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City Council approves budget that fully funds police; veto will keep streetcar running without riders

Posted at 10:58 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 06:57:32-04

CINCINNATI — In a move that includes full funding for the city’s police department, Cincinnati City Council voted to approve the budget for the 2021 fiscal year Wednesday night.

But before that decision came down, a confrontation ended with members of the public taken out of Council chambers in handcuffs.

Protesters came for public comment in the hours leading up to today’s vote and walked away frustrated on two fronts. The budget passed with no cuts to CPD’s budget, and two people were temporarily detained during public comment, including Bryce Phillips.

Phillips, a fixture at recent public hearings, has echoed recent calls to defund the police. He said this time was different.

“I had not spoken yet, and these cops come out,” he said. “About eight cops jump out into the room and some of them grab me, put my arms behind my back.”

Phillips said he was forcibly removed from the meeting after signing up to speak but before getting to the mic, what he calls an effort to silence him after he screamed at the mayor.

“People are planning and talking and having meetings and we’re not going away,” Phillips said.

Tensions were high as time ran out, and with it any hope of major changes to the Cincinnati Police Department’s budget for the next fiscal year.

“Today was our final chance to come out and have our demands be heard,” said an organizer and speaker who goes by the name Cynthia For The People.

City Council had to pass the budget by the end of June, and while some things changed, including fully funding the Citizens Complaint Authority, it wasn’t what this crowd wanted. The general fund police budget remains $150 million. The city faces a $73 million deficit.

The $415.9 million budget, down 0.2% percent from $416.9 in 2020, allocates $6.6 million for affordable housing and an additional $1 million toward a teen jobs program.

“What we’re asking for is not too much,” Cynthia said, adding she wants to see a “50 % divestment” of funds reallocated to Cincinnati neighborhoods.

“There’s nothing that the police of Cincinnati can’t do with $75 million,” she said. “We’re asking for a 50% reinvestment in the community.”

For Cynthia, this vote doesn’t mean protesters are giving up or going home.

“We said ‘No justice. No peace.’ We’re going to keep showing up. We’re going to demand that we have a seat at the table,” she said.

Phillips agreed, saying protesters aren’t shying away from future meetings.

“This is supposed to be the land of the free. We’re not afraid anymore,” he said.

Streetcar to run without passengers

Council also approved a measure to allow the Cincinnati streetcar to run without passengers for maintenance and upkeep purposes only over the course of the next year.

Mayor John Cranley vetoed the measure that would keep the streetcar open to riders after council members approved it 7-2 Wednesday night.

“This is the worst budget in 100 years, and we’re going to start giving away streetcar service?” Cranley asked during Wednesday’s meeting before vetoing the measure.

He said he vetoed using money from the transit fund toward the streetcar to ensure Metro has "all the funding they can get," "because they need it."

Councilman David Mann said between the two plans, there has to be “a better way to go.”

"Hate to see us spend $3 million with no service,” Mann said Wednesday.

Councilman Jeff Pastor doesn’t agree with Cranley’s veto either, saying Council was forced to choose “between a smart plan and a fiscally irresponsible plan” or the city would default on its $45 million federal grant for the streetcar. He says that would put future transportation projects, like improvements to the Western Hills Viaduct, in jeopardy.

“I believe our city can walk and chew gum at the same time. A pro-growth, pro-opportunity thinks big, not small,” Pastor said in a statement to WCPO Wednesday.

The council’s next opportunity to overturn the veto is in August.

At the meeting, Council also voted to make the Black Lives Matter mural on Plum Street between Eighth and Ninth streets a plaza area closed to traffic. Those details are being finalized.