater Regional Transit Authority, John Deatrick of the City of Cincinnati, and Jim Gee of the Toledo Regional Transit Authority summarized key facts about their area transit systems and described funding opportunities and sources, strategic partners, and innovative services each system provides.

Speakers

Speakers from left: Brandon Policicchio, Jim Gee, Alison Goebel, and John Deatrick

In Ohio, Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) are funded with a variety of local funding sources.  Eight counties utilize a county sales tax of up to 1%. Policicchio noted that Dayton’s RTA benefits over the long term from assurances that that revenue stream will continue, given that the half-cent sales tax does not expire for renewal. A few counties generate the majority of their RTA revenue via non-sales tax means: Toledo Area RTA (TARTA), the Steel Valley, and the Ohio Valley levy a property tax and the Cincinnati area RTA (SORTA) levies an income tax. Interestingly, Deatrick noted that Cincinnati will begin to levy a new parking fee to generate a few million dollars to fund the Streetcar, which will be unveiled in September.

While 27 Ohio counties do not even operate a public transit system, and given that 60 percent of public transit trips are work trips (medical trips are the second most common destination for transit riders), local transit systems would greatly benefit from increased state support. As GOPC has highlighted in recent memos, Ohio’s contribution to transit calculates to 63 cents per capita, which ranks 38th in the nation – in between Mississippi and North Dakota. With federal grant support few and far between, Gee explained that many existing transit authorities must scramble to find creative local ways to ensure their systems continue to serve riders.

Despite the strains facing Ohio’s transit systems, Gee emphasized that there are reasons to be encouraged about transit in Ohio. Firstly, ODOT remains an important player and a key partner in ensuring that transit has a bright future in Ohio. GOPC echoes this support of the state’s role and was encouraged by ODOT’s commission of the 2015 Transit Needs Study. Secondly, baby boomers and millennials simply demand more public transportation and will be a significant voice in this issue. Thirdly, there are already many success stories in Ohio; as Policicchio and Deatrick discussed, Dayton serves over 200,000 annual trips while Cincinnati is implementing exciting mobile technologies such as fare purchasing via smartphone as part of its imminent Streetcar rollout. Moreover, Cleveland was selected to host the recent Republican National Convention in large part due to its robust light rail system and excellent Bus Rapid Transit fleet.

Brandon DaytonJim GeeJohn Deatrick

From left: Policicchio, Gee, and Deatrick

The need for additional state support is clear, however this session highlighted that Ohio’s transit agencies are acting creatively and resourcefully to meet demand for their services. 

 

GOPC Releases Memos Recommending Strategies to Reform Ohio’s Transportation Policy

March 15th, 2016

GOPC is a leading advocate for policy reforms that will support a diverse and modernized transportation system in Ohio.  To support GOPC’s most recent policy recommendations, GOPC has published a series of research memos that:

  • Analyze Pennsylvania’s 2013 comprehensive budget reform and identifies strategies that Ohio could replicate.  Undertaking a similar reform in Ohio could produce more resources and recalibrated funding to better fund all transportation modes, especially public transportation.
  • Outline the benefits of “flexing” $30 million of Ohio’s federal dollars to public transportation.  Ohio is the 7th most populous state in the country yet ranks 38th in state support of public transportation.  The allocation of existing federal funds to transit could support 370 new rural transit vans or 107 new full size buses per year.  Ohio currently has 275 rural vehicles and 900 urban buses beyond their useful life and 22 rural counties without any transit service.
  • Discuss the benefits of raising the state motor fuel tax, indexing it to inflation and removing, through statewide ballot, the constitutional provisions that restricts the gas tax’s use to highways.  By the Ohio constitution, the state’s gas tax can only be used for highway construction and repairs.  While increasing the gas tax is not a complete  solution, it is a longstanding resource that will remain so for Ohio.

To attract and retain businesses and residents, states across the country are investing in diverse, modern transportation systems that support all modes.  Ohio has a geographic advantage of being within 600 miles of over half of the U.S. and Canadian populations.  To leveraging this prime position, Ohio must invest in transit, bike/ped, rail, deep water ports, airports and highways. GOPC’s memos outline strategies to support and enhance all the modes that make up Ohio’s transportation system.

Click here to for more information and to access the memos.

Recrafting Vacant Properties into Assests: Panel at HeritageOhio

October 19th, 2015

By Ellen Turk, GOPC Intern

I recently attended a panel at the HeritageOhio annual conference where Alison Goebel, Associate Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center along with Doug Lewis, Painesville Assistance City Manager and Josh Harmon, President of the Ohio Code Enforcement Officials Association, discussed utilizing “Vacant Properties as Assets”.

