Council listens to concerns during first budget hearing

May 17, 2013

Don’t cut parks and public safety. Those were the dominate themes last night during the first of three public hearings on Cincinnati next budget, which City Council must approve by June 1st.

About 50 speakers offered testimony to Council’s Budget and Finance Committee in a session at the Duke Energy Convention Center that lasted about three hours.

A dozen speakers spoke against cuts to the parks department including resident Polk Laffoon.

"All that we have accomplished in the last 25 years, the splendor of Eden Park, the excitement and promise of Washington Park, and Smale Riverfront Park to name three can be undermined in a blink," Laffoon said. "I urge you, do not cut the funding that permits our parks to look as good as they do."

Cincinnati park officials have laid out some drastic changes if City Council approves proposed budget cuts. They say fountains could be turned off, lakes could be drained and flower beds could go unplanted. They also said some parks could be closed and all park restrooms could be shut down.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls said the city manager is not proposing such "scary" park cuts. She said members of the park board are suggesting those measures.

Milton Dohoney proposed increasing the admission fee for Krohn Conservatory by 50 cents and laying off 7 full-time park employees. Dohoney said last night it was not his intention to close parks or turn off fountains.

There were also several speakers who are against any plan to layoff police officers and firefighters.

Ron Higgins is a retired police officer, who lives in Sayler Park. He said he’s concerned about the already shrinking number of police officers.

"Somebody’s going to get hurt, you’re going to get a policeman injured or killed," Higgins said. "You can’t measure the amount of crime that an individual policeman is going to prevent just by his presence. So as a city resident I really wish you would consider these layoffs."

Business owner Kam Misheh also said public safety layoffs could hurt his two city restaurants.

"What you should be doing is to quit spending on fluff items the city cannot afford," Misheh said. "The city should be run like a private business, cut back without layoffs, cut spending. And I know that you, in this presentation are trying to do that, but you’ve got to do more."

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Council Member Chris Seelbach are co-sponsoring a motion to eliminate firefighter layoffs and their plan could reduce the number of police layoffs to 25. So far two other Council Member have signed the motion. It needs one more to move forward.

The number of police and fire layoffs has been declining since they were first discussed in March. At that time the city manager projected cutting 149 police officers and 118 firefighters. Dohoney lowered the numbers when his plan was introduced on May 9th. Mayor Mark Mallory further reduced the public safety layoffs when he sent the budget to Council Wednesday.

Other speakers at the hearing urged Council to preserve funding for human services agencies, public service workers, and local chambers of commerce.

City Council must come up with a way to close a $35 million general fund deficit. That budget will take effect on July 1st.

The city had planned to use revenue from a proposal to lease most of the city’s parking facilities to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority to help balance the budget. But opponents of the parking plan took the city to court and won the right to place the plan on the ballot. The city appealed and a decision in that case could come any day.

The Budget and Finance Committee will hold a second public hearing Monday evening starting at 6:30 at the College Hill Recreation Center at 5545 Belmont Avenue. A final hearing is set for Wednesday evening at 6:30 at the Madisonville Recreation Center at 5320 Steward Avenue.