Latest Cincinnati budget plan has no police or fire layoffs

Proposal prevents layoffs now, could happen in '15

CINCINNATI - It’s looking more likely that there will be no police or firefighters laid off when Cincinnati City Council approves a budget later this week.

The latest proposal put forward Tuesday by a council majority avoids laying off 25 police officers by using one-time sources of money to cover the expense.

It saves police jobs by delaying a $1 million payment to a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.

The districts are supposed to get any increases in tax revenues within a specific area that are due to new construction there. They are used to encourage investment in areas that city officials want to see grow, like parts of downtown and Over-the-Rhine, and often are used to offset costs to developers for infrastructure improvements like sidewalks and streetlights.

Also, the proposal to stop police layoffs calls for taking $500,000 from the city’s contingency fund for emergencies, along with reducing the Police Department’s budget for take-home vehicles by $100,000.

The latest proposal joins another introduced last week that avoided any firefighter layoffs this year.

Firefighter layoffs would be avoided by merging the city’s Economic Development and Community Development departments, which would save $171,000.

Further, it would increase the number of furlough days for supervisory personnel from five to 10, which would generate a savings of $250,000.

It also makes reductions in the budgets for City Council offices and the Clerk of Council, and asks council members to take the equivalent of 10 furlough days through payroll deductions

Budget Director Lea Eriksen cautioned City Council that if it uses one-time sources to save firefighter jobs for fiscal year 2014, it would increase the deficit by $8 million for Fiscal Year 2015.

Part of the reason a council majority decided to avoid firefighter layoffs is because the city would have to repay $1.6 million in federal grants.

But Eriksen said that problem gets worse over time: If council lays off the firefighters in 2015, it would have to repay about $4.8 million.

There still would be about 65 workers in other departments laid off under the budget plan.

In March, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. proposed laying off 344 city workers, including 189 police officers and 80 firefighters. Mayor Mark Mallory and council have whittled away at that number ever since.

As Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls noted, the latest plan "doesn't solve the problem, it just delays it again by another year.”

Council members hope tax revenues will increase in future years as more planned developments are completed.

Councilman Chris Seelbach said the current deficit was mostly caused by Gov. Kasich’s cuts in state funding to local governments.

“We would not be here today if the governor of Ohio didn't cut local government funding,” Seelbach said. “We are headed in the right direction."

Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan didn’t support the proposal Tuesday.

"I think this takes us in the wrong direction because it makes the deficit worse in year two," Quinlivan said.

Instead, she preferred asking police and firefighters to accept furlough days to avoid layoffs. Costs in the Police and Fire departments are a major factor in the city’s fiscal problems, Quinlivan added.

She noted police and firefighter salaries have increased by 38 percent since 2000, while salaries for most other city workers increased between 24 percent and 28 percent.

Additionally, the two council members who voted against giving Dohoney a pay raise and bonus in November urged him on Tuesday to give the bonus back.

Dohoney was given a 10 percent raise, bumping his salary to $255,000 annually, along with a $35,000 bonus.

It's wrong to give Dohoney a raise and bonus, and then ask employees for sacrifices, said Councilman Christopher Smitherman.

"He is the leader of the city and leadership starts at the top,” Seelbach said. “It's the right thing for him to give back that bonus."

City Council’s budget and finance committee will next meet at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It must approve a spending plan by June 1.

 

 

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