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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.

How To Make Your Thoughts On Cincinnati's Budget Known During The Pandemic

Bill Rinehart
Instead of the usual City Hall, people who wish to testify about next year's budget can do so in person at the Duke Energy Convention Center or via a number of remote methods.

Cincinnati residents will have two chances next week to comment on the city manager's budget proposal for the new fiscal year starting July 1. 

Those sessions on June 16 and 18 will be held at the Duke Energy Convention Center starting at 6 p.m. They'll be held in a large meeting room so people can be socially distanced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

People will be able to testify in person during the hearing. And Budget and Finance Committee Chairman David Mann said people can also participate remotely.

"They can call in and we can only hear their voice. If they want to be seen, they can do that via Zoom," Mann said. "Or they can email us or submit comments in writing and not do either one of those. But there's plenty of opportunity for people to have their say."

Officials are expecting lots of people to comment on the budget as the city looks for ways to close a $73 million deficit.

Council Member Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney had wanted the hearings held at City Hall instead of the convention center.

"I think we can space people out enough that we can do social distancing and still have people here (in City Hall)," Kearney said. "I think the public is ready to come back home; they want to be back in City Hall."

But she was out voted on the issue.

Cincinnati administrators are putting the finishing touches on the budget plan. City Manager Patrick Duhaney is scheduled to release it Thursday.

The UC Economics Center expects the city's income tax revenues to decline by 15% in the next budget. That means a $41.5 million less to pay for things in the city's general fund budget like police, fire and trash collection.

The Center's Christopher Nicak said the forecast comes with several caveats.

"We have not had a COVID-19 in the previous 20 years of the data that we are utilizing," Nicak said. "So, going into this, I just want to emphasize, there's a lot that the model can predict. However, a global pandemic is not something we've historically had to model."

Assistant City Manager and Budget Director Chris Bigham said it's been difficult putting the spending plan together.

"It's very difficult, there's a lot of unknowns, so we're doing our best to piece together a good budget for fiscal '21," Bigham said.

So far city officials have cut about $32 million from next year's budget.  

But that still leaves about a $41 million hole that will have to be filled with additional cuts or by identifying new revenues.

That new revenue could come from the federal and/or state government. The city could also borrow money to help balance the budget and use money in reserve funds to fill the gap.

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.