Goebel explained that since the 1970s Ohio’s population has incrementally declined while land use for commercial purposes has remained stable. In addition to this decline, Ohioans’ demographic makeup has continued to age at a rapid rate. Vacant properties across the state have remained at about 10%, costing an estimated $15 million in city services each year with $49 million lost in taxpaying revenue. Eight cities in Ohio spent $41 million servicing vacant properties. To this end, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s guidebook, “Redeveloping Commercial Vacant Properties in Legacy Cities,” functions as a resource for anyone seeking to redevelop and reuse vacant properties in downtown areas of towns or cities to promote economic growth.  Motivating business people and owners to invest in downtown properties and updating them can help attract visitors and generate revenue for communities.

But how do you encourage title owners to maintain their property or business owners to invest in local downtowns?

One method described in the guidebook and implemented successfully by Painesville Assistance City Manager Doug Lewis is through passing a Vacant Properties Ordinance. In Painesville, vacant properties can be owned by a variety of titleholders, including irresponsible owners and corporations not inclined to sell or maintain. The Ordinance requires owners to submit a Vacant Properties Plan whereby proprietors who do not comply with the rules of the Ordinance and proprietors who do not file the plan on time face fines. If the property is no longer deemed vacant, 30% of the building must be used and the first floor must be utilized.

Another way to curb irresponsible property ownership is through the courts. In Cleveland, the court system has stipulated that you can conduct no business within the court until you have paid off any outstanding fines to the court. This is very useful for incentivizing owners of multiple vacant buildings with fines to sell or generate revenue on the properties. Also, a Court Community Service program ensures minor offenders are placed in the community to perform manual labor and bring properties back to building code compliance.

According to the guidebook, another essential tool is hard data demonstrating the economic effects of revitalization. Josh Harmon spoke about the importance of data as a tool to show communities the detriments of having vacant properties. Census counts recording the number of vacant properties in an area is important. Often, showing residents a vacant property can act as a drain to city resources encourages them to support Vacant Building Ordinances. In Franklin County alone the last time that vacant properties were assessed was 2006! To mitigate vacant property problems, Greater Ohio Policy Center recommends targeting resources, forming alliances in the community, and defining the most effective way to allocate funds and assets.

GOPC participates in Roundtable on Small and Medium sized Legacy Cities

October 13th, 2015
 
By Alison Goebel, GOPC Associate Director

Last week, GOPC participated in a Roundtable on Leveraging Local Assets in Small and Medium Sized Cities, sponsored by the Center for Community Progress.  This small Roundtable brought together leaders from a number of sectors who work in Flint, Dayton, Youngstown, and Syracuse. Through a neighborhood tour, presentations, and conversations over meals, GOPC learned about cutting-edge strategies that these medium sized legacy cities implement to accelerate their revitalization and return to vibrancy.

At the beginning of the Roundtable, GOPC presented preliminary research findings generated from analysis of current conditions and trends of a number of small and medium-sized cities in the Midwest and Northeast. GOPC also described promising and innovative urban stabilization and revitalization strategies has found through collaborative research with CCP Senior Fellow Alan Mallach.  One of the most valuable components of the Roundtable was learning firsthand of incredible work underway in these four representative cities.

Flint has recently completed an amazing master plan, Imagine Flint, which includes 13 different zoning districts that acknowledge the reality of current land use and prepare the city to maximize its assets for the future.  The plan is sensitive to the current market and responds to what residents want for the future.  For example, during our neighborhood tour we visited a newly zoned site consisting of work and residential buildings.

flint1

Habitat for Humanity-Flint is helping a family rebuild a new home and retail space where people can play tabletop games, like Dungeons and Dragons.

Syracuse described a highly successful partnership between St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Care, a workforce development program, and community revitalization program.  Through St. Joseph’s leadership, the surrounding neighborhood is being revitalized, hospital employees are living in the neighborhoods, and the hospital is achieving an unprecedented retention rate among local residents who participate in the workforce program.

Dayton discussed the advantages of utilizing a non-profit, CityWide Development Corporation to direct redevelopment around key anchors in the city—including a new elementary school and a hospital.  CityWide, as the lead entity for this public-private partnership, is spearheading three major redevelopment projects that are tied to key anchor institutions.

flint2

Downtown Flint is revitalized and populated. The Flint Weather Ball is also visible in this picture.  It turns red when the temperatures are predicted to rise and blue when the temperature is expected to go down. The night of the picture, the temperature was remaining steady and so the ball was yellow.

