Final Cincinnati budget vote Thursday

May 29, 2013

Right now eight of the nine Cincinnati Council Members are supporting a budget plan that prevents any layoffs in the police and fire departments.  The Budget and Finance Committee approved the budget motion Wednesday.  But those numbers may change some when final votes are taken Thursday.  

But about 60 other city workers will get pink slips in a few weeks and some services will be scaled back in order to close a $35 million general fund deficit.  

“Our goal of reducing crime has not changed and I do not want to lose that momentum,” said Council Member Pam Thomas who supported the plan.   “A perception of our city that is not safe can be very detrimental to its efforts to stimulate economic growth.”

But again the plan is structurally unbalanced, which means the city is using one-time money to close the gap and still spending more than it collects in revenue.  That's been happening for several years.  

Council Member Christopher Smitherman voted for the budget motion.  But he'll likely vote no on the ordinances when they're presented to the full Council Thursday.  He did praise the collaboration that produced the proposal.

“We’ve done this with some pain,” Smitherman said.  “There are more steps, more aggressive steps that I think we should continue to take and look at.”

Council Member Laure Quinlivan voted against the majority budget motion.  She repeated what she said Tuesday, the plan is not sustainable.

“I think it goes way too far to save public safety only at the expense of parks, and our neighborhoods, and the arts and the environment,” Quinlivan said.  “I believe that we should be restructuring and really aggressively pursuing shared services so that we can live within our means.”

Council Member Wendell Young responded to criticism from some community members about the city not being honest with residents about layoffs.

“We never bluffed, we never lied, but we found a way to come together to do the best we can and cobble together a budget that will at least make some sense for a short period of time,” Young said.  “But it should be obvious to everyone that as we move forward, there will be things we still need to do to this budget to make it a budget that the city can continue to live with.  But these are difficult times.”

Council Member Yvette Simpson said she wants to hear something different from residents during next year’s budget hearings.

“I don’t want to pay anymore, I don’t want to give up anything, and we know from basic math that that just doesn’t add up,” Simpson said.  “So the question we should be asking is: What do you want and what are you willing to give up to get it?  Because that’s the question we had to answer here to get to this place.  Something had to be given up in order for us to get what we felt was most important at this juncture.”

What the plan does

The majority plan restores about $7.5 million dollars to the budget Mayor Mark Mallory proposed a couple of weeks ago.  And the group also made reductions totaling the same amount so it would balance.  

Those cuts include reduced spending in the mayor’s and council members offices and by the clerk of council.  Council members, the city’s next mayor, and supervisory and leadership personnel will have to take ten furlough days.  Non-union city workers will also pay more for their health insurance coverage.  

The proposal also will merge the economic and community development departments and cut car allowances for those employees who don’t have them included in their contracts.  The city’s new mayor would also lose a car allowance.

Services level reductions

There will be service level reductions throughout the city.  Those include elimination of positions within the health department, the law department and the reduction of part-time staffing in the recreation department.  Across all departments, 17 vacant full-time positions will be left empty.  

The Mt. Auburn Recreation Center and the Bush Recreation Center in Walnut Hills Center will be closed.  Plus the Camp Washington, Fairview, Filson, Spring Grove Village and Ziegler swimming pools will close after this summer.  

The city will also not provide a subsidy for city services to “Heritage Events.”  Those include the Findlay Market Opening Day Parade, the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the Black Family Reunion and Juneteenth.

The police department’s mounted patrol is being eliminated.

Reduced/eliminated funding for outside agencies

Several agencies and groups will get less funding from the city in the new fiscal year.  Other programs will lose all of their city funding.  The reduction list includes human services agencies, the Center for Closing the Health Gap, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Port Authority, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance and the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Film Commission.

Funding for the Neighborhood Support Program and Neighborhood Business District Funding is being cut completely, along with funds for Keep Cincinnati Beautiful and for 3CDC to help maintain Fountain Square.  

Some fees increase

Starting January 1, 2014, water rates will increase by 5.5 percent.  There will be a new service fee for Community Reinvestment Area residential tax abatement applications and a $25 late fee for income tax filers that submit their tax return after the filing deadline.  

The fire department will now charge $100 to review fire plans and seek reimbursement when firefighters respond to and clean-up a hazardous materials incident scene.  The police department will also likely charge a fee for issuing special events permits.

What’s next

Officials in the city’s budget, finance and law departments will use the approved budget motion to prepare the ordinances necessary to officially enact the spending plan.

The full Council will vote on those documents Thursday.  The group must approve a budget by June 1st in order for it to take effect on July 1st when the city’s next fiscal year begins.