The last Hamilton County commission meeting of 2017 produced a temporary general fund budget, a budget for the Metropolitan Sewer District, and started the ball rolling on a new crime lab for the coroner's office.
The new Hamilton County crime lab will be in Blue Ash. The county has four months to approve the purchase of land at 4300 Glendale Milford Road. Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says it's been a long process to find the right place.
"We think this is a great location for all of us, and I think that this will facilitate easy transport of evidence as well as the decedents to our office," Sammarco says. "We really look forward to moving quickly on this and basically being able to provide a service to this region, not just the people of Hamilton County, at a level they should have."
Sammarco has said better facilities would allow Hamilton County to make money by performing tests and autopsies for other counties. The price of the land is still in negotiations. A resolution approved by commissioners lists a purchase price of $1.6 million.
General Fund Budget
Hamilton County commissioners also approved a continuation general fund budget for the first quarter of 2017. Todd Portune pressed for that over a full year budget, to give incoming commissioner Denise Driehaus a say on the spending plan. She beat Dennis Deters for his seat in November's election.
Deters voted against the temporary budget because it didn't have a sustainable funding source for the county's 911 center.
"I know that the county has wrestled with this for at least the last two years, maybe three, as it relates to a long term solution to be able to sustain that system which I think is susceptible to fractionalization and diminished ability to serve our residents in this important function," Deters said.
The emergency dispatch center has been paid for by a detail fee. Communities that used it were charged for every call for help. Some have told residents to call local first responders directly instead of using 911 in order to cut costs.
Deters had proposed a property transfer fee to pay for the 911 center, but couldn't get support from the other two commissioners.
The election of Denise Driehaus means fellow Democrat Todd Portune will be the next president of the board. He says 2017 will be the last year the issue can be deferred without long term problems.
"I think all options are on the table for 2018 and beyond because we have got to find a solution that will in the minds of the other jurisdictions let them know that the funding for this is not going to be in doubt from year to year."
Metropolitan Sewer District customers will not see a rate hike next year. County utility monitor Dave Meyer says it's partly because a cost-savings measure for MSD won't be ready until October.
"The Rate Affordability Task Force recommended and the county administration agrees that we should not recommend a rate increase until as such time that monthly billing actually occurs. Since that will be so late in the year and since we really have not finalized our recommendation or our submittal to the regulators for phase two, we won't know the magnitude of that."
Phase 2 is the next part of a multi-billion dollar overhaul required under the federal Clean Water Act.
Commissioners approved a nearly $111 million operational budget, a $303.7 million capital improvement budget, and $114.4 million for MSD debt service Wednesday morning.