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Study projects much lower cost for new crime lab

New figures are in on how much it would cost to convert Mercy Mt. Airy hospital into a new crime lab for the coroner's office.

Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco says a new architectural study puts renovation costs at $21.5 million, well under the projected $56 million to build a new facility.

"The building is sound and it's a gift," says Sammarco. "I think we really need to look at it as this is going to be the most economical way for us to get a new crime lab."

The coroner's office desperately needs a new facility but the county doesn't have the funds. Administrator Christian Sigman says he'll review the new study- he's particularly concerned with operating costs. He'll also offer county commissioners several possible paths forward.

In other budget news:

The University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC) isn't happy with the county's plan to pull nearly $7 million in indigent care levy funding and redirect it toward inmate healthcare.

UCMC Chief of Staff, Dr. Keith Wilson, says, "The $7 million cut in 2014 will significantly compromise the safety net mission and patients who benefit from the levy will be put at substantial risk. Direct patient care will suffer and many unique services found only at UCMC will be curtailed. UCMC has gotten by for many years providing more care for less reimbursement. However, we are at a point where we cannot sustain this level of care with continual reductions in levy support."

Another hospital spokesman says the facility would have to consider multiple options, including staffing cuts if the funding isn't restored.

But County Administrator Christian Sigman says everyone has seen their budgets cut and this cut is relatively small compared to UCMC's overall budget.

The proposed cut would shift the funds to cover a gap the Sheriff's office was asked to absorb in the last budget cycle.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.