CINCINNATI — UPDATE: City leaders met Thursday to announce the new budget for the 2021 fiscal year.
Months after furloughing 1,700 city staff and shutting down whole industries to fight the global pandemic, Duhaney said this budget process was “unlike anything we’ve seen in recent memory.”
For the upcoming fiscal year, projected loss of revenue is about $75 million, or 20% of the city’s operating budget.
The 1,700 city employees who were furloughed under the temporary emergency leave program will be returning with no layoffs in the new fiscal year. Duhaney said this will be made possible by eliminating vacant positions and freezing merit and cost of living raises. Around 500 employees will also be able to take advantage of a new early retirement program meant to eliminate positions without laying off staff.
Human services funding will continue at 2020 levels by using additional Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), money through the CARES Act.
After almost two weeks of large protests against police brutality in Cincinnati and around the world, Cranley announced funding will also increase for the Citizen Complaint Authority (CCA) that investigates citizen complaints against police officers.
Under the proposed 2021 budget, funding for the CCA is around $850,000, an increase of about $150,000. The funding will pay for two additional investigators. Currently, the agency has only three -- it’s supposed to have five.
The proposed budget isn’t final. It goes to City Council next week and some members are calling for even more funding for the CCA then. There will be two public budget hearings so changes can be made before the budget is officially voted on and passed.
See this year's new budget breakdown:
In the last fiscal year, the City of Cincinnati devoted 36.4% of its operating budget - nearly $152 million – to the police department.
We’re about to find out if recent police killings in the U.S. and waves of protests against police brutality and racism here and nationwide have a major impact on how much the city proposes to give Cincinnati police in FY2021.
Cranley and Duhaney may have already provided a clue by scheduling Thursday’s 10 a.m. announcement of the proposed operating and capital budgets at the Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio and not at City Hall, where it is typically held.
A city release said Cincinnati Health Commissioner Melba Moore, Urban League President & CEO Eddie Koen and community organizations and leaders would attend.
City officials have acknowledged they’re facing a whopping $75 million to $90 million deficit in the operating budget due to expected shortages in tax revenue and additional costs because of COVID-19. That means the operating budget announced today could be significantly smaller than the $417 million total for FY2020, unless the city digs deep into reserves.
Up to now, Cranley shielded the approximately 1,000 sworn police officers from furloughs as the city struggled this spring under extra costs from the pandemic. But that was before recent police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville prompted calls to defund police departments, and before more and more people cried out against what they see as systemic racism.
“When you peel back the onion on racism, you begin to see that we are making some serious mistakes in how we address our funding,” State Sen. Cecil Thomas told WCPO this week. Thomas used to be a Cincinnati police officer and City Council member.
While racism may be rooted in ignorance and hatred, community leaders say it reveals itself in disparities in health, infant mortality, housing, education and employment, as well as in treatment by police and government.
Some want to declare racism a public health crisis.
As the pie chart shows, the last city operating budget devoted 65.5% to Public Safety, including $121 million to Fire & EMS.
On the short end, Public Services got 3.5% – less than $15 million. The Citizen Complaint Authority, which reviews complaints against police, got $692,000. It has a 100-case backlog and critics say it is understaffed and underfunded.
SEE last year’s budget breakdown below.
“Personally, I don’t think everyone is going to be happy with the budget,” Councilmember Jeff Pastor told WCPO.
Pastor fears cuts will hurt in places where help is needed the most, like public services.
“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a human issue. We don’t have the money,” Pastor said. “And a lot of people are feeling the pain.”
The city does have about $45 million in reserves, but that money is used to help secure a high bond rating. In March, Council approved a plan to sell $150 million in bonds to meet emergency health costs from COVID-19. At the time, Cranley said the city would not spend any of that money unless it became absolutely necessary.
It may be that time, since state law requires cities to meet their budgets.
WCPO asked Councilmember David Mann, chair of the City Council Budget and Finance Committee, where funding would be cut, but he didn’t provide specifics.
“Let’s just say there’s some proposals that hang together and get us through," Mann said.
But Mann said the price of a pandemic and protests will be felt for years to come.
Pastor is hoping for a shot in the arm from the federal government.
"If you’re going to be doling out taxpayer dollars to bail out Wall Street, the best use of those funds is to bail out old Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus,” Pastor said. “These folks need it. By no fault of their own, they’ve been asked to sit out in their home for almost three months and only receive 12-hundred bucks.”
The Budget and Finance Committee will review the budget proposal on Monday, then the public will be able to share their thoughts next Tuesday, June 16, and next Thursday, June 18, at 6 p.m. at the Convention Center.
Mann expects a lot of people will want to weigh in.
"The issues that are driving the protests have a financial implication," Mann said. "And I'm guessing folks are going to think your chances to make policy is this budget."
Public participation will be conducted in-person or by Zoom audio/video conference format, due to the pandemic. City Council members may be required to participate remotely. Details are still being worked out, the city says.