Cincinnati City Council OKs budget in close vote; plan lays off 67 workers

No police or firefighters will lose jobs

CINCINNATI - After weeks of heated debate, Cincinnati City Council approved a budget Thursday that lays off 67 workers, but no police or firefighters.

Council voted 5-4 Thursday to approve a revised budget that members have tinkered with and modified during the past few days.

Officials had to pass a spending plan so it could take effect July 1.

Council members Laure Quinlivan, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Charlie Winburn opposed the budget.

Of the 67 people who will be laid off, 32 are part-time employees, while 28 are represented by the AFSCME union and 7 are non-unionized.

Smitherman and Winburn disliked that the budget contains an increase in the city’s property tax rate.

The budget would raise the property tax millage rate from 4.6 mills to 5.7 mills in Fiscal Year 2014, which would generate an additional $2.5 million in revenue.

Also, City Manger Milton Dohoney Jr. wants City Council to approve increasing the property tax millage to the maximum 6.1 mills allowed by the city’s charter in 2015.

Still, Smitherman said he was glad his colleagues – with whom he often butts heads – agreed to shift money from other accounts to avoid police and fire layoffs.

“I'm also voting no, but I think my colleagues deserve some credit today," Smitherman said during the committee meeting.

Winburn primarily opposed a 5.5 percent increase in water rates that is included in the spending plan.

“Have you seen your water bill lately?” Winburn asked. “This is getting ridiculous. Every year, the rates are going up and up and up.”

Budget Director Lea Eriksen said Cincinnati’s water system has a high level of fixed costs, like replacing aging water mains. At the same time, water usage has decreased in recent years due to conservation and the decline in manufacturing.

Quinlivan said the budget was unfair to non-unionized workers at City Hall. It protects police and fire jobs, but requires many other workers to take 10 furlough days. She also noted that pay increases for police and firefighters total 38 percent since 2000, while those for other workers total about 24 percent.

“Public safety is our No. 1 priority, but we don't need to overspend on it,” Quinlivan said.

Just has been the case many times in recent years, Cincinnati’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 only is balanced through the use of one-time sources of money and last-minute scrambling.

Quinlivan admonished other council members that they should focus on cutting costs or raising revenues. “I don't see anyone working on any solutions (on future deficits) today,” she said.

Other council members, however, said Cincinnati’s fiscal outlook isn’t as dismal as it seems at first blush. The city was facing a $35 million deficit this year, of which about $21 million was due to a cut in state funding – not any local decisions.

“A $21 million loss would be difficult for anyone to deal with,” said Councilwoman Yvette Simpson.

Councilman Chris Seelbach was hopeful the fiscal situation would improve next year.

“Revenues are coming in bigger than expected, people are moving into the city, businesses are opening,” Seelbach said.

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