CINCINNATI -- With a deadline looming, Cincinnati City Council set three meetings for Wednesday as it tries to finalize the city’s budget for next year.
The changes council members made to the city’s budget on Monday -- such as delaying the start of a police recruit class, cutting police overtime, and funding $550,000 to the Center for Closing the Health Gap -- will likely stay intact. Six council members support the changes, allowing them to override any veto by Mayor John Cranley.
It is uncertain if Cranley will use his veto power on Wednesday to take issue with funding cuts to economic groups such as REDI and the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority, while the Health Gap again receives the largest direct funding of any outside group in the city.
Cranley had proposed wiping out the Health Gap’s direct funding next year after it faced a 2017 city audit and was the target of several media investigations into how it spends taxpayer money. But city council restored much of that funding on Monday.
During Monday’s four-hour meeting, city leaders were able to plug a $32 million deficit and restore human services funding to the goal of one percent of the general fund. But negotiations were not without controversy.
Councilwoman Amy Murray did not agree with the compromise changes. She is opposed to fee increases, tax hikes, reducing police overtime and a delay in the police recruit class.
“Sometimes people say you see what your priorities are by what you fund, but I think you can also see what your priorities are by what you cut,” Murray said. “I think slowing down our police recruit class, taking away police overtime, those are serious public safety issues.”
Council was able to restore many proposed funding cuts through an idea proposed by Councilman David Mann – a new tax on billboards in the city that would bring in $709,000 in the coming year.
Other tax hikes that council’s Budget and Finance Committee passed: higher parking meter rates, higher building permit fees, increased storm water rates, and greater commercial waste hauler fees for many people who don’t get their trash collected by the city.
Council did vote down a proposal to boot illegally parked cars that would have brought in $400,000 to the city’s coffers each year.
Mann and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld also proposed an ordinance for the November ballot that would increase ticket taxes on sporting events and concerts by 2 percent. If voters approve, it would produce a new revenue stream for human services and neighborhood groups.
“I’m just concerned that we are taxing folks at a rate that is really going to price them out of things like home ownership or even living in the city of Cincinnati,” said Councilman Jeff Pastor, who opposes the tax hikes.
Fraternal Order of Police President Dan Hils takes issue with the repeated delays of the next police recruit class.
Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney had proposed a recruit class of 45 officers to begin Jan. 1, 2019 – a six-month delay from a class originally set to begin in July 2018. That delay saved the city $2 million. The majority of council voted on Monday to delay the class again an additional three months, until April 2019 – at a savings of $636,000.
“When we have a run on crime it’s important that we can target that with an increased number of foot patrols to calm things down,” Hils said. “The city will be caught with their proverbial pants down when it comes to lack of manpower … if we see a surge in violence.”
Hils also took issue with the Health Gap receiving $550,000 in funding, while a police recruit class was delayed.
“I can’t imagine your average taxpayer benefiting from that (Center for Closing the Health Gap), like they would from public services," Hils said. "Police, fire and other basic services need to be funded first."
But Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard spoke passionately on Monday about the Health Gap’s work.
“The reason why we have the Center for Closing the Health Gap in the first place is because of the disparity of how black people are treated with regards to their health care,” Dennard said. “We don’t have many … African-American led organizations in our city. It would be shameful if we don’t fund the Center for Closing the Health Gap, which does great work in the African-American community.”
Other big changes to the city’s proposed budget this week include:
- Reducing non-personnel spending by city departments, saving the city $541,000
- Eliminating the city’s state lobbyist at a savings of $88,000
- Funding the Center for Addiction Treatment at $77,884
- Adding funding to CincyTech and Cintrifuse by $177,010 each
- Adding $200,000 to expand Red Bike; $125,000 for Central Parkway bike lanes; $125,000 for neighborhood business district improvements and $100,000 for hillside steps critical maintenance.