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Council passes most of budget, water rate vote next week

Cincinnati administrators will now begin the process of implementing the fiscal year 2015 budget.  

City council Wednesday approved the 17 ordinances needed to enact the spending plan.  The votes were 6-3 on the major changes to the budget.  
Council adopted Mayor John Cranley's proposal with about a dozen changes to it.  Cranley said it sends the right message.

“What we’re doing is getting our basic services and our operating budget house in order, which has been out of order for a long, long time” Cranley said.  “The pain has been disproportionately borne by the capital budget.  And as all of these different promises funnel through to a smaller number, a year from now, two years from now, we’ll have more freedom in the capital budget.”

City Council could not agree on whether to increase city water rates or by how much.  That will be the subject of a public hearing Monday.  The water works had asked for a 7.5 percent rate hike.  Some council members proposed a 4 percent increase. But both measures failed.  

Water works director Tony Parrott was asked what a lower rate hike will mean for the utility.

“Our capital program will be re-prioritized, and our work in our distribution system will be below the recommendation of Smale,” Parrott said.

That Smale report had recommended the city replace one percent of its water distribution system each year.  City officials also say without some sort of increase the water works may not be able to pay back existing debt and it could also reduce the agencies AAA bond rating.  

Council member Yvette Simpson said officials should remember the other utility system.

“So let MSD be a lesson to us that if you don’t replace infrastructure eventually you will be required to do so,” Simpson said.  “Or even worse you’re going to have a system failure.  And the only thing people hate worse than paying more for their water bills it not having water at all.”

The city and Hamilton County are under a federal court consent decree to upgrade the Metropolitan Sewer District collection system.  

The full Council could vote on the water works budget Wednesday.