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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Hamilton's Aaron Burr Loves Downtown Cleveland Heinen's, Sir

Posted By on Sat, Jul 21, 2018 at 12:30 PM

In what should be regarded as the most successful piece of Cleveland promotion since the Cavs Championship Parade, actor Nik Walker — who plays Aaron Burr in the touring production of Hamilton, currently at Playhouse Square — sang the praises of the downtown Heinen's in a video posted to Twitter Friday.

Quite apart from Walker's prodigious talents — which for our money would make him at least as profitable a spokesman for Heinen's as Leslie Odom Jr. is for Nationwide insurance — the video appears to be a pure and unprompted celebration of a cool local asset. Imagine.

Organic brands Nik Walker never knew existed! Prices comparable to Trader Joe's!

"Every town's got their secrets," Walker says. "And you've got this strange tourist coming in doing a strange show and you don't want to tell him about your town's secrets. I get that. That's to be expected. But the fact that none of you notified me of the glory that is Heinen's supermarket ... this is disrespectful." 

Tonight, Playhouse Square will host its annual Center Stage Benefit, a fundraiser for the theater's sensory-friendly and subsidy programs. The event has taken on the cast of a 'Hamilton Opening Gala' due to the show's unprecedented interest. 

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Will Nexus Pipeline Bring Promised Windfall to Ohio Schools?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 1:46 PM

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Uncertainty and confusion abound among Northern Ohio school districts, which are awaiting a promised funding windfall from the Nexus pipeline tentatively scheduled for completion late this year.

Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, 37 Ohio school districts are expecting to receive nearly $57.7 million in new property tax revenues from the Nexus pipeline. However, some districts are waiting to see how the state's formula for school funding will affect the anticipated "windfall," and if the estimates of the tax amounts are accurate.

"We haven't even discussed, if you can believe it or not, what we would do with these funds," said Kerri Johnson, treasurer of Lucas County's Anthony Wayne Local Schools. "We kind of have a policy that is: Until we receive the money, we don't put it in our budget. We don't count on it."

A media spokesperson for Nexus Gas Transmission, Adam Parker, did not return requests for an interview, but said in an email that the tax value estimates are based on "ad valorem taxes" in Ohio, which are taxes based on the value of items such as real estate or personal property. "The tax is largely based on the value of pipeline in each taxing district," he said.

Anthony Wayne is one of the districts expecting to get revenue from the pipeline, which is an ongoing project that will transport natural gas from eastern Ohio to southeastern Michigan. Public Finance Resources, Inc. (PFR), a financial analysis group, compiled estimates for Nexus Gas Transmission on the total revenues for the districts.

According to PFR's data, Anthony Wayne schools are scheduled to receive about $5.9 million in revenue the first year after the pipeline's completion, which is the second-highest amount on the list of schools.

The school district projected to receive the most from the pipeline is Margaretta Local Schools near Sandusky, which is estimated to receive about $6.2 million. Superintendent Dennis Mock said that while the pipeline could increase school funding based on property taxes, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) will likely decrease the funding their districts regularly receive from the state.

"All the talk is ... we might gain in one area, but we're going to lose in the other," Mock said. "Our valuation of property will be most likely increased, which will reduce our funding from the state."

Some districts are concerned their state funding will be cut because of the pipeline revenue and result in no actual net increase.

"In some districts, it's probably going to be a wash," said Jon Strong, co-founder of the Coalition to Reroute Nexus (CoRN) and a homeowner whose land is affected by pipeline construction. He added that ODE funding for school districts strongly considers their ability to collect property tax. The more funding they can raise on their own, the less money they're likely to get from the state. "And the [schools], I would think, [that] are going to make out are the poorer districts that get a lot of money from Nexus."

Strong said he gathered information for four years about Nexus from county executives and ODE officials. He said he initially opposed pipeline construction, not for environmental or financial reasons but as a private landowner.

"This is a violation of property rights," he said, "and the route choice was just insane."

Strong and CoRN proposed an alternate route for the pipeline, but despite complaints and efforts like his group's, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the pipeline last October. The Ohio EPA also approved construction of four compressor stations along its route.

The environmental group No NEXUS Pipeline details potential safety hazards from the construction of compressor stations on its website, nopipelies.org. It warns cities near the Seville station, such as Medina and Wadsworth, of potential "contamination to soils, waterways and, most importantly, health issues."

Despite the safety concerns about the nearby compressor station, Wadsworth Local Schools Treasurer Doug Beeman said he is excited for the eventual revenue gains. "From my position as a treasurer," he said, "it's going to be a great windfall for schools in our community."

Beeman added that his district, like Anthony Wayne, will wait to budget the money.

"I haven't put those exact numbers into the [five-year] forecast," he said. "I don't want to give my Board of Education and my community a false sense of security that this money is coming when there's ... some questions about it."

Beeman said county executives are skeptical about what could be overestimated numbers from PFR, the company that analyzed the finances for Nexus. He still is confident the district will receive some funding.

"How much it's going to be and when it's going to be are more the questions - not if or if not we're going to get it," he said. The money would likely be added to the district's reserves to hold off the need for a future levy.

