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Standing Room Only Crowd For First Cincinnati Budget Hearing

city hall
Bill Rinehart

Nearly 50 people offered comments Monday night as Cincinnati City Council's Budget and Finance Committee held its first public hearing on the proposed city budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Most of those offered comments supporting human services funding, money for the neighborhood support program, and city funding for the Center for Closing the Health Gap.

Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney had proposed funding human services at about $2.8 million.  Mayor John Cranley restored part of that in his budget proposal bringing the total to about $3.3 million.

But human services supporters want it increased to about $4 million, or one percent of the total general fund budget.  Council had passed a measure last year supporting that amount, and gradually increasing it to 1.5 percent by 2023.

Gina Marsh is the executive director of the Human Services Chamber of Hamilton County.  She said she was speaking for the voices in the community who aren't heard.

"We're talking about the child who goes to bed hungry, the family who's just been evicted from their home, the young man who just survived an overdose, and the single mother who's looking for a job," Marsh said.

Human services funding is focused on programs to help people find jobs, prevent homelessness, and reduce violence in the city.

Duhaney had proposed cutting funding for neighborhood community councils by $88,400 and reducing funds for neighborhood business districts by $43,200.

"Those of us who work in our neighborhoods know the value of this money," said resident Sue Wilke. "That we work so hard to stretch promoting projects that strengthen the vitality of our neighborhoods."

The Center for Closing the Health Gap had several people at the public hearing wearing T-shirts supporting funding for the organization.  But only a couple spoke before council.

"This country for over a hundred years has failed to address the health disparities between people of color and the majority population," said Renee Mahaffey Harris, the chief operating officer for the Health Gap. "In addition, public health officials and others require strategies that specifically target populations of color in order to improve their lives. Strategies must require the participation of the residents, people who look like the population administering the initiatives, and the trust of the people."

Mahaffey Harris said the Health Gap has reach more than 500,000 through its "Do Right Campaign" to create healthy lifestyles and conducted more than 31,000 free health screenings.

Duhaney cut Health Gap funding to $562,500 for the upcoming fiscal year.  It received $750,000 this fiscal year.  But Cranley in his budget eliminated that money completely.  He said the Health Gap could compete for human services funding like other organizations.

Other speakers asked for funding for the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, and money to repair and maintain the iconic water tanks in Mt. Airy.

The city is making cuts and raising fees to balance a $32 million general fund budget deficit.  Duhaney and administrators closed the gap without layoffs while they said preserving basic city services.

City council must approve a spending plan by June 30th.

There's another public hearing Tuesday evening in Madisonville and Wednesday evening in College Hill.