City attorney: Too late to avoid police and fire layoffs in budget battle

338 city workers will be affected

CINCINNATI - The city of Cincinnati has reached the point of no return for laying off some municipal workers, its attorneys said Monday morning.

Because the legal battle over a proposed lease of Cincinnati's parking system to the Port Authority hasn't been resolved yet, City Solicitor John Curp said layoffs would be needed to temporarily balance the 2014 budget.

If the city prevails in the legal battle, some or all of the workers laid off might be called back to work, Curp added. But callbacks couldn't occur until late July or late August, at the earliest.

See the full list of proposed staff reductions

City Council must have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2014 by July 1. Because the city maintains it cannot use emergency ordinances due to a judge's ruling, the budget must be passed by June 1.

"It would take the Port 60-90 days to issue bonds" for the lease, Curp said. "We have to proceed with the money we have, not with the money we might have."

Curp outlined the city's predicament during oral arguments Monday in the First District Court of Appeals, repeating similar remarks made last week by City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr.

The city is seeking to overturn a lower court's ruling that issued an injunction against implementing a lease of Cincinnati's parking garages, lots and meters.

City Council hoped to use lease revenues to cover shortfalls in the 2014 and 2015 budgets.

But a group of residents opposed to the lease gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum on the plan later this year, delaying it from taking effect.

Without the parking lease, Dohoney has said he will lay off 338 municipal workers, and not fill 105 jobs that are currently vacant, for a total of 443 positions.

The positions outlined in that memo include 196 in the police department. The breakdown includes: 149 sworn officers and seven civilians. The remaining 40 positions were from a recruit class, 33 of whom would have gone to Cincinnati and the other seven to other departments or police agencies, said FOP President Kathy Harrell.

The other positions in the memo also include: 120 in the fire department; 72 in the recreation department, including 25 lifeguards and eight pool managers; 21 in the health department; and six in buildings and inspections, including five inspectors. Many of the recreation and pool jobs, because they are seasonal, remain vacant.

Other affected positions include four in the city manager's office, one of which is vacant; six in the law department, including the assistant solicitor who handles chronic nuisance complaints; and three positions in the finance department, two of which are vacant.

Layoff notices will be sent to employees on May 20 at the earliest and June 3 at the latest. Layoffs likely will happen on June 9.

Curp thinks the appellate court will have a decision within the next three weeks.

"Given that the court generously approved an expedited schedule, we're hopeful that there will be a decision by the end of the month," he said.

Under the lease, the city's parking meters would be leased to the Port Authority for 30 years, while the city's parking lots and garages would be leased for 40 years.

In return, the city would get a $92 million upfront payment, along with annual payments of about $3 million for the remainder of the lease.

City officials would use the money to help avoid deficits in 2014 and 2015, and to quicken the pace of some citywide development projects.

Some small businesses, neighborhood groups and others oppose the lease. They said it lessens local control over parking rates and enforcement, and doesn't fully capitalize on the parking system's value.

Lease opponents have said layoffs aren't necessary, alleging City Council is avoiding making tough budget decisions in an election year.

Even if the city passes a budget by July 1, it still could face problems, Curp said. That's because the city interprets the lower court ruling to mean that any ordinance could be subject to referendum.

As a result, there's nothing preventing someone from launching a referendum on the budget ordinance. If that occurs, Curp added, the city would have no operating funds from July through November.

"We'd have no money," he said. "We'd have to shut the city down."


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