Similarly, Kerri Johnson from Anthony Wayne Local Schools said she would consider using money from the pipeline to reduce what taxpayers are paying each year. She said initially, she was frustrated when those numbers were released, as her district had just put a $44 million bond levy on the ballot for a building project. The levy ended up passing.

The pipeline money "would definitely keep the school from going for new levies," she said.

Mock, Margaretta's superintendent, said he is preparing to hold community meetings to discuss how potentially more than $6.2 million from the pipeline could be spent.

"If that [estimate] is accurate," he said, "it's our hope that we can use the funds to build new buildings."

Mock added some school buildings in the district are more than 100 years old, and that the middle and elementary schools are combined. "If we can get new buildings without going to the voters, that is pretty exciting news for our community," he said.

Melissa Baker, treasurer of United Local Schools in Columbiana County, said her district also would plan to use the potential revenue gains from the pipeline to replace aging buildings.

"It would be a game-changer for us," she said.

United Local is projected to receive more than $4 million in property tax revenue after completion of the pipeline. Baker said United, like many Ohio schools, recently lost significant funding, including $150,000 from state foundation funding and $100,000 from federal title money. She said United would use the surplus of money from the pipeline to build a new school, just as the Margaretta district plans to do.

At this point, school districts set to receive funds will have to work with the estimated numbers, as the money will not be available until spring 2020. According to Parker's email, the pipeline is expected to be completed in the third quarter of this year.

"I'm sure as time gets closer and the reality of the revenue becomes an issue, yes, those conversations will take place," Johnson said. "We're going to deal with all of that when the time comes."

More information about Ohio's school funding model is online at plunderbund.com.

Reporting for the Kent State-Ohio News Connection Collaboration

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A Call for a Deeper Dive on Lake Erie Algae Problems

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 1:04 PM

NOAA
  • NOAA

COLUMBUS, Ohio - While annual reporting and biweekly bulletins warn Ohioans of harmful algae locations and toxicity in Lake Erie, some clean-water groups contend officials need to also focus on eliminating the problem. The new 2018 Lake Erie Algae Forecast shows that while it will not be a record year for algae, there will be a substantial bloom.

The executive director of the Lake Erie Foundation and Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Sandy Bihn, says the algae updates are valuable and appreciated, but need to include accountability.

"We're talking about where the algae is, how much algae there is," he says. "The flip side of that is what's causing it, how is it being reduced, how far are we along the line of getting the 40-percent reduction we need to solve the problem. And one of the components of that is manure applications."

Bihn says the majority of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie comes from the Maumee and Detroit rivers. And, one-fourth of the discharge from the Maumee is from land manure run-off. Beyond reporting on phosphorus sources, she contends officials must also provide updates on manure management, and which Lake Erie watersheds are making progress in phosphorus reduction.

A 2014 algae bloom impacted the availability of drinking water to half a million Ohio residents. While not the only solution to the algae problem, Bihn says phosphorous reduction is crucial.

"I compare this to phosphorus in laundry detergent decades ago when finally we decided that the way to clean up our waters not only here in Lake Erie but nationwide was to take phosphorus out of laundry detergent,": she explains. "And at first they said that wasn't possible. It's out today."

Among other factors that should be addressed, she adds, is the rising number of mid- and large-size animal feeding operations in Ohio producing more manure and runoff. The land application of manure is supposed to replace commercial fertilizer for crops, but she explains the rules for the amount of phosphorus in the soil you need for crops are less stringent for manure than they are for commercial fertilizer.

"In manure, the rules say you can put a lot more, up to four times as much as you need and obviously that's washing into the water and that's a major problem," she warns.

Water quality groups say the amount of phosphorous allowed to be used should be the same for manure and commercial fertilizer applications. They also call for state investments in technology to reuse or treat manure.

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Country Singer-Songwriter Riley Green Delivers Intimate Pop-Up Performance at WGAR

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 12:46 PM

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While growing up in Jacksonville, AL, singer-songwriter Riley Green picked up a few songwriting tips from his songwriter grandfather Bufford Green. Riley Green has said that his grandfather gave him an appreciation for old school country music, something that comes across in tunes such as “Bury Me in Dixie,” “A Little Hank” and “Almost.”

Earlier today, Green, who’s released three EPs and stars in two TV shows (Winner of Redneck Island on CMT and his own hunting show on DirtRoadTV), delivered a small-room invite-only “pop-up” performance in front of about 30 fans at WGAR in Independence. Part of an AT&T Thanks customer appreciation program, the concert started with a video presentation featuring concert footage and clips of Green’s music.

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John Kasich Commutes Death Sentence for Raymond Tibbetts

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 11:56 AM

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Ohio Gov. John Kasich today commuted a looming death sentence for Raymond Tibbetts, a man convicted of two murders in Cincinnati.

Earlier this year, Kasich temporarily halted Tibbetts' execution after a former juror at his trial expressed regret for the sentence, citing evidence about Tibbetts' abusive childhood and mental illness he believes was withheld from jurors. Tibbetts will now serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“I am writing today to ask you show mercy to Raymond Tibbets by commuting his death sentence to life in prison with no possibility of parole,” former juror Ross Geiger wrote in a January letter to Kasich. "This is not an easy request for me as I was a juror on the trial for that horrible crime."

