CINCINNATI -- Few issues can unite all of the Cincinnati City Council, but its members agreed on a resounding “no” to one of the city manager's latest requests.
Council’s finance committee voted 8-0 on Tuesday to recommend rejecting a request to restore $1.27 million to the city budget for items like vehicle allowances.
Only Councilman Christopher Smitherman was absent from the meeting. He likely will join his colleagues in turning down the money when the group makes a final decision Wednesday.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. had asked to restore some items to the budget that had been cut last spring. Dohoney made the request after tax collections in May and June were higher than estimated.
Dohoney’s request included $26,640 to restore vehicle allowances for himself, the next mayor and 13 administrative employees.
Vehicle allowances offer employees a set monthly payment to use toward vehicle-related expenses, like gasoline and insurance.
Led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, council members said some of the items sought by Dohoney were inappropriate at a time when the city is facing a bleak financial outlook.
Some city workers haven’t had pay raises in six years, and some city services are being cut, council members said.
“There is just no way people are going to support restoration of the car allowances,” Qualls said.
“We know $26,000 won't make or break the budget... but the message you send is important,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Council members noted most of the employees targeted to get vehicle allowances – mostly department heads -- already make more than $100,000 annually.
Dohoney also sought to eliminate furlough days planned for some City Hall employees, including himself and senior-level management, as well as City Council.
But Qualls introduced a proposal to keep some of the cuts in place including elimination of vehicle allowances, maintaining the furlough days and keeping cuts made to the office budgets for City Council members.
In all, the committee removed $70,840 from Dohoney’s requests.
That means council will restore just more than $1.2 million in cuts, mostly for items like Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for employees represented by the AFSCME labor union.
The workers will get a 1.5 percent COLA increase this year, and a 1 percent COLA increase in 2014.
Additionally, the new money will be used to increase the city’s contribution to its pension system to 24 percent this year.
Cincinnati’s pension system has an unfunded liability of $870 million. That’s mostly due to the economic crash of 2008 that affected the system’s investments, along with rising healthcare costs.
Under the budget, City Council will give back part of its members’ salaries equal to 10 furlough days.
“It's important for us to also make sacrifices,” said Councilman Chris Seelbach. “That's why we voted to cut our own pay.”
“We're tightening our belts,” said Councilwoman Pam Thomas.
“These cuts were made not only to help balance the budget but because those offices could survive without the extra funds,” Thomas added. “We need to get our priorities straight by putting budget surplus for programs that need the funds and are going to directly benefit our citizens, not on bloated office budgets and car allowances for our city leaders."
Dohoney initially had proposed five furlough days for senior-level management, but council increased the number to 10 during budget negotiations last spring.
City Council has agreed to restore enough money to avoid some of the unpaid time off, but there still will be two furlough days for those employees.
Council previously made $20.4 million in cuts to the municipal budget approved in May, but restored $3.8 million in late July.