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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.

Hamilton County Rewrites Budget With Lower Revenue

Bill Rinehart

Right now, Hamilton County officials expect to lose $40 million in revenue this year because of the COVID-19 crisis. So, the county commission Thursday approved a measure essentially re-writing the budget to account for the shortfall. 

The county's sales tax collections are expected to take a hit with businesses being closed, and customers staying away from those that are open because of the state's stay-at-home order. Plus, casino revenue, parking money and property transfer fees are expected to be lower.

The $40 million worth of adjustments include $21.66 million of general fund spending reductions. That includes things like employee furloughs, salary reductions, hiring freezes, program deferrals, reducing capital maintenance, and having county employees perform different functions.

The county is also using about $12 million of reserve funds, and $6 million of state and federal grant money to balance things out.

"I really want to thank all the department heads and all the elected officials and other agencies in the county that came together - really in just a matter of weeks - to pull together a plan to close a $40 million shortfall," County Administrator Jeff Aluotto said. "I think it was an unprecedented effort, it took an unprecedented level of coordination and teamwork."

County Commission President Denise Driehaus also praised the work that went into the plan.

"We're on our way to closing the gap without still knowing whether or not we're going to get federal relief for revenue replacement," Driehaus said. "We still are advocating for that."

The county has received $142 million from the federal CARES Act approved by Congress in March. But so far, none of that money can be used to replace revenues the county is losing while the economy is shut down. The federal money can only be used for direct expenses related to the COVID-19 crisis.

Elected officials across the country are lobbying federal lawmakers to provide funding for state and local governments in future stimulus legislation. Driehaus has been asking for flexibility to spend money the county has already received.

Aluotto said the action the commission took Thursday addresses the financial situation as officials believe it exists right now. 

"While we again have taken a good first step, we are by no means out of the woods, as it relates to the financial impact of COVID-19," Aluotto said. "We face a lot of risks."

One of those risk is reopening county services.  The county will be spending money, so expenses will return, but officials are not sure when the revenues to pay for them will come back at the same time.

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.