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Cincinnati biennial budget proposal raises public safety funding but warns of budget deficit

Cincinnati Police
Posted at 6:00 PM, May 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-26 18:15:05-04

CINCINNATI — Cincinnati leaders announced the city's proposed budget for the next two years Friday morning, with a focus on public safety spending.

This comes after Cincinnati's police and fire chiefs told city council in the last few months that the department is facing staffing shortages. CPD Chief Theresa Theetgedescribed her department's situation as "dire."

The proposed budget totals $1.59 billion and includes funding for three new police recruit classes totaling 160 possible positions and four new fire recruit classes, totaling 200 possible positions.

Last year, each department only had two recruitment classes each.

"There has been years in which we're trying to catch up from lost recruitment classes in both police and fire. Couple that with a lack of interest in the industry all together, we are essentially like drinking from a fire hose," said Cincinnati City Manager Sheryl Long.

The proposed budget lays out three recruit classes — two that will graduate in 2024 and one that graduates in 2025. Each of those classes are intended to have roughly 50 recruits each. The budget allocated for each recruit class is roughly $2 million, with the full two-year total for all three classes running $6,259,940.

The fire department's budget is a little more complicated: It highlights the four budgeted recruit classes, two set to graduate in 2024 and two in 2025. Those are each going to run roughly $1.4 million. But the bigger financial impact comes from overtime hours. For each of those recruit classes, the city has also allocated each recruitment class $550,000 in just overtime hours.

In total, that would mean the fire department's recruitment classes are budgeted to cost around $3,857,460 in 2024 and $4,087,350 in 2025.

City leaders said the goal is to get back up to the full number of officers CPD and the fire department are budgeted to have and keep up with retirements and other forms of employee attrition.

"I think they're taking a half step when they need to take four or five," Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils said.

He said more police recruit classes are good but he thinks bigger pay increases are key to attracting more candidates. In the new budget proposal, the city is aiming to address that. The new budget proposes increasing operating funds for CPD by $2,428,410 "due to wage and benefits increases and increases in expert services." However, that increase, the budget says, is offset by the transfer of full-time officers to other bureaus.

The proposed budget also allocates $615,000 to expand the Alternate Response to Crisis unit (ARC), which was a pilot program this year.

"For 3,000 hours mental health professionals, not police, responded to calls," Long said.

This discussion comes as the city faces a deficit.

"Our expenses frankly are growing more quickly than our revenues," said Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval. "We are living in a very difficult and frankly uncertain time. The ground is moving under our feet and so what this budget tries to do is act responsibly in anticipation of that dire fiscal situation that we're walking into next year."

City leaders said with fewer people commuting into the city to work after the COVID-19 pandemic, the city is collecting less income tax. They plan to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars to make up for it in Fiscal Year 2024, which starts in July.

By Fiscal Year 2025, though, the city could be facing a nearly $9.5 million operating budget deficit. Plus, city leaders say there's about $400 million in deferred maintenance.

"Which is why this council and I have been so aggressive at looking for new streams of revenue to make us. less reliant on our earnings tax revenue," Pureval said.

The city increased the property tax rate for 2024, plus Pureval said the possible sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway to Norfolk Southern could be a potential revenue stream.

There will be a public comment meeting about the proposed budget at City Hall on June 5 and 5:30 pm.