Police, fire chiefs react to proposed Cincinnati layoffs

Qualls: Will work to reduce number

CINCINNATI - Proposed layoffs in Cincinnati's police and fire departments could directly impact some services to residents, including the reduction or elimination of specialized police units.

Police and firefighter layoffs constitute the majority of cost reductions in a recommended Cincinnati budget unveiled Thursday morning by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.

In all, the budget would entail the layoffs of 66 police officers and 71 firefighters on June 9, if City Council approves the changes. Another 64 municipal workers in other departments also would lose their jobs.

The fire department cuts would cause an estimated 10 brownouts a day, in which one truck in a firehouse is idled.

"We're looking at approximately 10 brownouts to begin with, which is a fourth of our fleet," said Fire Chief Richard Braun. "Fire departments are built to overlap protection and we'll be losing our overlapping as our equipment is out on the streets taking runs. That leaves holds to be filled, so it will be very hard for us."

Potentially making matters worse are planned retirements.

"We're already 50 people short today and they if we have to lay off 71, we're at 120," Braun said. "We anticipate 50 retirements during this budget period, so we're going to be up close to 200 people short."

Meanwhile, the police department will scale back or eliminate specialized units, including its outreach to youth.

"I can tell you in advance, (our) youth services effort is going to be eliminated as part of the staffing," said Police Chief James Craig. "Our number one priority is making sure that our response units in the districts are adequately staffed ... Our specialized units, some of them will either be reduced in size or eliminated."

Craig is hopeful that any layoffs won't jeopardize the department's stride in reducing violent crime.

"Our reductions in violent crime -- not just last year, but even year to date (since I took office) -- means a lot," Craig said. "My commitment is Cincinnati will still be a safe city. As much as my heart goes out to the 66 that are going to be affected, we will still provide service levels to this city that continue to make Cincinnati safe."

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who heads City Council's budget committee, wants to identify other cuts to reduce the number of layoffs.

"I will work to further reduce the number of layoffs for police, fire and health department personnel to ensure that we keep all our neighborhoods safe and clean," Qualls said.

Dohoney's proposed budget also calls for increases in the property tax and water rates.

In all, Dohoney's proposed budget reduces city spending by $20.4 million. Of that amount, $11.8 million will come from police and fire layoffs and the cancelation of recruit classes for both departments.

Overall, the General Fund Operating Budget is proposed at $352.6 million

Still, there is some good news.

Dohoney reduced the amount of planned layoffs in the police department from 149 to 66. Also, the number of fire department layoffs was reduced from 118 to 71.

The firefighter layoffs mean the city will have to repay $1.6 million from a federal grant.

"Due to the economic circumstances causing this layoff, this should not trigger a default of the COPS Hiring Grant," Dohoney wrote in a memo to council. "Layoffs in the Fire Department do trigger a default in the city's current SAFER grant from FEMA, requiring repayment of money spent to date in the amount of $1.6 million. The total grant to be forfeited is $5.9 million, as is the second grant of $6.2 million."

Braun lamented the loss of the grants.

"It's a huge hit. Once that money's gone, we don't get it back again," Braun said. "So, we have potentially 80 employees that their benefits and salaries were paid for two years will be gone."

Throughout city government, the overall number of layoffs was reduced from 344 to 201, Dohoney said.

Because the total number of layoffs was reduced from earlier projections, the layoff costs are $3.5 million.

"As city manager, I never like to resort to any layoffs, which is why I had proposed the Parking Lease & Modernization Plan -- our 'Plan A' -- which would would have avoided layoffs this year and next," Dohoney wrote in a memo to all workers.

"However, with a requirement to have balanced budget by July 1, 2013, and with our workforce driving so much of city expenditures, there simply was not a way to cut without impacting upon personnel," the memo added.

Other savings in those departments come from canceling police and fire recruit classes and eliminating almost 60 vacant positions.

Dohoney proposes raising the city's 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, Dohoney wants City Council to approve increasing the property tax millage to the maximum 6.1 mills allowed by the charter in 2015, which would generate a total of $1.3 million in additional revenue.

Water bills also could go up.

Under the budget, a 5.5 percent increase in rates for the Greater Cincinnati Water Works would take effect Jan. 1. That means the average quarterly water bill for a city resident would increase from $54.54 to $57.65, or $3.11 per quarter.

The rate increase would affect all customers who get their water from the utility, including those outside city limits.

Some reductions in city services also will occur.

They include eliminating positions within the Health Department's Community Health Environmental Inspections programs and in the Law Department. Also, Dohoney wants to reduce part-time staffing within the Recreation Department, which likely will mean the closing of some city-owned swimming pools.

Overall, the service reductions will save $1.7 million

Hoping to lessen the burden by spreading it among the workforce, Dohoney also is recommending furlough days for senior management positions.

The so-called "cost savings days" would include Dohoney himself, and the savings equate to a 1.9 percent reduction in salary.

Moreover, employees would begin paying more for their healthcare insurance, rising from the current 5 percent to 10 percent.

Cost of living adjustments to salaries also would be eliminated.

Additional cuts include reducing Human Services Policy funding by $721,150, to provide a total funding level of $1 million; and $100,000 for the Center for Closing the Health Gap.

And the city's Neighborhood Support Program and Neighborhood Business District funding is cut by $279,950.

A total of $161,550 would be saved through proposed funding reductions for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, the African American Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Film Commission and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.

Additionally, a few programs and contracts would be eliminated, saving $250,000.

They include abolishing the urban agriculture program within the Office of Environmental Quality; ending the money for the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance to perform reduced cost home energy audits; and cancelling a contract with Hamilton County Social Services to provide services related to the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence.

City spokeswoman Meg Olberding said the proposed budget does not include any new funding for the long-planned streetcar project. It is facing a $17.4 million shortfall, and Dohoney is awaiting guidance from council on how to proceed.

City Council will now review the budget and possibly make changes. It must pass a spending plan by June 1, so it can take effect July 1.

Council will hold three public hearings on the budget: 6:30 p.m. May 16 at Duke Energy Convention Center; 6:30 p.m. May 20 at the College Hill Recreation Center; and 6:30 p.m. May 22 at the Madisonville Recreation Center.

You can read the city manager's full proposed budget below or at http://goo.gl/EooHO.

9 On Your Side reporter Tom McKee contributed to this report.

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