Roundtable participants were excited by a new strategy Youngstown is piloting, which they call micro-planning.  The Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC) has identified key schools, churches, and other community facilities that can potentially be a catalyst for neighborhood regrowth and YNDC is now directing its resources to the blocks that surround these smaller institutions.

The challenges these cities have faced—and the ability to master and leverage these challenges into opportunities—was inspiring and reaffirmed the resiliency and strength of these places.

flint 3

Ridgway White, CEO of the C.S.Mott Foundation was our host for the Roundtable.  Over dinner we swapped stories and received advice and suggestions from peer cities on different revitalization strategies.

GOPC Participates in Conferences on Community Revitalization

November 3rd, 2014

GOPC has been keeping busy! Want to find out what we’ve been up to? Take a look at the events GOPC has been participating in:

CEOs for Cities

CEOs for Cities National Meeting
Nashville, Tennessee
November 4-6, 2014

Our Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, attended the CEOs for Cities National Meeting in Nashville this year. The meeting convened leaders from around the globe to learn the smartest ways to measure, benchmark and catalyze city progress, exchange best practices for cross-sector collaboration, and explore the smartest ideas for reaping dividends through targeted, measurable investments in economic growth and opportunity.

Participants explored what the city of Nashville has to offer. CEOs for Cities has also announced they will be releasing City Vitals 3.0 at the meeting. There are still a few slots open, so visit the website and register today to see what these city leaders have to say.

 

Ohio Housing Conference

Ohio Housing Conference
Columbus, Ohio
November 4-6, 2014

GOPC’s Associate Director, Alison Goebel, presented at this year’s Ohio Housing Conference, “United for Ohio’s Communities.” This meeting celebrated the impact that the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s and Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing’s common mission of providing decent affordable housing has had on Ohio’s residents, communities and economy. Those who attended were able to converse with over 1,600 peers who are passionate about affordable housing and engage in over 50 sessions and workshops.

Alison’s first presentation, titled “Effective Partnerships: From Demolition to Development,” is included below:

Panel Description: This session will discuss a broad range of vacant property issues including how demolition funding is used by land banks to assist cities/towns to strategically target blight, and assist developers in effective redevelopment and long-term community stabilization. Who are the players and partners, (perhaps some you haven’t thought of) that can help? What are the roadblocks facing efforts to combat vacancy and blight? How can we develop partnerships to make the most impact from limited funding resources across the board – from demolition to development?

The panel also included:

  • Carlie J. Boos, Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA)
  • John Habat, Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity
  • Aaron K. Sorrell, City of Dayton

GOPC also presented on the “Legacy Cities” panel and gave the following presentation:

Panel Description: An overview of revitalization and preservation of the social aspects of neighborhoods including retail recruitment, public space, amenities for residents and priorities for pedestrians including bicycles and walkable neighborhoods.

The panel also featured:

  • Margo Warminski, Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA)
  • Daniel J. Hammel, University of Toledo

 

Habitat

Habitat for Humanity of Ohio Conference
Columbus, Ohio
November 11-12, 2014

Alison Goebel presented at this year’s Habitat for Humanity of Ohio Conference on a panel titled “County Land Banks: Opportunities for Partnership in Neighborhood Revitalization” on November 12th. This session described what county land banks do in Ohio and how they operate. Then, panelists representing two different Habitat affiliates and a county land bank discussed how partnerships among land banks and non-profits can mutually benefit each organization and highlighted strategies and models that can be replicated in other communities.

Other panelists included:

  • John Habat, Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity
  • Amy Hamrick, Richland County Land Bank
  • Dawn Stutz, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati

 

Leadership in the Queen City: Lessons from Cincinnati

August 11th, 2014

By Alison D. Goebel, Associate Director

As part of Leadership Ohio’s Class of 2014, I have been spending one weekend a month in a different Ohio city meeting local leaders and learning about the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing the state.  I have participated in a team-building retreat in Oberlin, learned about state government in Columbus, and explored Ohio’s role in early American history in Marietta (you can read my thoughts on our Marietta trip here).

This month’s Leadership Ohio Class was held in Cincinnati and focused on sustainability and economic development.

View from the Observation Deck of the Carew Tower in Downtown.  Over the Rhine is in the foreground and the Uptown neighborhoods of Clifton and Avondale on the hill.

View from the Observation Deck of the Carew Tower in Downtown. Over the Rhine is in the foreground and the Uptown neighborhoods of Clifton and Avondale on the hill.