Tibbetts was convicted of stabbing 67-year-old Fred Hicks to death and beating Hicks' 42-year-old caretaker Judith Crawford to death with a baseball bat in Hicks’ Cincinnati home in 1997. Tibbetts had married Crawford a few weeks prior. Authorities found three knives left in Hicks. The grisly case made big local headlines. Tibbetts was sentenced to death for Hicks’ murder and life in prison without parole for Crawford’s.

But important information about Tibbetts’ background wasn’t explored fully during his trial, opponents of his execution say. Tibbetts, who was heavily addicted to opiates and alcohol, had undiagnosed mental illnesses stemming at least in part from a chaotic and unstable childhood. His biological mother and father were mostly absent, according to testimony from his attorneys before a clemency board hearing in January 2017.

When they were around, they were physically abusive. Tibbetts and his siblings were taken from the home when he was two years old, and he then bounced around between different foster homes and orphanages, where he also experienced abuse and neglect.

Testimony from Tibbetts’ sister about their upbringing, as well as social service records about his childhood, were available but not presented at trial.

In the months before the murders, Tibbetts attempted suicide. He had attempted to get into a treatment program for drug and alcohol addiction a month and a half before killing Hicks and Crawford, but was turned away. Those efforts show Tibbetts was suffering from mental illness, his attorneys have argued.

An Ohio Supreme Court joint task force on the death penalty included a ban on executing the mentally ill among recommendations it has made to the state. Many of those recommendations, including the ban, have not been passed by state lawmakers or implemented by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.

But after a special clemency hearing in June, the State of Ohio Adult Parole Authority released its recommendation that Ohio Gov. John Kasich not halt Tibbetts' execution. The nine-member parole board arrived at that decision 8-1.

"While the Parole Board believes that Geiger submitted his letter with the best of intentions, members are not convinced that his decision would have been different had the information been presented in the same manner at trial, when the results would have been deliberated within the jury setting," the board wrote. "The vicious and gratuitous murder of Fred Hicks immediately following the brutal slaying of Judith Sue Crawford was so heinous that the mitigation as presented does not outweigh the aggravating factors in this case."

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Ohio City is Conducting a Traffic Calming Study on Franklin Boulevard

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 11:41 AM

Traffic Diverter locations down Franklin Boulevard - COURTESY OF NORTHEAST OHIO AREAWIDE COORDINATING AGENCY
  • Courtesy of Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency
  • Traffic Diverter locations down Franklin Boulevard

In an attempt to improve the safety conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists on Franklin Boulevard in Ohio City, the City of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency have joined forces to lead the Franklin Boulevard traffic calming study.

Franklin Boulevard is home to residents, schools, institutions and a multitude of businesses alongside the neighborhoods of Ohio City and the Detroit-Shoreway, and it's also an area prone to excessive crashing, boasting more than 160 accidents in recent years and at least three deaths.

Beginning Tuesday, July 24, the City of Cleveland will conduct a three-week demonstration of traffic diverters, particularly suited to encourage pass through traffic to use more appropriate arterial roads such as Detroit Ave. (which is under construction), Lorain Ave. and the Shoreway.

Diverters will be installed for eastbound traffic at the intersections of Franklin and West 85th Street and Franklin and W. 65th Street, and for westbound traffic at Franklin and West 54th Street through August 10.

After the three-week installation, the project team will measure the impacts to traffic speed and traffic volume to determine the effectiveness of the diverters and analyze the potential changes in traffic patterns on adjacent streets.

The project team is actively encouraging public engagement during and after the temporary demonstration, as it will be an integral part of the final recommendations for the study. Citizens can participate and provide feedback by doing the following:
  • Attend on-site Q&A sessions at the corner of Franklin and West 65th Street on Saturday, July 28, from 2-4 p.m or Tuesday, July 31, from 4-6 p.m.
  • Call 216-816-1512 and leave a voicemail with your comments.
  • Take a survey, available online and on paper (at Detroit Shoreway CDO’s office at 6516 Detroit Ave.) beginning August 6.
For questions about the demonstration portion of the planning process, contact Calley Mersmann, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator at the City Planning Commission, at cmersmann@city.cleveland.oh.us or 216-664-2952.

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Here's a Look at the Repainted 'It's Up to Us' Mural on Clark and West 25th

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 11:30 AM

PHOTOS BY LAURA MORRISON
  • Photos by Laura Morrison
The "It's Up to Us" block-long mural on the corner of West 25th and Clark is shiny and new once more.

After vandals spray painted more than a third of the artwork with graffiti last fall, muralist John Rivera-Resto has worked diligently to restore the Clark-Fulton neighborhood piece to its original state. Thanks to a community crowdfunding campaign earlier this year, the work was completed earlier this month.

The mural, which was named 2015's "Best Public Art" in Scene's annual Best Of poll, was originally completed in 2013.

As a reminder, here's what the wall looked like after it was ruined in November, and here's what it looks like now:
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