Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials hope to have a full-time housing court up and running by next fall. But, first, they must get the Ohio Supreme Court and Ohio legislature to sign off on it.
It could be a costly proposition for local taxpayers, or it could end up being essentially free if one of the present Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judges steps forward and volunteers to run the court, which would hear all cases involving conditions of housing properties, maintenance by landlords, and urban blight.
"The housing court would be roughly $250,000 to $345,000 annually, and that is if there is a new court added,'' Cincinnati City Solicitor Paula Boggs Muething told council's Law and Public Safety Committee Monday morning.
But, Muething said, "I think there is still a possibility that an existing common pleas court judge may want to become the housing court judge; and that way, it would be cost neutral."
Presently, a Hamilton County Municipal Court judge hears a housing docket on Friday mornings.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, in his State of the City address in October, said having a housing court in Hamilton County had been caught up in political mistrust between the city and the county. Cranley said he worked to change that; and that Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters has agreed to petition the Ohio Supreme Court to create a Hamilton County Housing Court.
Three other major Ohio urban counties – Franklin (Columbus), Cuyahoga (Cleveland) and Lucas (Toledo) – already have similar full-time housing courts.
Muething and Hamilton County commission president Chris Monzel told the council committee Monday that they hope to have the Ohio Supreme Court's approval in February and legislative approval from the Ohio General Assembly in the spring.
That, Monzel said, is where the public's role in the process comes in.
"What we need from the public is letters to the Supreme Court, to contact the Supreme Court, as well as the Ohio General Assembly stating the case of why we need this,'' Monzel said.
Hamilton County presently has a part-time housing docket in Hamilton County Municipal Court.
Council member Christopher Smitherman, chairman of the Law and Public Safety Committee, said he hopes "that money never becomes a barrier to meeting this objective."
Smitherman said he thinks the cost would be around $400,000 and said that if a sitting common pleas court judge can't be found to take this position, "we need to come to the table as a county and a city to discuss this in the budget."