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Commission Covers Three B's: Budget, Bridge, Billing

Tana Weingartner
Commissioner Denise Driehaus finishes signing a letter from commissioners to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao supporting Cincinnati's TIGER grant request.

Hamilton County Commissioners are considering a proposed 2018 general fund budget. County Administrator Jeff Aluotto says the spending plan is structurally balanced, but he's concerned about 2019."Because of some of the hits we've taken in terms of some of our local government aid from the state [and] the reduction in sales tax, the real challenge is going to be for 2019," Aluotto says. "So we've balanced for 2018 but 2019 is going to require a significant policy discussion that may change that question in terms of how does it hit the average resident on the street."

Aluotto says the $241.7 million proposal is relatively flat compared to this year when you factor in cuts from the state and a two percent wage increase for county employees.

"This represents a 5.1 percent increase from the approved budget in 2017, a 1.7 percent increase from projected end of year 2017 spend," he writes in the document's executive summary.

Among other items, the budget proposes:

  • $1.4 million for dealing with the opioid epidemic.
  • Increasing the property transfer fee by one mil to generate approximately $3.7 million to offset 911 costs.
  • Working with partners to review and alleviate space issues at the Justice Center as well as adding a plumber to assist with maintenance issues.
  • Funding for the building out the new county crime lab, Smart 911 system, and sheriff body cameras.
  • $1.5 million for inmate care that is no longer part of the Indigent Care levy.
  • $1.5 million for assigned counsel (a public defender) for juvenile dependency cases.

Commissioners, department heads and the public will weigh in next. Dates will be set soon for a series of public hearings on the budget.
The board is aiming to adopt a general fund budget by mid November.

Water Works Billing

We now know when Greater Cincinnati Water Works customers will see their billing cycle change. Hamilton County's Utility Oversight Director says Water Works will switch to monthly billing on January 1, 2018.

That means County Commissioners must approve 2018 sewer rates and other billing changes - like a switch on multi-family bills from units to meter-size with a set base rate - by November 15.

Dave Meyer warns if the county acts any later than that, some customers could be confused by two rate adjustments on their bills.

Western Hills Viaduct

Hamilton County won't be applying for a federal transportation TIGER grant. Instead the county is supporting Cincinnati's application for $15 million to be used for a portion of the Western Hill Viaduct project.

There was some confusion last week on whether the county would seek money from the same grant to place decks over parts of Fort Washington Way. Commissioner Denise Driehaus says that's because the county wasn't sure the viaduct project fit the grant criteria.

"We got some advice that suggested that maybe it would be favorably received," she says. "At that point it was like, well, we should support it. I'm glad that we are joined with the city on this one."

TIGER grants are highly competitive. A city application for another bridge project was rejected a couple years ago. City officials say lobbyists believe the viaduct project may fare better with a new administration in D.C.