CINCINNATI - It's not just Cincinnati police and firefighters facing layoffs in the city manager's proposed budget. The Health Department also could lose $2 million in funding and eliminate 18 positions.
If that happens, Health Department personnel said there would be a drop in services to residents that affect rat control, bedbug education, swimming pool inspections, the litter and weed program, and more.
"We're doing everything we can to reduce the service impacts, but it reaches the point where you don't have the manpower to do the work," said Rocky Merz, a Health Department spokesman.
"Unfortunately, that's the point we're going to be at right now," he added.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. included the cuts in a proposed budget released last week that is designed to avoid a $35 million deficit.
In all, the spending plan would entail the layoffs of 66 police officers, 71 firefighters and 64 other municipal workers by June 9.
City Council will review the proposal in the next few weeks. The group must approve a budget for Fiscal Year 2014 by June 1, so it can take effect July 1.
But the proposed cuts would hit the city's Health Department particularly hard.
That's because City Council already reduced the Health Department's general fund budget by 25 percent between 2006 and 2010, and by another 25 percent between 2010 and 2011.
The cumulative effect of more cuts would be severe, Merz said.
In 2007, the Health Department employed 337 people. If the latest cuts are approved, that number would fall to 209 – a decrease of 128 positions in six years.
"We've already had our ranks thinned out substantially," Merz said.
The Health Department received about $20 million from the city of Cincinnati in 2012; it also gets money from state and federal sources.
If Dohoney's cuts are approved by City Council, it would equate to a 9.2 percent reduction in the department's general fund.
Because Gov. Kasich is attempting to expand the Medicaid program in Ohio under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), the seven medical clinics and school nurse program operated by the Health Department hasn't been targeted for cuts. City officials are hoping they will become eligible for more federal funding if Kasich is successful.
About 60 percent of the medical clinic's patients are the "working poor" -- people who have jobs and earn too much to qualify for Medicaid currently, but cannot afford private health-care insurance. Of that amount, about 85 percent would be eligible for Medicaid under the ACA.
Estimated impacts of Dohoney's proposed cuts include:
** Increasing response times from 72 hours to two weeks for complaints about litter, weeds, junk vehicles and tire dumping;
** Reducing the amount of sewer baiting, which is designed to curtail rats in downtown and neighborhood business districts;
** Decreasing bedbug education efforts, which led to a drop in reported bedbug problems from 22 percent in 2009 to 15 percent in 2012; and
** Reducing the frequency of public swimming pool inspections, which are designed to stop the spread of gastrointestinal diseases in children such as shigella and cryptosporidium.
Also, about $5 million in federal grant funding would be jeopardized due to staffing shortages.
Mary Kuhl, an activist in Westwood – Cincinnati's most populous neighborhood – said the cuts would impact middle class homeowners who are trying to eliminate blight and protect their property values.
"Once again, the items that really affect the middle class are items this city decides to cut," Kuhl said. "Unelected middle management people (at City Hall) don't seem to be getting the cut.
"Will any of the assistant city managers be cut?," Kuhl added. "Are any of these elected officials living next to properties or lots where the grass and weeds are already high now and haven't been cut yet this season?"
The sentiment is echoed by City Councilman Christopher Smitherman. He noted that 921 city employees received some type of pay increase in the past year.
Although some of the pay raises – like those for the Police and Fire departments – are mandated by union contracts, many are not.
Among those getting pay hikes were 19 people in the city council, mayor's or clerk's offices; 33 people in the city manager's office, including Dohoney; and 50 people in the Law Department.
"The manager, the mayor, the council and the city solicitor's offices should eat all of those cuts and leave the Health Department whole," Smitherman said.
Referring to a nine percent raise and $35,000 bonus given to Dohoney in November, Smitherman added, "The manager should be giving back his bonus. It's poor leadership to ask people for these types of sacrifices and then give raises and bonuses."
The Health Department serves more than 35,000 indigent people annually, as well as thousands more other people.
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