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Cincinnati Officials Trying To 'Lessen The Pain' With Budget Planning

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Bill Rinehart
/
WVXU

Cincinnati officials have less than three months to close a $15 million deficit in this year's city budget. Plus, they have to draft a spending plan for the new fiscal year starting July 1 with a projected $81 million shortfall.

City Budget Director Chris Bigham told City Council's Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday borrowing and using reserves won't last long with that large a gap.

"Depending on how long this lasts, depending on what you read - and none of us really know - we're trying to be as conservative as possible and we're trying to act as quickly as possible so we can lessen the pain going forward for fiscal '21," Bigham said.

Officials are asking departments to prepare for 25% budget cuts.

The city will be seeking concessions from labor unions on wages and benefits. Without those, some city employees could be laid off in July.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman said union leaders needs to be talking with their membership.

"Anybody who is in a leadership position with a union, understand we are in the middle of a pandemic," Smitherman said. "What you should begin doing now is talking to your leadership about decisions, and tough decisions, that might have to be made. Do not wait. Start talking now."

Officials are also reviewing all non-personnel spending.

For the rest of the fiscal year ending June 30, the city expects revenues to drop by $39.5 million. Through the end of March, the city's revenue collections were higher than forecasted. But the surplus is not enough to close the deficit.

To balance the remainder of this year's budget, the city has: temporarily furloughed more than 500 full-time employees; the city manager, assistant city managers and all department heads took a 10% percent pay cut; the mayor's office and council office budgets are taking a 10% cut; and the city is reviewing all non-critical contracts.

Council voted Wednesday to cut 25% of funding for nearly 80 human services, economic development and neighborhood agencies. That could save the city $3.1 million this year.

The city is expected to receive some assistance from the federal government. But right now, that funding can only be used for direct expenses related to COVID-19; it cannot be used to balance the city budget.

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