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Park and public safety cuts dominate 2nd city budget hearing

Jay Hanselman

Once again preventing park cuts and saving public safety jobs were the focus of many speakers during a Cincinnati Council hearing Monday night on the city’s budget.

There was a smaller crowd for the session at the College Hill Recreation Center, and about 30 speakers offered testimony.

About half of them are asking Council not to reduce funding for the parks department.   The board that runs those facilities has threatened closures and reduced maintenance if the city manager’s budget is adopted.

Downtown resident Thomas Hankinson said some research has tied public safety to public spaces.

“The basis here is that design and maintenance of public spaces sends signals to law abiding citizens and to law breakers,” Hankinson said.  “Those signals are about what behaviors are acceptable in public spaces and who owns those areas.”

Another parks supporter said the city should consider increasing taxes to pay for city services.  Helen Heekin said she’s worked on prior efforts to raise funds for parks.

“I know nobody likes to think of raising taxes, but something has to give”Heekin said.  Cities of our size have a much bigger sales tax than we do and of course the earnings tax is another way of looking at it.”

Former Vice Mayor Jim Tarbell made a similar proposal during a hearing last week to increase the city’s income tax rate.  Such a change would require voter approval.

Council Member Chris Seelbach sent the following on Twitter responding to those discussing park funding:  “No one on city council or in the city administration is recommending the closure of any city park or closure of any city water feature.”

The city manager proposed increasing the admission fee for the Krohn Conservatory by 50 cents and asked the department to layoff seven full-time employees.  But the park board is proposing different measures.

Other speakers urged Council to prevent police officers and firefighters from being laid off. 

Resident Heather Wiglesaid the city should save police officers who work in the city’s school buildings.

“Police officers cannot be replaced through fundraising or volunteer efforts,”Wigle said.  “So we can either keep them on the job now when they have a positive impact on the young and impressionable, or we can acknowledge that we have no real intention of keeping our streets safe.  Better to secure the barn than try to catch the horses after they’ve escaped.”

Other lobbied the police department to continue its cadet program for young people.

The number of police officers and firefighters who could be laid off has been shrinking.  At first both were well over 100.  But now one plan that appears to have the support of a Council majority calls for no fire layoffs and only 25 police layoffs.

A couple of speakers also asked Council to maintain support for human services agencies.  Kendall Fisher is with Women Helping Women.

“I think everyone understands that the loss of this funding would result in the loss of critical services to people in need all over our city,at our agency and other human service funded agencies,” Fisher said.  “But what you might not realize is that the loss of this funding also jeopardizes state and federal funds coming into the city of Cincinnati.”

Funding for human services agencies has been shrinking in the last several years as Council works to balance the general fund budget.  In the past, those groups were given 1.5 percent of the amount in that budget.

Council members are working on a plan to close a $35 million deficit for the budget that begins July 1st.  They must approve it by June 1st. 

The Budget and Finance Committee is holding a final public hearing on the spending plan Wednesday evening at the Madisonville Recreation Center at 5320 Stewart Avenue beginning at 6:30.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.