Days of debating done, Cincinnati City Council must pass 2014 budget this week

Plan likely to include layoffs, cuts, tax increase

CINCINNATI - If all goes as planned, Cincinnati City Council will approve a 2014 budget Thursday, after days of intense last minute deliberations.

It might be about the only thing that went as planned during the city's latest budget cycle.

Budget debates have been charged this year as the city stares at a $35 million shortfall and must, by law, pass a balanced budget by June 1.  It appears likely the final plan will include a combination of layoffs, cuts in services as well as an increase in property taxes.

At the center of the angst is a stalled plan that would have leased the city's parking system for a $92 million up-front payment.

Although council approved the deal in a 5-4 vote in March, a group of residents successfully challenged the lease in court to prevent it from taking effect immediately. Pending an appeal, the lease will be subject to a voter referendum in November.

Shortly thereafter, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. announced a budget plan – known as "Plan B" -- that called for laying off 344 municipal workers, including 189 police officers and 80 firefighters.

"Let me be clear: It is not a threat I am making," Mayor Mark Mallory said at a press conference in late March. "We're out of options. We don't have any hidden pots of money. We don't have any alternatives."

Dohoney added, "Some people have believed Plan B was a bluff from me all along. I'm not elected. I don't bluff. I don't put things out there that I don't mean."

But just as the mayor and City Council mulled police and firefighter layoffs in previous years, only to have a change of heart later, the latest layoff numbers dwindled over the next few weeks.

In May, Dohoney amended his plan and proposed laying off 201 municipal workers including 66 police officers and 71 firefighters.

Soon after, Mallory proposed more changes to reduce the number of firefighter layoffs to 53, and the number of police layoffs to 49.

A day later, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and Councilman Chris Seelbach proposed further changes to save all firefighter jobs and reduce police layoffs to 25.

That means the total number of planned layoffs has dropped from 344 workers, then to 201, then to 161, and now to 84.

Unless more changes are made this week, the budget calls for 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.

Dohoney also 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.

Further, 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.

Dohoney also is recommending five 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.

Mallory had proposed funding cuts to a few agencies that get some of their money from the city.

They included taking $200,000 from the Port Authority, and taking $100,000 each from the Chamber of Commerce, the African American Chamber of Commerce, and the Center for Closing the Health Gap.

But a council majority led by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls plan to restore all those cuts.

The action comes after a May 23 editorial in an area newspaper urged a reversal, which was signed by various business leaders.

Some of the money to restore the cuts -- $107,300 -- will come from a "Business and Job Attraction" account that has been used to fund some of Mallory's overseas trips in recent years.

Qualls' motion also delays repayment to a TIF District so $1 million can be used to support the city's Focus 52 program that pays for neighborhood projects.

"The plans put forward by a council majority prioritize public safety and essential services that keep all of our neighborhoods safe and attack the blight that breeds crime," Qualls said.

City Council's schedule this week:

  • Tuesday, 1 p.m.  – Budget and Finance Committee (regular meeting)
  • Wednesday, 9 a.m. – Budget and Finance Committee (special meeting)
  • Thursday, 11 a.m. – Budget and Finance Committee (special meeting)
  • Thursday, 2 p.m. – City Council (regular meeting, budget adoption)
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