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Cincinnati Council listens during first budget hearing

Jay Hanselman

About 50 people offered testimony Thursday night during the first public hearing on Cincinnati’s proposed 2013 budget.

Council’s Budget and Finance Committee listened to the comments.

More than half of those speaking offered testimony supporting funding for Media Bridges. It operates cable public-access channels and has a small radio station. It also offers free media production classes to individuals and groups.

City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. suggested eliminating $300,000 of city funding for Media Bridges. He told Council earlier this week the group used to receive its funding from a subscriber fee from Time Warner Cable. The city just passed those funds through its budget to Media Bridges. That fee ended last year.

Mayor Mark Mallory has proposed restoring some or all of the organization’s funding in his budget recommendation.

Sara Drabik teaches media courses at Northern Kentucky University and she used to be involved with Media Bridges. She said it’s important for people to be media literate and the group does that.

"And I don’t know anywhere else in the city where anyone can go regardless of who they are and get that kind of training in media literacy, to be able to understand and create media than Media Bridges," Drabik said.

Resident Jason Dennison also spoke in favor of funding for the group.

"Media Bridges serves thousands in this city," Dennison said. "From its broadcast of church services, to its public access news and informational programs, from an eclectic mix of radio programming, to camps and workshops for school-age children."

About a dozen speakers were against the City Manager’s plan to privatize the operation of some city parking garages and lots and all the city’s parking meters.

Resident John Brannock is President of the Mt. Lookout Community Council. He said the plan, with the possibility of higher parking meter rates, will kill neighborhood business districts.

"With Rookwood Commons so close to our square, why would someone want to shop on our square, pay more to park and possibly get booted or towed, when they can park for free a mile away," Brannock said.

Clifton resident Carolyn Miller is especially opposed to the parking meter part of the proposal.

"I believe the city needs to maintain control of the parking meters," Miller said. "The city should retain control of the parking meter rates, hours of parking meter enforcement and decisions about placement of meters especially in Downtown and the neighborhood business districts."

The plan to privatize the parking operation would come with a large up-front payment of at least $40 million. Dohoney used $21 million to balance the 2013 general fund budget.

If Council rejects the parking proposal, it would have to come up with other sources to balance the budget. Dohoney has said that could result in more than 300 layoffs.

Other speakers during the budget hearing offered support for parks, human services and the city’s arts grants program.

Meanwhile, by mid-January Cincinnati must submit a tentative tax budget to the Hamilton County Auditor detailing how much property tax revenue the city wants to collect for calendar year 2014.

City administrators are requesting the property tax rate be set at 6.1 mills, which is the maximum amount allowed in the City Charter. That would bring in another $7.5 million for the general fund. It would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $54 of property tax in 2014.

From 2000 to 2010, Council endorsed a policy of holding the amount of property tax revenue collected steady at nearly $29 million and the millage rate was set accordingly. In 2011, a Council majority voted to hold the rate the same as 2010 which resulted in the city losing about $5 million of revenue.

Officials are also estimating for 2014 the city will receive $10 million of casino revenue and nearly $2 million from a proposed commercial solid waste fee.

Even with a property tax increase Cincinnati will still have a $34.2 million general fund deficit for 2014.

Officials presented a chart to Council Members showing in 1963 that 33 percent of a city resident’s tax bill came to the city. Now in 2012 that number is 10 percent.

The Budget and Finance Committee will hold a final public hearing on the 2013 spending plan Monday at 6 p.m. at the Corryville Recreation Center at 2823 Eden Avenue.