Dwindling tax revenue plus growing need for basic services put cities in a COVID-19 bind

Posted at 2:27 PM, Apr 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-22 18:35:08-04

CINCINNATI — The coronavirus has put cities like Cincinnati between a rock and a hard place with diminishing tax revenues to maintain basic services that are needed now more than ever. Without federal assistance, local leaders worry about being able to bounce back.

"We're expected not only to provide basic services going forward, but more dangerous basic services and more basic services, more police and fire overtime" said Mayor John Cranley at an April 20 news briefing. "More strain at a time where many of our cops and firefighters have to be quarantined."

While roughly 1,700 city employees went on temporary leave earlier this month, Cranley and the city administration do not believe cuts to basic services are needed yet, but with next year's budget deadline on the horizon, there is a lot of uncertainty. City administrators have projected an $80 million budget gap for fiscal year 2021.

"The cuts that would be required to meet an $80 million deficit is devastating and devastating to quality of life," Cranley said. "There won't be any parks or recreation available at all. There wouldn't be yard waste pickup."

Dan Hils, with the Fraternal Order of Police Local 69, said a recent string of gun violence in Cincinnati since Ohio's stay-at-home order went into effect means more police are needed, not less.

"Of course it's very concerning, but all across America, people are feeling the same thing," Hils said. "We could ill afford cutting back on police and fire services right now in the city of Cincinnati."

Hils said the risk of lowering police personnel is two-fold: "A reduction in police officers would be a safety thing first and foremost for the citizens of Cincinnati, but also a safety thing for the officers. You just wouldn’t have the same amount of officers to deal with situations."

Both Cranley and Hils are looking to federal sources for assistance as the city's income tax revenues continue to drop as thousands remain out of work. Over the next 15 months, the city is expected to reach a $100 million budget shortfall.

A Brookings Institution study found Columbus, Ohio and Cincinnati as the top two cities in the U.S. "most likely to be devastated financially" by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dayton and Cleveland also in the top five. Due to its population of roughly 300,000, the city was not eligible for federal relief funds in previous stimulus and aid packages passed by Congress.

Cranley is urging residents to call their congressional representatives and ask for more relief for city governments to help maintain basic services as the pandemic stretches on.

"There will be diminishment in those services if that were to come," Cranley said.