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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Furloughs Coming To Hamilton County To Deal With Budget Shortfall

Bill Rinehart
County Administrator Jeff Aluotto.

Hamilton County is preparing plans to close a projected $40 to $60 million budget deficit because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will include furloughs for county employees, but officials are not ready to say how many jobs will be impacted.

County Administrator Jeff Aluotto announced Monday 35 employees with the domestic relations court have been furloughed for two weeks. Besides furloughs, some departments could also make changes to the work week for employees.

Aluotto said the county will look at temporary job reductions on a department-by-department basis.

Departments and offices were asked to prepare 20% reductions, and Aluotto said officials were told to be creative in implementing solutions.

"That can be either extended or pulled back on, as we need to as we see how this crisis continues to develop financially," Aluotto said. "We don't want to see departments do things that are in the long run, devastating to the operations of the department into the service of the public if we can do something that is more temporary in nature."

County leaders are just now beginning to get data on how revenues will be impacted by the current economic downturn.

Aluotto said the county is protecting sales tax revenues will be down 70% in the coming months. Casino revenues were down in March by 60%, and that number could drop to near zero as those facilities have been shutdown by the state's stay-at-home order.

The administrator said there will be several actions to close the budget gap.

"There's going to be department reductions," Aluotto said. "There's going to be some element of general fund reserve support to make this work; we're hoping for some federal aid as well to help make this work. This has got to be an all-hands-on deck approach and we're telling that to the departments."

Some specific county general fund budget reductions:

  • New programs and initiatives are being discontinued. That includes a long anticipated economic development fund for first ring suburbs in the county
  • County facilities are halting several million dollars of planned work on county buildings
  • Some planning department staff will be redeployed to restricted fund activities to save money
  • Counsel costs through the public defender's office will be cut with court activities being reduced because of COVID-19

Aluotto said the county's financial modeling is anticipating a gradual ramp up in economic activity in the last two quarters of the year. But the county won't have hard numbers when that happens until three months after the crisis has ended.
"We will not recover until people again feel safe going out into the community, and shopping at shopping malls, going out to eat at restaurants..." Aluotto said. "So, a lot of it's going to depend upon how the not only the recovery happens but as how the general economy recovers and that's just not something we are completely certain of yet."

The county's 2020 general fund budget was a little more than $270 million, and the currently has between $30 and $36 million in reserves to support that budget.

Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus announced all three county commissioners are taking a 10% pay cut.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.