I have always had soft spot for the Queen City, but the leaders we met and the projects we saw underway bowled me over.   Some lessons I learned from the weekend: Read the rest of this entry »

GOPC Testifies on the DataOhio Initiative

January 29th, 2014

On January 29th, Greater Ohio’s Alison Goebel gave interested party testimony on a package of bills that would create the “DataOhio Initiative.”  Introduced by Representatives Duffey (R-Worthington) and Hagan (R-Alliance), the DataOhio Initiative will help local governments standardize information about themselves and develop a clearinghouse where information about local and state governments can be easily located.

GOPC has long expressed concern regarding the lack of standardized data in Ohio.  We believe the DataOhio Initiative will provide the first crucial step to creating the tools local governments and the state need to make data-driven, evidence-based decisions. These decisions should help communities modernize procedures, maximize resources, attract jobs and businesses, and plan for sustainable, prosperous futures.

GOPC is excited about the possibility DataOhio holds to help government officials find underutilized dollars through “apples to apples” comparisons with their peers and the  ability to use the data to systematically uncover opportunities to share services and implement best practices.

  • HB 321’s requirement to de-silo information and make information machine-readable is essential for any data analysis.  The creation of a DataOhio Board ensures there is a face to the Initiative and a resource for participating entities.
  • HB 322’s requirement to use a uniform accounting standard allows communities, researchers, private citizens and funding sources to track performance over time.  More importantly, a mechanism that creates apples to apples comparisons helps identify best practices and opportunities for government efficiencies and cost savings.
  • By gathering and indexing the universe of data available in Ohio, HB 323 will enrich and strengthen research while also saving users time.
  • Last, and perhaps most important, HB 324 assists communities in meeting these requirements.  The cost savings and opportunities to share services or resources that will arise from a methodical understanding of our local governments will more than make up the foregone revenue of the Grant program.

To take the necessary steps that will ensure the long term sustainability, economic competitiveness, and physical attractiveness of our communities, decisions and development strategies must be data-driven and evidence-based.  GOPC is pleased to see that DataOhio holds the possibilities of providing that crucial information.

GOPC Presents to Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission

July 12th, 2013

GOPC’s Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, and Associate Director, Alison Goebel, presented to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission yesterday, providing an overview of local government throughout the state.

Click here to view GOPC’s presentation to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission

Highlights from the presentation are included below, cited in the Hannah Report article, “Constitutional Modernization Commission Stops Recording Hearings after Questions Arise”:

Brachman said, “Ohio’s current local government structure impacts sustainable growth: communities and taxpayers face the legacy costs of a 19th century structure in a 21st century economy.” She said, “Ohio’s population growth is stagnating … [while] fragmented and duplicative local governments prevent effective economic competition on [the] world market.”

Goebel said Ohio has 3,702 local government jurisdictions, including 88 counties, 940 municipalities, 1,308 townships and 614 traditional school districts. Ohio has the eighth highest number of local governments per square mile in the U.S. In addition, there are over 4,000 special district governments, including 75 metropolitan housing authorities, 90 park districts, 97 airports, 145 joint fire or ambulance districts, 165 municipal and county courts, 251 library districts, and 450 senior centers.

Ohio is the 34th highest for state taxes, and has the 20th highest local tax burden in the U.S., said Goebel. In 2011, monthly payroll expenditures for local government in Ohio were $1.82 billion, while state government payroll was $0.65 billion. While the $157.49 per capita cost of local government in Ohio was slightly below the national average of $160.58 per capita, it was 29 percent above the peer state average for Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Illinois.

Responsibilities and powers of local governments vary by type, said Goebel. Municipalities have home rule powers. Townships are a “creature of statute” but can have limited home rule powers. Most counties are governed by general rules of the state, while there are two charter counties (Summit County in 1976, and Cuyahoga County in 2010) with home rule powers. In one pair of graphics, she showed that there are more townships than municipalities with populations between 500 and 10,000.

Goebel said GOPC studies have found that successful collaborations and efforts to become more efficient often require a leader or steward (such as a metropolitan planning organization, education service center, county engineer, county executive, county commissioners or major city); such efforts are often prompted by economic changes; and comparing local governments and measuring efficiency can be difficult due to the lack of a set standard reporting instrument for a detailed breakdown of local government expenditures.

Brachman said that intergovernmental collaboration can result in economies of scale, improved government accountability, equalization of service quantity and quality, coordinated economic competitiveness, and the ability to retain local community character and flavor.

Brachman said loss of population, an aging population and failure to attract Gen-Y are demographics of concern for Ohio.

The invitation to present to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization Commission further confirms GOPC’s expertise in Ohio’s local government structures as well as the value of our data-driven, impartial analyses of the current state of affairs.