Cincinnati Council Gives Final Budget Approval

Jun 21, 2017

Cincinnati Council has given final approval to the city budget totaling nearly $1.6 billion for the fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

Council members took final votes Wednesday on various budget ordinances. For the most part, those in favor of most budget items were: Charlie Winburn, Amy Murray, Kevin Flynn, David Mann, P.G. Sittenfeld and Christopher Smitherman. Voting no were Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young. There were some variations depending on particular budget items.

The budget closes a $26 million general fund deficit without layoffs or service reductions. City Manager Harry Black said last month that many departments will have to do more with less in the coming year.

Council members made some last minute additions to the budget Wednesday. Those include:

  • $350,000 of additional funding for human services programs managed through the United Way process. (The city is now spending $3.69 million on these programs.)
  • $50,000 for the student firefighter academy.
  • $100,000 for the Hillman Accelerator. (A program that provides support to minority and women-owned technology companies.)
  • $50,000 to help Invest In Neighborhoods hire an executive director and create citizen engagement teams.
  • $133,178 to restore funding to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.
  • $250,000 for First Step Home to remodel its facility. (It provides drug treatment and housing for women with children.)

Money for this additional spending came from swapping dollars from several city accounts including one with a $3.2 million balance for urban redevelopment projects.

Council also took $600,000 from this same account to fill a hole in the budget created when Council rejected a proposal from the city manager to "boot" vehicles with three or more unpaid parking tickets. Council members said such a program could hurt low-income residents.

On Monday, a committee added additional funding for pedestrian safety, a needle exchange program, and restored two percent cost of living adjustments for non-represented city employees. On Wednesday, Council voted to change the COLA to a bonus for employees.

Mayor John Cranley said the budget prioritizes basic services and makes "decades high" investments in human services. He said the renaissance in the city does not happen by accident.

"It's a public/private partnership and all of us (city officials) work together and the community to build a better city, and a billion dollar-plus budget is a big part of all of that," Cranley said.

Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Charlie Winburn oversaw his last budget. He leaves Council in January because term limits prevent him from seeking re-election in November.

"I think what we have here today is one of best budgets that we can have under the circumstances," Winburn said. "I think as more revenue is generated through our 2.1 percent earnings income tax, I think, by the end of the year we're probably going to do much better than we realize."

Council Member P.G. Sittenfeld liked the result considering the "challenging circumstance" with a large deficit.

"It was never quite the sky is falling scenario that some people wanted to make it out to be," Sittenfeld said. "But it also wasn't a total cinch to reach an end goal where there are no layoffs at all, no one was proposing some massive tax increase. But this budget is going to do a lot of good."

Council members Yvette Simpson, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young offered no comments during the meeting on why they voted against some parts of the budget. Seelbach did not respond to a text seeking comment.

Simpson, who is the mayoral candidate running against Cranley this fall, had nothing to say after Wednesday's meeting, but she issued a written statement Thursday morning that was highly critical of  Cranley.

"The mayor's budget punishes small business owners, under-funds maintenance of our parks and recreation centers; the fiscal transfer of general fund expenses into the Stormwater Fund may negatively impact rate payers and doesn't set us up for a stronger financial future,'' Simpson wrote. 

"We need  a different vision for a stronger Cincinnati," Simpson said. 

The budget process was delayed briefly Wednesday morning as Council debated how to vote on changes council members made to the spending plan.

The city manager's budget, and the changes made to it by Mayor John Cranley, were incorporated into four separate ordinances. But those proposed by council members were in several standalone ordinances. Some on council were concerned as standalones could be subject to mayoral vetoes if approved with only five votes. It takes six votes to override a veto. In the end, all the individual ordinances passed with at least six votes.

The budget picture for the next fiscal year does not look any better. Right now city officials say it has a $20 million deficit that will have to be closed.

Meanwhile, City Council also approved a streetcar operating budget for the new fiscal year. The money goes to the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) to operate the streetcar.

Council voted 6-3 for that funding. Voting yes were: Flynn, Mann, Seelbach, Simpson, Sittenfeld and Young. Voting no were Winburn, Murray and Smitherman.

The ordinance proposed by Council Member Flynn includes $4,393,389 for streetcar operating expenses, and $2,919,000 from city sources.

SORTA officials said the amount approved is about $150,000 less than the transit agency requested. A spokeswoman said officials are still trying to determine what that will mean for streetcar operations.