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More Speakers At Final Cincinnati Budget Hearing

Jay Hanselman
Cincinnati Council's Budget and Finance Committee held a final public hearing on the city's next budget Wednesday night in North Avondale.

It is now up to Cincinnati City Council to debate and decide what to include in the city's next two-year budget for the new fiscal year which begins on July 1.

City Council will use City Manager Harry Black's budget proposal, and the changes made to it by John Cranley, as a framework.
Right now City Council is scheduled to take final budget votes on June 21.

The Budget and Finance Committee held a third and final public hearing Wednesday night in North Avondale. Forty-two people offered testimony on the spending plan, which was double the number of people who spoke at the previous two hearings.

Once again the major themes were funding for human services programs and money for neighborhood community councils and business districts. There were also several residents asking City Council to restore funding for the Parks, both for operations and capital projects.

Black cut human services in his budget, but Cranley restored that funding. Right now it is set at $3,340,000. Some are asking council to increase it to $5,916,000, which is 1.5 percent of the city's general fund budget. That was the traditional funding level until 2005. Since then it has never exceeded one percent.

"The funding that is allocated to the human services agencies through the United Way process provided services to over 12,000 City of Cincinnati residents in the last budget cycle," said Gina Marsh, who is the executive director of the Human Services Chamber. "Notably this funding leverages more than a seven-to-one return on the city's investment to increase gainful employment, reduce homelessness, and implement proven violence prevention initiatives."

Resident Julie Murray pointed out that money for the police and fire departments make up between 60 and 70 percent of the general fund budget.

"However safety is not guaranteed by the police and fire," Murray said. "It's helped by funding human services, by job creation, by cleanliness, by lighting, by building inspection and enforcement. So I ask you to really reconsider how much of the city budget goes to the police and fire, and how little go to these other areas."

Police and fire are taking some small budget cuts, but those reductions are not close to the cutbacks in non-safety departments in the general fund.

As for Parks, there is some disagreement on how much of a cut the department is taking from the general fund. Parks supporters say it is ten percent. City officials said that is being offset with funds from other sources.

Parks supporters are also concerned about a sizeable cut in the department's capital budget, although again there is disagreement on the amount of that reduction.

"We are facing the largest cut in our budget that we've ever experienced in the park system," said Dianne Rosenberg, chairperson of the Cincinnati Park Board Commissioners. "It's coming to the time when our capital improvements that are being deferred year after year are rising and we need to maintain at least what we've been given in the past."

Black also cut funding for the city's Neighborhood Support Program (NSP) and money for neighborhood business districts. Here, again, the mayor restored those cuts.

Many residents testified in favor of those neighborhood dollars.

"NSP funds empower and enable these many community councils in this city," said Clifton resident Eric Urbas. "Cutting these funds sends the wrong message to our communities."

The Budget and Finance Committee will hold a special meeting on June 14 to question department heads about how the budget proposals will affect their functions.

City Council must adopt a spending plan for the next fiscal year by June 30.