Sunday, April 22, 2001

Cities test: comparing governance

        The Cincinnati Enquirer Great Cities Test compares Cincinnati to Louisville, Indianapolis, Columbus and Cleveland — our regional competitors — in nine areas, such as transportation, liveability, housing, education, jobs and this week's topic, governance.

        The goal is to take on the challenge first raised by the Metropolitan Growth Alliance: to find out how our Cincinnati region stacks up as a hub-city competitor, and find areas where we need to improve.

        To find out how the fragmented Cincinnati region's governing structures stack up, dozens of factors were studied and researched. Following are some of the criteria used in our non-scientific but fact-based rankings of the five metropolitan areas:

        Donut effect: Cincinnati, Louisville and Cleveland all suffered population loss from central cities but gained in suburbs. Indianapolis 1990 to 1998 showed only a modest gain in the city (1.4 percent). Only Columbus managed healthy, balanced growth in both city and suburbs. Fast-growth Phoenix gained 21.8 percent in the city, suburbs 45.3 percent.

        As middle-class taxpayers flee central cities, they leave behind welfare recipients and overwhelm suburbs with demands for costly new infrastructure.

        Taxes: Places Rated Almanac 2000 rated metro Indianapolis lowest on state and local income taxes. Indianapolis rated a low-tax 77 (national average 100). Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland rated 85's. Louisville ranked higher than average tax: 106. rated Louisville lowest on property tax (per $1,000 valuation) at $11.60. Indianapolis came in second best in the Tristate at $13.80, then Columbus at $16.70, Cincinnati at $18.60 and Cleveland, $20.30.

        Among metro hub counties, Marion County (Indianapolis) has the lowest sales tax: 5 percent. Next lowest is Franklin (Columbus) at 5.75. Hamilton (Cincinnati) and Jefferson (Louisville) are even at 6 percent, and Cuyahoga (Cleveland) is highest at 7 percent.

        Fragmentation: For government jurisdictions per 100,000 population: Cleveland is best with only 15.5; Columbus ranks second at 18.63; then Cincinnati, at 23.85; Louisville, 26.92; Indianapolis, 28.8.

        Our local success story of collaboration across county lines is Tri-Ed, which Northern Kentucky counties and chambers jointly created to boost economic development. Other hopeful signs: creation of the Metropolitan Growth Alliance, Southbank Partners, the joint economic development initiative Partnership for Greater Cincinnati and the bipartisan Southwest Ohio caucus.
       Poverty rates: Cleveland and Dayton made HUD's list of doubly burdened central cities for high unemployment and population loss or high poverty rates. Metro Indianapolis has the lowest poverty rate (for all ages living in poverty): 11.8 percent. Cincinnati (12.3) and Columbus (12.4) are even, Cleveland has 14.6 percent, Louisville 15 percent.

        Best practices: There is a lot to be learned from cities elsewhere in the country. Phoenix has such a responsive feedback system from citizens and meticulous capital planning that 19 out of 20 bond proposals won voter approval.

        Reno uses “activity-based costing” to include all the hidden costs for each city service.

        Portland, Ore., as long ago as 1979 merged its council of governments and its Metropolitan Service District into Metro, which runs its convention center, does land-use and transportation plans, oversees waste disposal and performs many other regional services.

        Cincinnati has a long way to go.

— Tony Lang


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